Alan Shepard was the first American to fly in space, and the second person in the world to successfully do so. His long career as an astronaut is a remarkable one. Not only did he make the first successful American space flight as part of the Mercury Program in 1961, but he also walked on the moon as one of the crewmembers of Apollo 14.
Some would call Alan Shepard fortunate indeed. He was initially assigned to the unsuccessful and nearly fatal Apollo 13 mission. Instead, Alan Shepard and his crew switched with the astronauts who initially were scheduled to fly the Apollo 14 mission, because Shepard and his crew needed more time to prepare.
Alan Shepard further carries the distinction of being the only astronaut from the Mercury program who made a lunar landing. His career as an astronaut lasted an impressive 25 years from 1959-1974. In 1971, when he commanded the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard also became the oldest astronaut in NASA’s program at 47.
During his impressive space flights and career, Alan Shepard served his country in several other ways. He was a delegate at the 26th United Nations General Assembly in 1971. He’s also known for amusing the general public on several important occasions. His launch on Freedom 7 is partly remembered for his speech, “Please, dear God, don’t let me f*** up,” now known as "The Shepard’s Prayer." Additionally, he was the first man to play golf on the moon.
Historians cite Alan Shepard as not only a talented astronaut but also a consummate businessman. Prior to exiting the space program, he had already made over a million US dollars (USD) through sound investing, and paid speaking engagements. He also co-wrote with Deke Slayton, another Mercury Program astronaut, the non-fiction book, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon, in 1988. The book was successful and was adapted for a television mini-series in 1994.
Alan Shepard received numerous awards during his lifetime, including two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal. He has had many public buildings named in his honor. He is recognized as a devoted husband and father, even adopting his niece Alice in 1951.
Alan Shepard died in 1998 of leukemia, and his wife died just slightly over a month later. He is survived by his three daughters Laura, Juliana and Alice and by six grandchildren. It is unlikely that this distinguished American astronaut will be forgotten for his brave deeds, his business acumen and his sense of humor.