Biography of American Astronauts: Alan Shepard
About the United States astronaut Alan Shepard, history of the NASA space program and biography of the man.
An Earthy Look at the American Astronauts
Alan Shepard. On the morning of May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard soared skyward in Freedom 7, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean 302 mi. from Cape Canaveral. His 15-minute suborbital flight earned him the title of "America's 1st astronaut," and he admits that it was an emotional experience that changed his life dramatically. "I was a rotten S.O.B. before I left," he said after the flight. "Now I'm just an S.O.B."
Almost 10 years later, Shepard was on the moon as part of the 3rd lunar landing mission. In between his 1st and 2nd space journeys, he had been grounded by Meniere's syndrome, an inner ear ailment which causes nausea and dizziness. After 5 years of futilely hoping that the condition would clear up by itself, Shepard underwent surgery. The operation was successful, and he was back on flight status.
Until Shepard retired from the space program in 1974, he was to some degree the leader of the other astronauts; not only did he give them guidance, he also reportedly intimidated them at times. In his book The Making of an Ex-Astronaut, astronaut-scientist Brian O'Leary wrote that Shepard scared him so, that O'Leary would occasionally "talk in broken sentences, turn red, and look down." O'Leary also said that "Shepard warned us to cut off all press relationships besides NASA-sanctioned ones and to give the excuse that we were in intensive training."
O'Leary provided other insights into Shepard, who was keen on monetary matters and became the 1st millionaire astronaut: "Shepard's financial concern was no great surprise, since he was vice-president and part owner of the Baytown National Bank in Houston. But it struck me as odd that our chief was a bank vice-president, yet we were explicitly prohibited to consult, to teach part-time, and to receive free gifts. I am sure he has legal justification for his outside activities, but the actual situation seemed to me to be a strange double standard."
Shepard's business interests have included banking, oil, land investments, and breeding quarter horses. Jerry Bledsoe, writing in Esquire, says, "Shepard and his wife live in a $150,000 white-columned mansion in an exclusive section of Houston. The children are grown and gone from home now. His friends and associates are the top crust of Texas society."
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