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Thursday, May 05, 2011

50 Years Ago - "A-OK"

In his "work clothes"
Alan B. Shepard (November 18, 1923 – July 21, 1998)
It was a mild spring day in coastal New Hampshire.  I only had about 5 weeks left before summer vacation started.  My first summer as a teenager!  It was my Dad's 35th birthday.  He was away, as usual, flying somewhere for the USAF.  The first thing I noticed when I arrived at school was that one of our 4 junior high classrooms (the school was K-8) had a TV set in it.  Now that was odd.  My heart fluttered slightly.  I knew that Astronaut Shepard was scheduled to launch into space that morning on a short (15 minute) sub-orbital flight.  I was really bummed because I had wanted to stay home and watch it all on TV.  I knew that this was history being made.  Now, for the first time ever, there were multiple TV sets scattered around the school.  Mrs. Kyle's beautiful baby boy may have been a stubborn cuss but not a stupid one.
Somewhere around T-minus 30 minutes the two 7th grade and two 8th grade classes congregated in the Science (appropriately) Room.  Now you must remember that this was before we had any form of satellite tele-communications.  All TV signals were transmitted nationally by terrestrial microwave towers and the three (and only, this was pre-cable) TV Networks (ABC/CBS/NBC) had to pool and coordinate their use of the one microwave link out of Cape Canaveral, which did cause some comical miscues.  All the programming was in black & white (color TV didn't become prominent until around 1966)

The designated time arrived, finally, and America watched Freedom 7 climb into the heavens on a brillant pillar of flame from its Redstone rocket.  15 minutes later it was over.  Of course we didn't see the splashdown or any of the other post landing stuff because, as I noted earlier, there were no satellites to send a signal to.  Yes, the Soviet Union had beaten us into space when Yuri Gagarin made a single orbit of the Earth 23 days earlier but we (America) didn't care.  We had a GEN-U-INE Hero.

Later that summer he returned to his hometown of Derry, New Hampshire for his true hero's parade.  I was there and got to shake his hand.

Mission Patch

One of his faux pas was that he liked speed (astronaut/test pilot, duh) and it was not uncommon for him to be stopped for speeding (usually 120+ mph) as he made his regular trips between New Hampshire and Cape Canaveral.  I don't think he was ever issued a ticket after his epic journey.  After the mission he was once asked what he was thinking about just prior to the launch and he replied "That we're doing this on 'low-bid'."

His wife Louise died 5 weeks after he did.  Their bodies were cremated and the ashes scattered together in the ocean near Cape Canaveral.

"Let's all be careful out there!"

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