Laura Shepard Churchley is bringing more than just memories of her father in her upcoming Blue Origin launch into space. As the eldest daughter of America’s first astronaut, Churchley has packed a stash of special items that not only made the trip earlier, but went further, to the moon and back.
Churchley was 14 when his father, Alan Shepard, took off on NASA’s first human spaceflight, Mercury-Redstone 3, on May 5, 1961. Now 74, Churchley is not only following in his father’s footsteps, but also his trajectory. The suborbital flight path that Blue Origin’s “New Shepard” rocket will fly is slightly lower than the one Shepard started 60 years ago.
“I know we’re going to get training so I’ll know what to expect, but it sounds like the same thing Dad did, just about five minutes less,” Churchley said in an interview with collectSPACE.com.
A big difference will be the “space” available within the Churchley promenade. Shepard’s Mercury capsule, “Freedom 7,” barely had enough room for its pilot, much less for anything else. The Blue Origin’s New Shepard seats six. Churchley’s NS-19 mission crewmates will include four paying passengers (Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane and Cameron Bess) and “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan.
Freedom 7 was so tight that Shepard only had one piece of memorabilia with him on his historic 15-minute flight: a 23-by-36-inch (58 by 91-cm) American flag that was rolled up and taped up. inside a bundle of wires in the spaceship.
By comparison, Churchley and his five flying companions from Blue Origin each have a small bag to pack with souvenirs.
“I have a silver dollar that was taken to the moon for my grandmother and I have her Naval Academy ring that she wore on that mission,” he said, referring to Shepard’s second spaceflight, Apollo 14, during which he became the fifth. person to walk on the moon. “I have some enamel pendants from Apollo 14 and I have my opal pendant that Dad took me to the moon in 1971, so I will send it again.”
Churchley also packed a heat shield piece and a South African Krugerrand that previously flew into space with his father.
“I’m going to take that gold coin to the coin collectors,” he said.
(Image credit: collectSPACE.com)
Churchley also takes a piece of Freedom 7. Although Shepard only flew with a flag, he later gifted Churchley with a small washer that he removed from his Mercury spacecraft after the flight. The metal ring suspended from a gold pendant will now add a few more minutes floating in space to your story.
“I’m also going to bring a tennis ball for my grandson and a couple of golf balls for my husband and some friends,” Churchley told collectSPACE.
Shepard became the first person to hit a golf ball from the moon, a feat Churchley doesn’t expect to be able to emulate on his flight. Among other concerns, the New Shepard capsule is equipped with what Blue Origin touts as the largest windows ever launched into space.
“Well, we could probably take a golf ball and gently toss it between us,” he joked.
Churchley has also packaged two items for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (formerly Mercury 7 Foundation), a nonprofit organization co-founded by her father, which she now helps lead as chair of its Board of Trustees.
“I’m taking an American flag that went to the moon with Dad. I’ll carry it in my bag. And then I’ll take their Apollo 14 moon patch so they can display it at their home office in Orlando.” Churchley said. “They’ve already asked me to give a talk next year, so I’ll be happy to help.”
(Image credit: NASA)
Churchley’s New Shepard-19 (NS-19) mission is scheduled to take off Thursday morning (December 9) from Blue Origin Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas. Although she does not attach much importance to titles, she said she is proud that she will soon become the first daughter of an astronaut to fly into space.
“I like to become the first father and daughter to fly,” he said, “just because I like my father.”
collectSPACE thanks RR Auction for sponsoring coverage of Blue Origin’s New Shepard-19 (NS-19) mission. The auction house is based in New Hampshire, Alan Shepard’s home state, and was behind the $ 28 million sale of the first seat of Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle.
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