CDR Alan B. Shepard

Everett Kinstler  Oil  1965

Fifty five years ago today, Alan Shepard became the first American in space.  Although originally scheduled for December of 1960, delays plagued lift off, leading to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin making the first trip to space less than a month before Shepard.  You can read about a painting depicting his success here:

By all accounts, Alan Shepard was a highly intelligent young man, skipping grades and graduating high school early.  Interestingly, he wasn’t originally a great pilot.  After joining the Navy he actually took private flying lessons and earned his civil pilot’s license to improve his skills.

In 1959, NASA was looking for volunteers for their brand new Mercury program.  508 military test pilots were hoping for the job.  Seven men made it through the process, all hoping to earn the coveted position as the first man in space.

The astronauts may have been having second thoughts when they watched the launch of the first rocket, similar to the one that would carry one of them into space.  It exploded shortly after take off.  Probably not all that encouraging.

Shepard was chosen to pilot, beating out John Glenn.  He flew his Mercury Spacecraft 7, which he named Freedom 7, for a short 15 minutes before splashing down in the ocean.  It was a much shorter and lower flight than Gagarin’s.

Before he was able to make his next trip to space he was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, leading to disorientation and dizziness.  Unfortunately, this grounded him and he became the Chief of the Astronaut Office.  It wasn’t until 1969 when a new surgery was developed to cure him of the disease.  He was restored to flight status just months after the surgery.

In 1971 Alan Shepard took his second flight into space aboard Apollo 14.  He was the fifth to walk on the moon, and at 47 years old, the oldest.  More importantly, he remains the only man to play golf on the moon.

This amazing portrait was painted by Everett Raymond Kinstler in 1965.  He began his career as a comic book artist during the “golden age” of comics, illustrating The Shadow.  He then transitioned to portraiture, and has painted more than 1,200 portraits of celebrities, business leaders, government officials, and even presidents.

I like how crisp and life-like this portrait is.  The highlight on the forehead is perfectly placed and his uniform has great depth from the shadows.  Although I generally prefer a more detailed background, I don’t mind the plain one here.  The neutral tone makes the color of the uniform really pop.

By the way, Ham was actually the first American in space.  Actually, he was the first hominid in space, beating Yuri Gagarin by more than two months.  Not only that, he actually played a more active role, as the cosmonaut’s flight was completely automatic while Ham had to push levers.  Ham was a chimpanzee.

His training partner, Minnie, was the only female officially trained to be an astronaut by NASA until Sally Ride’s class in 1978. Minnie was also a chimpanzee.




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