Dec 5, 2021
– Laura Shepard Churchley brings back more than memories of her father on her upcoming Blue Origin launch. As the eldest daughter of the first US astronaut, Churchley packed a pile of special items that not only made the journey before, but went even further – to the moon and back.
Churchley was 14 years old when her father, Alan Shepard, took off on NASA’s first manned space flight, Mercury-Redstone 3, on May 5, 1961. 74-year-old Churchley not only follows in her father’s footsteps, but also follows his father’s trajectory. The suborbital trajectory that Blue Origin’s aptly named “New Shepard” rocket will fly is slightly lower than that of Shepard, which was groundbreaking 60 years ago.
“I know we will do an apprenticeship so I know what to expect, but it looks the same as Daddy, only about five minutes shorter,” Churchley said in an interview with collectSPACE.
A major difference will be the “space” that is available in Churchley’s amusement park. Shepard’s Mercury capsule “Freedom 7” barely had enough space for her pilot, let alone anyone or anything else. Blue Origin’s New Shepard has six seats. Churchley’s NS-19 mission members include four paying passengers (Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane, and Cameron Bess) and Good Morning America anchor Michael Strahan.
Freedom 7 was so tightly packed that Shepard had only one memento with her on his historic 15-minute flight: a 58 x 91 cm American flag that was rolled up and glued inside a bundle of cables in the spacecraft.
In comparison, Churchley and her five fellow Blue Origin flyers each have a small bag of memorabilia.
“I have a silver dollar of his that he took to the moon for my grandmother, and I have his Naval Academy ring that he wore on that mission,” she said, referring to Shepard’s second space flight, Apollo 14, on the he became the fifth person to walk on the moon. “I have some enamel Apollo 14 pendants, and I have my opal pendant that Daddy took to the moon for me in 1971, so I’ll send it up again.”
Churchley also packed a piece of heat shield and a South African Krugerrand that had previously flown into space with her father.
“I keep this gold coin for coin collectors,” she said.
Churchley also takes a piece of Freedom 7. Although Shepard only flew with one flag, he later gave Churchley a small washer that was removed from his Mercury spacecraft after the flight. The metal ring that hangs on a gold pendant will now float in space for a few more minutes of its story.
“I’m also taking a tennis ball for my grandson and a couple of golf balls for my husband and some friends,” Churchley told collectSPACE.
Shepard was famously the first person to hit a golf ball from the moon, an accomplishment Churchley didn’t expect she could imitate on her flight. Among other things, the New Shepard capsule is equipped with what Blue Origin advertises as the largest window ever launched into space.
“Well, we could probably take a golf ball and toss it gently at each other,” she joked.
Churchley also bagged two items for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (formerly the Mercury 7 Foundation), a nonprofit that her father co-founded and which she now chairs as chair of the board of trustees.
“I’m taking an American flag that went to the moon with Daddy. I’ll take them in my pocket. And then I’ll take his Apollo 14 patch, which also went to the moon so they could have an exhibit in their home office in Orlando, “Churchley said.” They already asked me to give a talk next year, so I’ll help them gladly.”
Churchley’s New Shepard-19 (NS-19) Mission is scheduled to launch Thursday morning (December 9th) from Blue Origin Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas. Although she doesn’t put much emphasis on titles, she said she was proud to soon be the first daughter of an astronaut to fly into space.
“I like to be the first father and daughter to fly,” she said, “just because I like my father.”
CollectSPACE thanks RR Auction for sponsoring coverage of the New Shepard-19 (NS-19) mission from Blue Origin. Based in New Hampshire, the home state of Alan Shepard, the auction house was behind the sale of Blue Origin’s first seat of New Shepard launcher, valued at $ 28 million.