Freedom 7 + 55 years
As I am writing this, it is the 55th anniversary of the launch of the Mercury Spacecraft, Freedom 7, our first manned spaceflight. It’s hard to underestimate how important it was to the national psyche after being upstaged by the Russians (RUSSIANS!) several times from first satellite, first spacecraft to the moon, first spacecraft to use solar-cells, first to photograph another body up close, and so on and so on. It was especially difficult, when the weight of their spacecraft was so much more than ours, it really spoke to the advanced state of their missile program. However, we soon learned that they needed the larger missiles however, as their electronics and metallurgy technologies along with many others, were so far behind us. (For example, the N1 moon rocket had 30% more thrust than our Saturn V, but it only could manage sending a two man crew to the moon, with a very crude open cockpit one-man lunar-lander).
Astronaut Alan Shepard flew just a scant 3 weeks after the Soviet’s Yuri Gagarin in his one-orbit mission. Shepard complained that we (that is, “he”) could have beaten Gagarin if NASA hadn’t opted for a second unmanned Mercury test, after a somewhat shaky but otherwise successful, first test which flew Ham, the chimpanzee into space for a mere 16 minutes.
After his mission, Shepard would have to be grounded due to vertigo caused by an inner-ear problem. He wasn’t quiet though, being the second in command of the astronaut office, second only to Deke Slayton, who was likewise grounded.
A couple of years ago I was at a banquet for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. I filled up about 3 tables worth of some of my collection, flown flight plans, hardware and so on, but the one item everyone wanted to photograph was Alan Shepard’s 1st grade scrapbook. One of my great prizes it is a collection of his drawings and assignments following his progress though the year. It even has what is likely one of his very first autographs, of the tens-of-thousands he no doubt would sign later on. Last year I met one of his daughters, Laura Churchly, and told her all about it. She hadn’t known it even existed, so was excited when I sent her scans of every page.
Interestingly enough, items such as this are overlooked at the various auction, in lieu of the “glamour” items such as flown lunar mission patches or hardware. But I find these little pieces of ephemera just as appealing. And incredibly charming.
Remember, even the greatest among us were still little kids at one time, making drawings that no doubt decorated many refrigerators.