Photo Credit: Alan Shepard/Shutterstock.com

I must admit, maybe I am a piece of history after all

Astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American in space. His achievement came in 1961, just 23 days after the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth in a spacecraft. At the time, the Americans were seen as losing the so-called Space Race with the Soviet Russians, but would land the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong in 1969.

Former US Navy pilot Shepard’s inaugural space flight was very brief. His one-man flight capsule, Freedom 7, flew 116 miles high, but did not orbit the Earth.

Although an inner ear problem threatened his space career in the mid-1960s, Shepard later became one of only twelve people ever to walk on the Moon. He took the opportunity to improvise a game of golf while there. He also sang: “I was walking on the Moon one day, in the merry, merry month of…hey…what month is it?"

The experience of going into space gave Alan a whole new perspective of life on Earth: “I realised up there that our planet is not infinite,” he later wrote.

“It's fragile. That may not be obvious to a lot of folks, and it's tough that people are fighting each other here on Earth instead of trying to get together and live on this planet. We look pretty vulnerable in the darkness of space.”

Alan continued to be an ambassador for space exploration during his life and won many honours including the Congressional Space Medal of Honour.