In 1961, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to travel in space. Note I didn't day first human; that honor went to Yuri Gagarin (damn Rooskie!) Unlike Gagarin, Shepard did get to manually control his craft, so that was kind of another first. And his feat did give Americans hope that this space program might be worth spending money on, President Kennedy using the occasion to push for a manned trip to the moon. Shepard's achievement was overshadowed about a year later when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, rather than merely go up and down as Shepard did. Nevertheless, Shepard assumed he'd be in space, and was in fact scheduled to be the lead astronaut in the upcoming Gemini program (in which a capsule carried two astronauts rather than one.) Unfortunately, his health gave out. He began experiencing dizzy spells and nausea, which he thought at first he might keep to himself. Why let NASA worry about something like that? But then it occurred to him that dizzy spells and nausea in outer space could be fatal, and he 'fessed up to his superiors. A doctor checked him out, and found he had Menier's disease, in which fluid builds up in the inner ear. Shepard was grounded. In the meantime, the Space Program went on. Gemini soon gave way to Apollo. A horrible accident left three astronauts dead in an initial launch pad accident, but, despite that tragedy, two men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren, eventually walked on the moon in what became a worldwide media event (though I'm not sure the Russians watched it; they may have had their sets tuned to the Bolshoi Ballet instead.) Shepard may have seemed like an astrohas-been at that point.
Medical science to the rescue! By 1969, a doctor had come up with a surgical cure for Menier's disease. Shepard checked into a hospital under an assumed name, had a hole or something drilled in his ear, and the dizziness was no more. He was back on active duty. But how soon could he go to the moon?
On February 6, 1971, 47 years ago today, Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard conducted the following scientific experiment on the moon, to the rapt attention of the American public:
You might have heard Shepard say the ball went "miles and miles".
Not quite. It was actually about 200 meters, or 219 yards. What looks like a stick right near the golf ball is actually a metal rod that fellow astronaut Ed Mitchell, trying to get in on the fun, threw as a javelin.
Nevertheless, I, for one, am impressed by Alan Shepard's achievement. After all...
...I can't even get the ball to go through the damn windmill!