On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted Freedom 7 into space, but not before he famously urged the ground crew “Why don’t you fellows solve your little problems and light this candle.”
But who did light that candle?
At the time Kurt Debus refused to name the individual because, as he rightly pointed out, they were a team, no one button was more important than another. But the guys at Air and Space have dug into that question, and in the process reunited some of the team with their buttons.
Give it a read, view the photos, and find out about the guys who fifty years ago gave Alan a chance to answer the prayer he muttered before take off, “Don’t fuck up, Shepard.”
(Image courtesy of Air and Space Magazine)
It amazes me when I think about the brave space pioneers. What did they think/feel as they sat in that behemoth through the countdown? Thanks for the space pioneer look-back, Nigel.
Hi Gloria. There are plenty of books written by many of those people. I think most of them were sufficiently motivated to be able to put to the back of their minds the dangers. The designer’s prediction for the shuttle was the two would be destroyed given the number of flights – and that’s what happened. Being able to climb aboard and ignore that takes a lot of dedication. But what about the engineer in the article, who walked to a rocket which had just failed to fire, and connected hoses to drain the liquid oxygen and fuel? All the time thinking that whatever gizmo had got stuck and prevented the launch, might just choose that moment to become unstuck and fire the engine … the one he was stood underneath!
Thanks for the comment, Gloria.
Thanks Nigel. I enjoyed the article that you linked. I remember that day well. The drama and excitement that I felt as a child watching the early space mission launches is tough to describe. For me there was some indescribable renewal of hope and optimsm that each launch created. I wish that children today could experience that same sense of hope about an ever brightening future.
When the camera would lose sight of the rocket I would be filled with dread for what might happen while the astronaut and his highy flamable rocket were out of sight. I never asked myself what I or anyone else could possibly do to help the astronaut if anything went wrong while he WAS in view but having him out of sight made it a bit scarrier to me as a kid.
Now I’m not saying anything … but I’m not quite old enough to remember Freedom 7. I was old enough to watch the landing on the moon. At school we were gathered in the main hall around a B&W TV. It was hard to tell what was happening from the images, but the boys among the group were convinced we were all going to be spacemen, landing on other planets. We too were filled with hope.
It’s a strange human reaction to be worried about something over which we have no control, yet we all do it. I’ve watched several first flights, throughly convinced that everything that can be done, has been, but I haven’t breathed entirely easy until I saw the plane come back. And at the time Shepard was riding into orbit, the US didn’t have a good record for launches!
I have to admit, I say Shepard’s prayer more often than I say the Lord’s Prayer…
LOL! Yeah, between Shepard’s prayer and (Stapp’s) Murphy’s Law my day is pretty much covered, too!