Today is the 50th anniversary of Freedom 7, America's first manned flight into space.
Back in 1961, NASA had a pool of seven illustrious astronauts, the Mercury Seven, who had all been vying for a shot at being first.
NASA chose Alan Shepard of Derry, New Hampshire as the best and brightest.
And NHPR Correspondent Carol Robidoux reports, on Wednesday, with little fanfare, Shepard was finally honored with his image on a U.S. postage stamp.
Jack Goterch was the first guy in line Wednesday for the new Alan Shepard stamp. In fact, he was the only guy in line. He was really excited about getting his first-day stamps postmarked at the tiny East Derry Post Office. It’s just a brisk walk away from where Shepard grew up.
Goterch, however, was less excited to find that, after waiting 50 years for a US postal tribute, the first American in space, was sharing space, with a Mercury satellite.
”I was surprised they issued 2 stamps for the commemortion of the freedom 7 flight." Goterch said. "It almost diminishes the importance of shepard's flight, I'm sorry to say.”
Goterch is also surprised there wasn't more fanfare in town -- or anywhere -- over the 50th anniversary of the Freedom 7 flight. To Goterch, Shepard's venture into space should be right up there with Columbus finding his way to the new world.
But if there's something underwhelming about the lack of national fanfare for Shepard's big day, don't blame Neal Thompson. He wrote the book on Shepard -- mostly, because nobody else had.
When Shepard died in 1998 Thompson, then a newspaper guy, couldn't find much information on Shepard to fill in the blanks of the obituary. That got him curious. He started digging, and discovered Shepard was a real man of mystery. A rugged, ambitious man's man.
The resulting biography, "Light This Candle," penned in 2004. Thompson says Shepard was just like a character right out of the "Mad Men" TV show -- like Don Draper in a spacesuit.
So he says, a stamp seems like the least we could do.
In Thompson's view, Shepard "is one of the overlooked astronauts and one of the overlooked heroes of the space race. We know him as the guy who went up first. “
Less known, says Thompson, is that Shepard worked at NASA15 full years and was grounded during the 60s because of a disease that affected his ears.
“But he stuck it out," Thompson noted, "and then worked his way back into the flight rotation and was sent to the moon on Apollo 14. So i thikn shepard, his career with nasa spans the etire breadth of the accomplishment of the space race, from the early days and being selected to go first, all the way up through the moon landings.”
Of course, it has been 50 years.
In the rear view mirror of the U.S. space program, maybe it's just too easy to forget the early explorers, like Alan Shepard, that kid from Derry whose dream of flying eventually landed him on the moon.
Shepard biographer Neal Thompson said, "it's long overdue that he gets a stamp that recognizes the accomplishments and the dedication he gave to NASA and to the space program.
So here's to Alan Shepard.
You can celebrate by buying a stamp, or a lot of them.
And since they’re forever stamps, they should be good for the next 50 years.