During his time with the Navy, Alan Shepard Jr would later find himself back at Patuxent, where he engaged in a second tour of duty and was allowed to flight test the F3H Demon, F11F Tiger, and other aircraft. During his last five months at this location, he spread his wisdom and philosophy to up-in-coming students when he served as an instructor in the Test Pilot School.
After graduating from the Naval War College (Newport, Rhode Island) in 1957, Shepard became a part of the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. His title was aircraft readiness officer.
Just imagine all the time you have spent in the air while traveling on a plane. All of your hours will certainly not compare to the achievements of Alan Shepard. He has logged more than 8,000 hours flying the friendly (and not-so friendly) skies with 3,700 of those hours spent in jet aircraft.
As an Astronaut
During his lifetime, Shepard has enjoyed a respected career in the Navy. However, in 1959, his career path took a different turn. This year would mark the start of Shepard becoming one of 110 military test pilots given an invitation to volunteer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration , a program that had been recently established at the time. Hopefully, he would become one of the chosen to first participate in a space flight program. A demanding set of tests were administered and Shepard was chosen as one of the original members of Mercury astronauts, joining six others.
When January of 1961 rolled around, he was lucky to have become chosen to experience the first American manned mission into space. Many years of preparation had already gone into this mission, which was delayed due to lack of planning in certain areas. Originally, the flight was to take place in October of 1960. The mission was postponed on many different occasions. The date kept bouncing to March 6th, 1961 and then to May 1st, 1961. These setbacks would cause the Americans to lose the honor of sending a man to orbit the Earth first. A Soviet cosmonaut accomplished this feat. His name was Yuri Gagarin and he accomplished the goal on April 12th, 1961.
The Significance of the Freedom 7 Mission
Less than a month after Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, Shepard was sent into space on May 5th, 1961 as a pilot of the Freedom 7 mission. This made him the second person to travel into the unknown greatness of space, but also the first American to do so. There were a few differences that the two men encountered during their historic flight. For instance, Gagarin was part of a flight that was completely automatic, while Shepard possessed some control of the Freedom 7, including the altitude of the spacecraft. When Shepard launched into the sky, what was possible to capture on film, was transferred to adoring fans and onlookers , seen live by millions who huddled close to their television sets.
When Shepard successfully returned back to Earth, he became a national hero with parades held in his honor. They stretched from New York City to Los Angeles. He was also able to meet the President of the United States at the time , John F Kennedy.