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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK


First American in space dies

Waiting for his first flight into space -1961

Alan Shepard, the first American in space and the 5th man to walk upon the Moon has died at the age of 74. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse looks back at his life:

Alan Shepard became the first American to go into space. He was beaten by Yuri Gagarin just 23 days earlier but with hindsight had the United States Government not delayed he could have been the first man in space.

On 5 May 1961 he was launched on a Redstone rocket on a brief 15 minute sub-orbital hop that took him into history.

Shepard once told me that he wept on the Moon. As he prepared to leave after his 33 hours on the lunar surface he took one last look at his home planet and cried.

But he did not go into Earth-orbit as Gagarin did. The first American to orbit the Earth was John Glenn and later Shepard was to feel overshadowed by Glenn.

[ image: Training for Apollo 14]
Training for Apollo 14
Shepard, a US Navy fighter pilot, was one of the 'Mercury 7' - the original astronauts selected in 1959 to train for spaceflight. Following Shepard's death, only four of the original seven are alive.

Later this year, John Glenn will return to space in the Space Shuttle.

After his mission, Alan Shepard was grounded because of an ear infection and for years it seemed that his career as an astronaut was over.

But he fought back, even secretly checking into a hospital under a false name to have an operation, and in 1969, the year that Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon, he regained his flight status.

While grounded he was head of astronaut training and crew selection. After getting the all-clear he controversially assigned himself to command the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission.

[ image: On the Moon]
On the Moon
Apollo 14 came after the delay caused by the Apollo 13 accident. It was a spectacularly successful mission paving the way for future lunar landings.

He had a passion for golf and frequently played on the world's best golf courses. He also played golf on the Moon having a spade adapted to be a golf club.

President Clinton called him "one of our greatest astronauts". Shepard's book, 'Moonshot' co-written with fellow astronaut Deke Slayton, is probably the finest account of a voyage to the Moon ever written.

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