I'm Shirley Griffith
And I'm Steve Ember with the VOASpecial English program, People in America. Each week we tell aboutsomeone important in the history of the United States. This week wetell about astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first American to flyin space.
MISSION CONTROL: "Three, two, one, zero ... liftoff!"
SHEPARD: "Roger, liftoff and the clock has started."
The clock has started. With thosewords, Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space.He was in a small spacecraft called Freedom Seven. It was on top ofa huge rocket traveling at more than eight-thousand kilometers anhour.
Fifteen minutes later, FreedomSeven came down in the Atlantic Ocean. Alan Shepard was a nationalhero. He had won an important victory for the United States. Thedate was May Fifth, Nineteen-Sixty-One. The United States and theSoviet Union were in a tense competition for world influence. Andthis competition was reaching even into the cold darkness of space.
In Nineteen-Fifty-Seven, the Soviet Union launched the firstelectronic satellite, Sputnik One. The United States successfullylaunched its first spacecraft less than four months later. Now thetwo sides were racing to see who could launch the first human spacetraveler.
On April Twelfth, Nineteen-Sixty-One, Soviet cosmonaut YuriGagarin flew in space for one-hundred-eight minutes. He circled theEarth once. The Soviets again were winning the "space race," but notfor long. Three weeks later the United States also put a man intospace. He was a thirty-seven years old officer in the Navy -- AlanShepard.
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Junior, was born on November Eighteenth,Nineteen-Twenty-Three, in East Derry, New Hampshire. He graduatedfrom the United States Naval Academy in Nineteen-Forty-Four. Hemarried soon after his graduation. Then he served for a short timeon a destroyer in the Pacific during World War Two.
In Nineteen-Forty-Seven, Alan Shepard became a pilot in the Navy.Later he became a test pilot. The life of a test pilot can be verydangerous. It helped prepare Alan Shepard for an even greater dangerin the future.
The successes that the Soviet Union had with its Sputnik programcaused the United States to speed up its plans for a space program.The Americans decided to launch a satellite as soon as possible. Thefirst attempt failed. The rocket exploded during launch.
Support was growing, in Congress and among scientists, for aUnited States civilian space agency. Soon, Congress passed a billcreating NASA -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.President Eisenhower signed the bill into law. NASA's job was to bescientific space exploration. Its major goal was sending the firstAmericans into space.
Within three months, the program had a name: Project Mercury.Mercury was the speedy messenger of the Greek gods. While engineersbuilt the spacecraft, NASA looked for men to fly them.
NASA wanted military test pilots because they test fly newplanes. Test pilots are trained to think quickly in dangeroussituations. On April Seventh, Nineteen-Fifty-Nine, the space agencyannounced the seven Mercury astronauts. They would be the firstAmerican space travelers. Alan Shepard was one. The others wereScott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, WalterSchirra and Donald Slayton.
Nine months after the project started, NASA made its first testflight of the Mercury spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Inthe next two years many other tests followed, all withoutastronauts.
The final test flight was at the end of January,Nineteen-Sixty-One. It carried a chimpanzee named Ham on aseven-hundred-kilometer flight over the Atlantic Ocean. Severalproblems developed. But Ham survived the launch and the landing inthe ocean. Later, Alan Shepard often was asked how he became thefirst human American to fly in space. "They ran out of monkeys," hejoked.
There were some concerns about the safety of the huge Redstonerocket that was to carry the spacecraft. The launch had been delayedseveral times while more testswere done. By the time the rocket wasready for launch, Yuri Gagarin had already gone into space for theSoviet Union.
The choice of Alan Shepard to be the first American to fly inspace was announced just a few days before the launch. Flightsplanned for May Second and May Fourth had to be halted because ofbad weather.
On May Fifth, Nineteen-Sixty-One, a Friday, Alan Shepardstruggled once again into his Mercury capsule. The vehicle was namedFreedom Seven. There was almost no room to move. Shepard waitedinside for four hours. Weather was partly the cause of the delay.There were clouds that would prevent filming the launch. Also somelast-minute repairs had to be made to his radio.
Shepard was tired of waiting. So he told the ground crew to hurryto solve the problems and fire the rocket. Finally, they did.
The rocket slowly began climbing. Millions of radio listenersheard a voice from the Cape Canaveral control room say, "This is itAlan Shepard, there's no turning back. Good luck from all of us hereat the Cape."
The rocket rose higher and higher. For five minutes Alan Shepardfelt the weightlessness of space. He felt himself floating. FreedomSeven flew one-hundred-eighty-five kilometers high. Then itre-entered the atmosphere and the spacecraft slowed. Thefifteen-minute flight ended with a soft splash into the ocean aboutfive-hundred kilometers from Cape Canaveral.
Alan Shepard reported, "Everything is A-Okay." A helicopterpulled him from the spacecraft and carried him to a waiting ship.
The flight was a complete success. Three weeks later PresidentJohn F. Kennedy declared a new goal for the United States. He calledfor "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to theEarth" by the end of the Nineteen-Sixties.
In July of Nineteen-Sixty-Ninethat came true. Alan Shepard was not on that first Apollo moonflight . In fact, he almost never made it to the moon. He developeda disorder in his inner-ear. It kept him from spaceflight for anumber of years. Finally, an operation cured his problem. NASA namedShepard to command Apollo Fourteen. The flight was launched at theend of January Nineteen-Seventy-One. Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchellwere the other members of the crew.
Roosa orbited the moon while Shepard and Mitchell landed on thesurface. They collected rocks and soil. Shepard also did somethingelse. He played golf. He hit two small golf balls. It was not easy.Shepard was dressed in a big spacesuit. He described his difficultyto Mission Control in Houston.
When Shepard did hit the golf balls, they traveled "for miles andmiles," as he reported, because the gravity on the moon is one-sixthof the gravity on Earth.
The only humans to walk on the moon were in the Apollo spaceflight program. Twelve American astronauts walked on the moonbetween Nineteen-Sixty-Nine and Nineteen-Seventy-Two. Alan Shepardwas the fifth one.
In Nineteen-Seventy-Four, he retired from NASA and the Navy.Shepard became chairman of a building company in Houston, Texas.Later he began his own company, called Seven Fourteen Enterprises.It was named for his flights on Freedom Seven and Apollo Fourteen.
He also wrote a book with astronaut "Deke" Slayton about hisexperiences. The book is called "Moon Shot." And he led a groupraising college money for science and engineering students.
Alan Shepard died on July Twenty-first, Nineteen-Ninety-Eightafter a two-year fight with the blood disease leukemia. He wasseventy-four years old. He had been married to his wife, Louise, forfifty-three years.
Alan Shepard was the first American to fly in space. He rode intothe sky on rocket fuel and the hopes and dreams of a nation. He willalways be remembered as an American hero because of those fifteenminutes in space.
This Special English program was written by Avi Arditti andproduced by Lawan Davis. This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for anotherPEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.