First American In Space Receives Own Stamp
America's first man to travel into space was honored with his own stamp on the eve of the flight's 50th anniversary.
The stamp, the U.S. Postal Service's first to honor an individual astronaut, depicts a grinning Alan Shepard with the Redstone rocket and Freedom 7 capsule he piloted on the historic May 5, 1961 launching.
“He set an example that so many have followed,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut, during the stamp unveiling ceremony Wednesday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “The crews that orbited and landed on the moon, the astronauts who have flown the space shuttles...they all walked through the door that Alan blasted open.”
Shepard was one of seven test pilots chosen by NASA in 1959 to participate in Project Mercury, the agency's first human spaceflight program. Just 23 days after the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 became the first human in space, the New Hampshire native made his record-setting liftoff. Less than three weeks after Shepard's successful 15-minute suborbital flight, President John F. Kennedy proposed to Congress the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely before the end of the 1960s.
After the mission, an inner ear disorder prevented Shepard from spaceflight and he instead served as Chief of the Astronaut Office. A decade later in 1971, following corrective surgery, Shepard commanded Apollo 14, man's third lunar landing mission. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1974. He died in 1998 at 74.
Shepard never thought of himself as a hero, said daughter Julie Jenkins, one of several family members at the event. “[But] I think daddy would acknowledge this honor, not only for himself, but for the men and women that built the rockets and sent him into space safely.”
The ceremony also unveiled a stamp commemorating NASA's unmanned MESSENGER, which in March this year became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, our solar system's innermost planet.
In the 50-year period between the Shepard and MESSENGER firsts, NASA has launched some 1,500 manned and unmanned flights.
The stamp designs, based on NASA images, were worked on by Donato Giancola of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Phil Jordon of Falls Church, Va.
Once you buy the Forever stamps, they're good for mailing first-class, one-ounce letters anytime, regardless of future postage increases, USPS spokesperson Mark Saunders said.