Born: 18 November 1923
Died: 21 July 1998 (leukemia)
Birthplace: East Derry, New Hampshire
Best known as: The first American in space
A former Navy test pilot, Shepard was one of the original seven astronauts chosen by NASA for its Mercury program. He became the first American in space on 5 May 1961, when he went aloft in the Freedom 7 capsule for a 15-minute sub-orbital flight. (John Glenn later became the first American to circle the entire globe in space; earlier Ham the Chimp had been the first American primate in space.) The flight made Shepard a national hero. He was disqualified from early moon missions due to an inner ear disorder, but he persisted and was given command of Apollo 14. In 1971 Shepard and fellow astronaut Edgar Mitchell landed on the moon, becoming the fifth and sixth men to walk there. While on the moon, Shepard playfully pulled out a golf ball and whacked it across the lunar surface. He retired from the space program in 1974, also retiring from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral.
Extra credit: The first man in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the Earth on 12 April 1961.
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