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A Talk With A Space Veteran

On May 25, 1994, Alan Shepard was interviewed by CBS 'This Morning' Co-Anchor Paula Zahn. He had just published his memoirs, Moonshot, and was promoting a space exhibition, staged by New York's Hayden Planetarium and Meccano Erector, to mark the 25th anniversary of the first moon landing.

During their interview, Zahn and Shepard discussed such topics as his first space flight, the future of the space program - and whose idea it was to hit golf balls on the moon. Shepard also spoke prophetically of space station Mir.

Q. It must be stunning for you to see how far space technology has come. If you would, take us back to 1961 and tell us what it was like when you entered the Mercury capsule, which was state-of-the-art at that time.
A. Well, it really was. And, of course, even in those days, as crude as it was, we were so proud that in space, we, as pilots, were actually controlling the vehicle. We could point it where we wanted to point it. We could conduct experiments. And even though it was pretty crude, we were pretty proud of what we did in those days. Of course, now they're flying all kinds of things, repairing telescopes, looking at radar patterns of the earth. It's just amazing the progress we've made.

Q. You mentioned how crude it was. What was it like being sealed inside that capsule?

A. I think everybody's a little nervous at the time of takeoff, but actually, we're all very well prepared. We've used simulators. We've practiced with things to go wrong. And the moment the rocket lights off, all the nervousness is gone. You're there flying the airplane just like you're supposed to fly it.

Q. But physically, you were under much greater duress than astronauts would be under today, weren't you?

A. I think the acceleration forces were a little bit higher then than they are now. But, you know, it's exciting for youngsters today just as it was for us, and it's exciting for youngsters of tomorrow.

Q. Let's talk about your mission where you walked on the moon and actually fired a couple golf shots on the moon. Whose idea was that, anyway?

A. Well, it was mine. I enjoy the game of golf, and I realized that with one-sixth gravity and no atmosphere, that I could hit the ball six times as far and it wouldn't slice or hook, so I had a makeshift club, and I had the boss' permission to do it, and we had a lot of fun.

You just recently co-authored a book called Moon Shot. What is your most vivid memory of all this space exploration you've done?

A. Actually, it's written by Deke Slayton, who was a colleague of mine back in the early days and, unfortunately, hom we lost just a few months ago. But Deke and I were grounded for a while, and we were sort of in charge of all the astronauts from Day One until Deke flew in 1975. So the book really covers the inside story of how astronauts really felt. There have been other books written and movies made, but from the outside looking in. This is really from the inside looking out.

Q. A lot of taxpayers now are questioning the use of their tax money to pay for NASA's latest mission. What direction do you think the space program should be moving in to quell some of those taxpayers' fears?

A. I think the next step obviously is the space station, which will truly be an international effort. The Soviets are joining in as well, and the space station will look back toward the Earth and tell us a lot more about the planet that we live on: the limitations, the compulsion problems, and the kinds of experiments that will really mean a lot more to us in the near-term.