Search Johnson

Go

NASA News

Text Size

 
 

July 22, 1998

Peggy Wilhide
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1898)

Brian Welch
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1600)

Rob Navias
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-3671)

Howard Benedict
Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, Titusville, FL
(Phone: 407/269-6119)

Release: H98-131

Alan Shepard, First American Astronaut, Dies at 74

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American to fly in space and one of only 12 humans who walked on the Moon, died Tuesday night after a lengthy illness in Monterey, CA. He was 74.

Shepard died at Community Hospital on the Monterey Peninsula, according to his family. The cause of death was not disclosed. Funeral services are pending.

"The entire NASA family is deeply saddened by the passing of Alan Shepard. NASA has lost one of its greatest pioneers; America has lost a shining star," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin.

"Alan Shepard will be remembered, always, for his accomplishments of the past; being one of the original Mercury astronauts, for being the first American to fly in space, and for being one of only 12 Americans ever to step on the Moon. He should also be remembered as someone who, even in his final days, never lost sight of the future," Goldin added.

"On behalf of the space program Alan Shepard helped launch, and all those that the space program has and will inspire, we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Louise, their children, and the rest of the Shepard family.

Alan Shepard lived to explore the heavens. On this final journey, we wish him Godspeed."

"Alan Shepard is a true American hero, a pioneer, an original. He was part of a courageous corps of astronauts that allowed us to reach out into space and venture into the unknown," said George W.S. Abbey, Director of the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX. "Alan Shepard gave all of us the privilege to participate in the beginnings of America's great adventure of human space exploration. He will be greatly missed. The program has lost one of its greatest supporters and a true friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Louise, and their family."

Named as one of the nation's original seven Mercury astronauts in 1959, Shepard became the first to carry America's banner into space on May 5, 1961, riding a Redstone rocket on a 15-minute suborbital flight that took him and his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule 115 miles in altitude and 302 miles downrange from Cape Canaveral, FL.

His flight followed by three weeks the launch of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who on April 12, 1961, became the first human space traveler on a one-orbit flight lasting 108 minutes.

Although the flight of Freedom 7 was brief, it nevertheless was a major step forward for the U.S. in a rapidly-accelerating race with the Soviet Union for dominance in the new arena of space.

Buoyed by the overwhelming response to Shepard's flight, which made the astronaut an instant hero and a household name, President John F. Kennedy set the nation on a course to the Moon, declaring before a joint session of Congress just three weeks later, "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Over a three and a half year period from July 1969 to December 1972, a dozen Americans explored the lunar surface. Shepard was the fifth man to walk on the Moon, and the oldest, at the age of 47.

Shepard, however, was almost bypassed for a trip to the moon. He had to overcome an inner ear problem called Meuniere's syndrome that grounded him for several years following his initial pioneering flight.

An operation eventually cured the problem and Shepard was named to command the Apollo 14 mission. On January 31, 1971, Shepard, Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa and Lunar Module pilot Edgar Mitchell embarked for the Moon atop a Saturn 5 rocket. Shepard and Mitchell landed the lunar module Antares on February 5 in the Fra Mauro highlands while Roosa orbited overhead in the command ship Kitty Hawk.

Shepard planted his feet on the lunar surface a few hours later, declaring, "Al is on the surface, and it's been a long way, but we're here." During two excursions on the surface totaling nine hours, Shepard and Mitchell set up a science station, collected 92 pounds of rocks and gathered soil samples from the mountainous region.

Near the end of the second moonwalk, and just before entering the lunar module for the last time, Shepard (an avid golfer) hit two golf balls with a makeshift club. The first landed in a nearby crater. The second was hit squarely, and in the one-sixth gravity of the moon, Shepard said it traveled "miles and miles and miles."

Shepard's death leaves only four survivors among the original Mercury 7 astronauts: Sen. John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper and Walter Schirra.

Born Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. on Nov. 18, 1923, in East Derry, NH, he received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1944. Upon graduation, he married Louise Brewer, whom he met while at Annapolis. Shepard received his wings as a Naval aviator in 1947 and served several tours aboard aircraft carriers. In 1950, he attended Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, MDS, and became a test pilot and instructor there. He later attended the Naval War College at Newport, RI, and after graduating, was assigned to the staff of the commander-in-chief, Atlantic Fleet, as an aircraft readiness officer.

In August 1974, Shepard, then a rear admiral, retired from both NASA and the Navy and became chairman of Marathon Construction Corp. in Houston. He later founded his own business company, Seven Fourteen Enterprises, named for his two missions on Freedom 7 and Apollo 14.

In 1984, he and the other surviving Mercury astronauts, along with Betty Grissom, the widow of astronaut Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom, founded the Mercury Seven Foundation to raise money for scholarships for science and engineering students in college. In 1995, the organization was renamed the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Shepard was elected president and chairman of the foundation, posts he held until October 1997, when he turned over both positions to former astronaut James A. Lovell.

Survivors include his widow, Louise, daughters Julie, Laura and Alice and six grandchildren.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, 6225 Vectorspace Boulevard, Titusville, FL, 32780.

 

- end -


text-only version of this release