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Tuesday 21 February 2012

It Was 50 Years Ago Today.....

.....that John Glenn went into space for the first time.

I heard this mentioned on BBC radio this morning and then came across this video.
The opening words of the commentary to this video are "This is the moment that the USA entered the space race".
All very good, except that it wasn't.

I'm sure we all know that the first person into space was Yuri Gagarin, on 12th April 1961. But, so many seem not to know that the second person into space and the first American, was actually Alan Shepard. His first mission took place on 5th May 1961. Nearly a year before John Glenn's first flight.

Alan Shepard, like Glenn, was one of the original NASA astronauts. All of whom were later immortalised by Tom Wolfe and Hollywood in 'The Right Stuff'.
Shepard later commanded the Apollo 14 mission to the Moon and was the fifth person to ever walk on the surface. Something John Glenn never did. He is probably best remembered for playing golf during a moonwalk.

I am in no way trying to diminish the undoubted achievements of John Glenn. After all, he later became the oldest man into space when he flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. He was 77 years old at the time!

No, what annoys me about this is that Alan Shepard seems to have been left out. I can't remember any news items, or videos when the anniversary of his first space flight came around. I certainly remember Yuri Gagarin's flight being, quite rightfully, commemorated.

So, why has Alan Shepard become the forgotten man of space history?
Maybe, it's because he died in 1998, of leukemia and also because he wasn't a very high profile character during his later life?
John Glenn on the other hand, famously became a U.S Senator for 25 years and of course went back into space in 1998.
John Glenn, thankfully, is still alive and kicking today and therefore available to talk about his past exploits.

They say that death is a great career move. But it seems that this only works if you're a pop star, or an actor/actress. It obviously doesn't apply to astronauts.

The next few years will bring a whole host of 50th anniversaries. After all, the 1960's were a time of great change and produced many momentous events and memories.

Two immediately spring to mind, one more for 2012 and one for 2013.
1 - The Beatles first single "Love Me Do" was released on 5th October 1962 and
2 - President John F. Kennedy was assasinated, in Dallas, on 22nd November 1963.

I have a funny feeling that those particular anniversaries and the people involved, will be well remembered.
And quite rightly too.

Thanks for the memories.


  1. Well, I remember Alan Shepard, and shame on that BBC presenter for leaving him out. As you said, nothing against the great John Glenn, but read or see The Right Stuff, there's a group of heroes to be remembered.

  2. Okay, here's the scoop... John Glenn was the first to *orbit* the earth. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom each went up, but came right back down in under 15 minutes.

    50 years ago today, John Glenn spent five hours doing three complete laps of the planet before splashing down.

  3. Ken: I did think of mentioning whether the reason might have had something to do with actually going into orbit. But, i hardly think that means that Alam Shepard didn't start the USA's space age.
    I still hold my original reasons to be why he's been forgotten by some. Not by us two though :)