New Hampshire

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., America's First Astronaut in Space

The 1957 news of Russia's Sputnik I spurred a national urgency to keep pace in the space race. The Mercury Project was being developed and in early 1959 one hundred candidates, including East Derry, New Hampshire's Alan Shepard, were chosen for astronaut training. After carefully screening the candidates, the United States' seven original astronauts were selected.

Shepard was chosen for the first manned sub-orbital flight, which took place on May 5, 1961, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The tiny Mercury capsule was mounted on top of a Redstone rocket, which produced 78,000 pounds of thrust. The capsule was shot in an arc over the Atlantic reaching an altitude of 116 miles and speeds up to 5,180 mph. Shepard's flight of 15 minutes and 28 seconds ended when he splashed down in the Atlantic 297 miles from the launch site.

In 1986, Shepard was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame at ceremonies held in Dayton, Ohio, and given the Hall of Fame's Spirit of Flight Award.

Shepard retired from the Navy and wrote a book, Moon Shot, with his close friend, the late Mercury astronaut Donald "Deke" Slayton. Alan Shepard died at the age of 74 on July 21, 1998.

Mercury Astronaut Photo

Photo courtesy of NASA

July 1962-The Original 7 astronauts in Mercury spacesuits. Front row, left to right, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from the left, are Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.

Barbara Morgan and Christa McAuliffe Photo

Photo courtesy of NASA

Barbara Morgan (primary backup) and Christa McAuliffe. Both were part of NASA's Teacher in Space Program.


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Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger Tragedy

January 28, 1986-Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from Concord, was to have been the first ordinary citizen in space. And then, the horrifying space shuttle Challenger explosion, watched by her family, friends, students, and the world, ended it all.

McAuliffe had been selected from over 11,000 candidates for the honor of fulfilling President Reagan's plan to send a teacher into space.

McAuliffe taught social studies at a grade school in Bow, New Hampshire, before moving to Concord High School. The personable social science teacher wore the honor of her selection with grace and dignity and applied herself to the six-month training schedule for the mission. She was fulfilling a fantasy she had harbored since the day Alan Shepard became the first American in space.

McAuliffe's genuine enthusiasm for the undertaking attracted a big following and fostered much enthusiasm for the mission. She had planned to conduct two lessons while orbiting in space and they were to be broadcast to schools across the country.

As a fitting tribute to her memory, a planetarium was built in Concord following the tragedy.