Last week Jeff Bezos and three others rocketed to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard space capsule, which was named for Alan B. Shepard (11.18.23 — 7.21.98).
An honored naval pilot and NASA astronaut, Shepard is famous for four things: (1) Being the first American to soar into space, albeit for only 15 minutes, — it happened aboard a Mercury spacecraft on 5.5.61, and inside a small capsule called the Freedom 7; (2) Having acquired the reputation of a cocktail-lounge hound during the Mercury training period in and around Cocoa Beach, at least according to Tom Wolfe‘s “The Right Stuff“; (3) Being forced to take a leak inside his suit prior to the 5.15.61 flight, because of a five-hour flight delay and not being able to hold it any longer; and (4) Becoming the fifth man to walk on the moon (it happened in ’71, during the Apollo 14 mission), and hitting two golf balls on the lunar surface.
Sidenote #1: Shepard sliced or shanked both shots — excusable because he was forced to whack the balls one-handed due to his bulky Apollo space suit. Despite the enormous gravitational advantages, Shepard’s golf balls travelled only about 40 yards. Sidenote #2: Soon after the flight Norman Mailer complained on the Dick Cavett Show that Shepard’s golf stunt reflected an attitude of American arrogance.
The ’61 Shepard flight was nerve-wracking for tens of millions of TV viewers because who knew what might happen? The booster could blow up, something technical could go wrong, etc. It was the very first time an American had ascended on a flaming rocket, and to the edge of space yet — “What a beautiful view,” Shepard said.
When JFK mentioned certain NASA stalwarts who oversaw and engineered the Freedom 7 flight, he added that “most of these names are unfamiliar…if this flight had not been an overwhelming success these names would be very familiar to everyone.” [1:51 mark.)=]