Alan Shepard : biography
Shepard returned to Patuxent for a second tour of duty and engaged in flight testing the F3H Demon, F8U Crusader, F4D Skyray, and F11F Tiger. He was also project test pilot on the F5D Skylancer, and his last five months at Patuxent were spent as an instructor in the Test Pilot School. He later attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and upon graduating with a master of arts degree in 1957, was assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, as aircraft readiness officer.
He logged more than 8,000 hours flying time, 3,700 hours in jet aircraft.
Mercury: Freedom 7 pilot
In 1959, Shepard was one of 110 military test pilots invited by the newly-formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration to volunteer for the first US manned space flight program. Following a gruelling series of physical and psychological tests, NASA selected Shepard to be one of the original group of seven Mercury astronauts.
In January 1961, Shepard was chosen for the first American manned mission into space. Although the flight was originally scheduled for October 1960, delays by unplanned preparatory work meant that this was postponed several times, initially to March 6, 1961 and finally to May 5. On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first person in space and to orbit the Earth.
On May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched by a Redstone rocket, and unlike Gagarin’s 108-minute orbital flight, Shepard stayed on a ballistic trajectory—a 15-minute suborbital flight which carried him to an altitude of and to a splashdown point down the Atlantic Missile Range. Unlike Gagarin, whose flight was strictly automatic, Shepard had some control of Freedom 7, spacecraft attitude in particular. The launch was seen live on television by millions.
Shortly before the launch, Shepard said to himself: "Don’t fuck up, Shepard…"Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Moon Shot. Turner Publishing, Atlanta. 1994. ISBN 1-878685-54-6, Ch. 9, p. 111. This quote was reported as "Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck up" in The Right Stuff,Wolfe, Tom, The Right Stuff. (hardcover). Farrar-Straus-Giroux, New York. 1979. ISBN 0-374-25033-2, Ch. 10, p. 245 though Shepard confirmed this as a misquote. Regardless, the latter quote has since become known among aviators as "Shepard’s Prayer."
According to Gene Kranz in his book, Failure Is Not an Option, "When reporters asked Shepard what he thought about as he sat atop the Redstone rocket, waiting for liftoff, he had replied, ‘The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.’"
After a dramatic Atlantic Ocean recovery, Commander Shepard observed, "…didn’t really feel the flight was a success until the recovery had been successfully completed. It’s not the fall that hurts; it’s the sudden stop." After his successful return, Shepard was celebrated as a national hero, honored with parades in Washington, New York and Los Angeles and received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal from President John F. Kennedy.
Later, he was scheduled to pilot the Mercury-Atlas 10 Freedom 7-II three-day extended duration mission in October 1963. The MA-10 mission was cancelled on June 13, 1963. He was the back-up pilot for Gordon "Gordo" Cooper for the MA-9 mission.
Gemini: Chief astronaut
After the Mercury-Atlas 10 mission was cancelled, Shepard was designated as the command pilot of the first manned Project Gemini mission. Thomas Stafford was chosen as his co-pilot. In early 1964, Shepard was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, a condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the inner ear. This syndrome causes the semicircular canals and motion detectors to become extremely sensitive, resulting in disorientation, dizziness, and nausea. The condition caused him to be removed from flight status for most of the 1960s (Gus Grissom and John Young were assigned to Gemini 3 instead).