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Stamp, Award Commemorate Shepard, 1st American in Space
May 3, 2011

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Alan Shepard, the first American in space, is getting twin honors posthumously.

Shepard, who rocketed to fame on May 5, 1961, aboard Freedom 7, will be on the face of a Forever stamp issued on May 5, 2011, to mark the 50th anniversary of his momentous spaceflight. Forever stamps do not show an amount, so they are good for first-class mail in perpetuity.

Some family members of Shepard have already accepted another award on his behalf. On April 28, NASA named Shepard the winner of an Ambassador of Exploration Award for his Freedom 7 flight and for his role in the Apollo missions that landed on the Moon. Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the Moon as part of Apollo 14, of which Shepard was the commander and which lasted form January 31 to February 9 in 1971. The award is a particularly striking piece of crystal that surrounds a lunar fragment, a piece of rock brought by the crew of Apollo 16. NASA has earmarked Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury astronauts as recipients of this award. (The fragments are small enough that they won't cut significantly into the 842-pound stash of Moon rocks that the Apollo astronauts brought back.)

The U.S. stamp featuring Shepard is part of a two-stamp set. The other one celebrates the Messenger mission, which was the first to orbit Mercury.

Television networks carried Shepard's Freedom 7 flight live, and he was feted as a hero when he returned, with parades in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. He was soon named the first commander of a new manned space program, Gemini.

His in-space career was put on hold, however, when doctors diagnosed him with Meniere's disease, a condition that causes fluid buildup in the inner ear, which can be cause extreme symptoms in astronauts in space, who routinely suffer from dizziness and disorientation because of the intense stresses put on them. Shepard accepted the post of Chief of the Astronaut Office and watched as other men walked on the Moon.

After a few years, he was cleared for a slot on an Apollo mission, and he was, at age 47, named the commander of Apollo 14. Among his more famous lunar exploits was an "experiment" in which he struck a golf ball and attempted to track its distance (using only one hand, because of the stiffness of his spacesuit and the thickness of his gloves). He was a skilled pilot, however, and his landing on the Moon was the most accurate of the entire Apollo program. This was also the first mission to send live color TV pictures back to Earth.

Once he was back on Earth, Shepard returned to being Chief of the Astronaut Office, serving for another three years before retiring, in 1974. Among his retirement activities were a stint as a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly and roles on the boards of several corporations. Among his numerous honors were a Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Langley Award (the Smithsonian Institution's highest honor), and induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Alan Shepard died in 1998, of leukemia. He left behind a large family, a bestselling book (Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon), and a legacy that included all manner of things named after him, among them

  • the post office in Derry, N.H., the town of his birth
  • a Navy supply ship
  • a geodesic dome
  • countless streets and parts of several interstate highways
  • schools and school buildings in several states
  • a Technology in Education award
  • and a Discovery Center in Concord, N.H., also named after Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe.


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