Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American in space, was born on November 18, 1923 in (East) Derry, New Hampshire. He grew up in East Derry and attended school at the small one-room schoolhouse in town. His fascination with interest in flight began early on. When he was just a boy he took odd jobs at the local airfield to learn about planes.
Shepard attended the Admiral Farragut Academy for a year before entering Annapolis Naval Academy. He served as an ensign in the Pacific during World War II on the Destroyer Cogswell shortly after graduation. After he returned from the war he married Louise Brewer, whom he met at the Naval Academy and remained married to for 53 years before his death on July 22, 1998.
Eager to learn how to fly, Shepard earned his wings in 1947, after naval flight training at Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christie, Texas. He served several tours of duty in the Mediterranean with Fighter Squadron 42 out of Norfolk, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida before attending the United States Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland in 1950. He tested high-altitude aircraft and in-flight fueling systems, and made some of the first angled carrier deck landings.
His naval career continued with an assignment to the 193rd Fighter Squadron out of Moffett Field, California. Shepard made two tours of the western pacific as operations officer of the squadron on board the carrier USS Oriskany. He returned to Patuxent River to engage in flight testing of various aircraft, including the F5D Skylancer, the F3H Demon, the F8U Crusader, and the F11F Tiger. He also spent several months as an instructor in the Test Pilot School.
His next stop was the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. After his graduation in 1957, he became an aircraft readiness officer under the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet.
In 1959, Rear Admiral Shepard and six other pilots were chosen by the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) out of 110 top military test pilots, to be part of Project Mercury, the first manned space program in the United States.
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard was the pilot of the Freedom 7 spacecraft which launched him into space by a Redstone Rocket. The flight took him on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight and carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles. The flight lasted 15-minutes and ended with a splashdown 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. This successful flight made Shepard an instant national hero. The next day he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by President Kennedy and a parade in Washington that drew 250,000 spectators. Parades were also held in his honor in New York and Los Angeles.
In 1963, Shepard was named Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA. This appointment made him responsible for coordination and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts. He was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease, a condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the inner ear causing a loss of equilibrium. He was unable to fly for several years because of this condition. He was restored to full flight status in May of 1969, following corrective surgery.
He completed his second space flight in 1971 as commander of Apollo 14, America's third successful lunar landing mission. He was 47 years old, making him the oldest astronaut in the NASA program. The landing was the most accurate landing of the entire Apollo program and was the first mission to broadcast pictures in color on television. The broadcast allowed the nation to watch as Shepard struck golf balls along the surface of the moon.
Upon his return, he returned to his duties as Chief of the Astronaut Office and was promoted to Rear Admiral. He retired from NASA and the Navy on August 1, 1974. Over his career he logged more than 8,000 flight hours, with 3,700 hours in jet aircraft. He also spent a total of 216 hours and 57 minutes in space.
Shepard was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996. He passed away in Pebble Beach, California two years later at the age of 74. His beloved wife Louise died just five weeks after he passed, and their cremated ashes were scattered at sea. They had three daughters.
A model of the Redstone Rocket that was launched into space the first time can be seen in the center of Warren.