In May 1995, my wife, Usha and I were in the US and as a part of our tour we visited Houston.
We spent an entire morning at the Johnson Space Centre, which is quite far from Houston city. That evening we visited a shopping mall and our taxi driver who took us back to our hotel, pointed out to us the golf course where Alan Shepherd played. He then provided us some interesting tit bits about Shepherd when he was in Houston.
``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' remembered this on May 5,2011 because it happens to be the 50th anniversary of the first American in space who was none other than Alan Shepherd. Having suffered a serious defeat in the manned spaceflight programme once again at the hands of the Russians with the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the US, hurriedly wanted to catch up which resulted in the 15-minute sub orbital flight by Shepherd.
Explorer-1 followed Sputnik and Shepherd followed Gagarin. Frankly, it was only with the first human landing on the moon on July 20,1969 that the Americans achieved a major space spectacular.
The 50th year of the first American in space, somehow has not attracted as much international publicity or attention as Gagarin's flight did. Ask any person in India the name of the first American in space and do not be shocked if he or she blinks. They may certainly know the name of the first person who stood on the surface of the moon---Neil Armstrong--who has become a household word. Armstrong's achievement has overshadowed that of Shepherd's.
Going by the past record, one would have thought that Nasa would have gone to town with the 50th anniv. But, it has not happened. There are some minor events to mark the anniv which includes the release of stamps honouring Shepherd and also a crater on Mars being named after him. That is all.
The Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Mumbai had organised atleast a photo show to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's flight on April 13,2011. Why did not the American Information Resource Centre organise a similar thing to mark the 50th anniv of the first American in space?
Not many are perhaps aware that Shepherd also has the unique distinction of being the first person who played golf on the moon when he was a part of the Apollo 14 mission.
Twenty days from now ie on May 25,1961, it will be the 50h anniv of Kennedy's famous speech at the Capitol which proclaimed US's decision to send a man to the moon and return him safely.
Let us wait for the anniv.