Thursday, May 05, 2011
Fifty years ago today, Alan Shepard rode a Mercury capsule on a Redstone rocket into space. It was three weeks after the orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin. There was clamor to match the Soviet feat, and of course the U.S. pressed hard, but Wernher von Braun and the other leaders of U.S. spaceflight had their step-by-step plan mapped out, and they stuck to it. A veteran Navy fighter pilot, Shepard was one of the original seven and would walk on the Moon in 1971. His Mercury capsule was as small as a practical spacecraft for humans could be - pilots joked they didn't climb into it, they "just put it on." The Redstone booster was a veteran, too, an Army ballistic missile which was the basis for the Jupiter-C that launched America's first satellite in 1958. Shepard died in 1998, but his feat will endure as long as our history lasts. Ad Astra, Al.