The earliest-known and finest NASA-related letter from America’s 1st man in space: “Basically, about 100 of the country’s top pilots have been selected to go to Washington to be briefed on the plans for putting a man in space sometime during 1961...The entire program of space travel is a fascinating subject and I’m very pleased to be associated with it!”
Rare and monumental ALS, signed “Alan,” three pages, 6 x 8, January 29, 1959. Shepard writes to “Dear Mother and Daddy.” In full: “Thanks so much for your recent note, Daddy. I appreciate also you sharing the commission on my insurance premiums. We are enjoying our time here very much and like the new addition to our house. It makes it much more livable. Room for guests—so come on down! Present plans are to be up for Ann’s wedding in April. No details as yet but will keep you posted. I am driving to Washington this afternoon for a briefing and for consideration in the ‘Man in Space’ program. I am letting you know right away since I am not sure how much publicity or press releases will be involved. Basically, about 100 of the country’s top pilots have been selected to go to Washington to be briefed on the plans for putting a man in space sometime during 1961. We are to be given a chance to volunteer for or reject the opportunity after the briefing. Thereafter, all volunteers will go through a rigorous elimination process until a handful are selected. The entire program of space travel is a fascinating subject and I’m very pleased to be associated with it! I assure you that I will analyze the entire picture based on my past flight experience. I intend to do it very carefully of course—and will most certainly volunteer for it. There is no reason for expression of fear but merely gratitude to be considered for this very important contribution to science and the country. Will keep you posted. Please make no announcements or statements at this time should the occasion arise or even if it doesn’t arise! My love to you both.” Accompanied by the original mailing envelope addressed in Shepard’s hand to “Mr. & Mrs. Alan B. Shepard, East Derry, New Hampshire.” The letter has some very light, all-but-invisible toning, very subtle variation to the tone of the ink in several places, and a touch of very mild handling wear. These points do not detract in the least from the fine, clean, impressive appearance and condition.
As part of the selection process,110 test pilots were divided into three groups, with two of those groups covertly ordered to the Pentagon for a briefing on this secret mission. At the end of the rigorous selection process mentioned by Shepard, in which those with the ‘right stuff’ proved their physical endurance as well as mental agility, NASA announced the names of the seven Mercury astronauts—Shepard among them—in April 1959. Two years later, on May 5, 1961, Shepard’s flight in the Freedom 7 capsule to an altitude of 116 miles made him the first American in space—and, as the direct response to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s flight just weeks earlier, can rightly be regarded as one of the earliest and most crucial salvos in America’s furious race with the Soviet Union. The historical significance of this letter is incredible, as the first American in space discusses “plans for putting a man in space sometime during 1961.” Pre-certified Scott Cornish and RR Auction COA.