I'm cooler than you are. Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?

So spoke Alan Shepard to the technicians at Cape Canaveral, from his cabin in Freedom 7 as he awaited liftoff atop a 59 foot tall Redstone Missile to become the first american in space. This wasn't his only remarks as he waited out a one hour and twenty six minute delay on his back in the tiny cramped capsule. What made him so "cool" was an action he took earlier. Communicating to Gordon Cooper, a fellow astronaut in launch control, Shepard said, "Gordo, I've got to pee." "What ?", Gordo responded. "I've got to pee, I've been up here for ever", and so he did, which made him "cooler" than the rest.

I was a senior in high school and I remember the announcement over the public address system of this extraordinary feat. It was 9:30 in the morning on May 5th ,1961 and when they did light that candle, Shepard was blasted into space under 75,000 pounds of thrust, the capsule seperating from the rocket 10 seconds later, continuing skyward for 116 miles. Shepard described the ride as "painless, just a pleasant ride." Shepard's ride ended in the Atlantic Ocean just 15 minutes after it had began. It wouldn't be his last.

After graduating from the Naval academy in 1944, he served in World War II aboard the Destroyer COGSWELL in the Pacific. After the war he took flight training at both Corpus Christi,Texas and Pensacola, Florida and earned his wings in 1947. Assigned to Fighter Squadron 42 in Norfolk, Virginia, he subsequently served on various aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. Upon graduating in 1952 from the Navy's Test Pilot School, Shepard did just that. He tested. From high-altitude tests on light at different heights, to experiments on the Navy's in-flight refueling systems, Shepard tested. From carrier suitability trials to trials of the first angled carrier deck, he tested. He flight tested a variety of new aircraft including the F11F Tigercat and the F8U Crusader. After attending and graduating from the Naval War College, Shepard was assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet in 1957.

In 1959, He was chosen as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts, and subsequently made the historic first flight into space, described above. On his second space flight, he went a bit farther, to the moon to be exact. As commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Shepard took on the challenge of the third lunar landing with fellow astronauts Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot, and Stuart Roosa, the command module pilot. Shepard and Mitchell landed in the "hilly upland Fre Mauro region" of the moon and among other tasks, collected close to 100 pounds of lunar samples. Their accomplishments included:

  • The largest payload placed in lunar orbit.
  • The longest distance traversed on the lunar surface
  • The largest payload returned from the lunar surface
  • The longest lunar surface stay time (33 hours)
  • The longest lunar surface EVA (9 hours and 17 minutes)
  • The first use of shortened lunar rendevous techniques
  • The first extensive orbital science period conducted during CSM solo operations.

Clearly, these were records at the time, later surpassed in nearly every respect.

In 1971, Alan Shepard resumed his duties as Chief of the Astronaut Office and served there until he retired on August 1, 1974. He later served as the President of the Mercury Seven Foundation, which provides college science scholarships for deserving students. Shepard and Deke Slayton, another Mercury astronaut, co-authored Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon (1994).

After a long battle with leukemia, Alan Shepard died at the age of 74, in 1998.