On May 5th of 1961, Alan Shepard became the second person — and first American — to enter space, just three weeks after Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth. The following amazing letter was written by Shepard to his parents two years before, and marks the very first announcement of his plans to volunteer for the “Man in Space” program. In fact the very same day, just hours after penning it, Shepard and a group of other specially selected pilots travelled to Washington, where they were briefed about Project Mercury by NASA for the first time. He was chosen as one of the Mercury Seven just over two months later, at which point he began the training that would ultimately see him take the Freedom 7 spacecraft to an altitude of 187 kilometres.
A decade after that, Shepard became the fifth person to walk on the Moon.
(Source: RRAuction; Image above: Alan Shepard on May 5th, 1971, preparing for launch, via NASA.)
Dear Mother and Daddy —
Thanks so much for your recent note, Daddy. I appreciate also you sharing the commission on my insurance premium.
We are enjoying our time here very much and like the new addition to our house. It makes it much more livable. Room for guests — so come on down!
Present plans are to be up for Ann’s wedding in April. No details as yet but will keep you posted.
I am driving to Washington this afternoon for a briefing and for consideration in the “Man in Space” program. I am letting you know right away since I am not sure how much publicity or press releases will be involved. Basically, about 100 of the country’s top pilots have been selected to go to Washington to be briefed on the plans for putting a man in space some time during 1961. We are to be given a chance to volunteer for or reject the opportunity after the briefing. Thereafter, all volunteers will go through a rigorous elimination process until a handful are selected. The entire program of space travel is a fascinating subject and I’m very pleased to be associated with it!
I assure you that I will analyze the entire picture based upon my past flight experience. I intend to do it very carefully of course — and will most certainly volunteer for it. There is no reason for expression of fear but merely gratitude to be considered for this very important contribution to science and the country. Will keep you posted.
Please make no announcements or statements at this time should the occasion arise or even if it doesn’t arise!
My love to you both —