Alan Shepard


A few years ago I took my son to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I was hoping to ignite in him some of the awe and wonder I had felt as a child, growing up in the space age. He had seen Apollo 13 , and was excited to sit in the capsule once graced by Tom Hanks. But other than that, the rest of the trip didn't do much for him. He'd seen bigger rockets in  Star Wars.

But for me, the day brought back the amazement I felt at his age, sitting bleary- eyed in front of the TV as a man walked on the moon. When our tour paused at the Redstone rocket testing site, our guide described how Alan Shepard and the other Mercury astronauts watched the tests from inside a tipped-over railroad car. Seems there wasn't enough money to build a proper observation area, since the rockets kept blowing up.

Alan Shepard watched those firecrackers explode, and he still strapped his skinny body into one and became the first American in space. 10 years later, at the age of 48, he did it again, becoming one of only a dozen men to walk on the moon. "Hero" is defined as a person of great strength, courage and daring. America has never shined brighter than when it went to the stars. Thank you, Alan Shepard - hero, for starting our journey.

©1998 James Mann

Originally appeared in Ink19

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