Even with all the problems, Shepard piloted the Lunar Module Antares to the most accurate landing of the entire Apollo program. Shepard became the fifth and, at the age of 47, the oldest man to walk on the Moon, and the only one of the Mercury Seven astronauts to do so.
After the Mercury-Atlas 10 mission was canceled, Shepard was designated as the Commander of the first crewed Gemini mission, with Thomas P. Stafford chosen as his pilot.
In the Astronaut Office, it was his intellectual bent that set him apart from some of the other pilots, along with a certain hard edge.
There were some people who wondered why America’s first man in space Alan Shepard, at age forty-seven, having acquired fame, wealth, and status as an American hero, would risk his life to go to the moon.
“We have been plunged into a race for the conquest of outer space. As a reason for this undertaking some look to the new and exciting scientific discoveries which are certain to be made. Others feel the challenge to transport man beyond frontiers he scarcely dared dream about until now. But at present the most impelling reason for our effort has been the international political situation which demands that we demonstrate our technological capabilities if we are to maintain our position of leadership. For all of these reasons we have embarked on a complex and costly adventure. It is the purpose of this report to clarify the goals, the missions and the costs of this effort in the foreseeable future, particularly with regard to the man-in-space program.” From 1960 Ad Hoc Panel on Man-In-Space.
On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, Charles Donlan, Warren North, and Stanley White selected the first American astronauts. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.
Mercury Control was still undecided on the course of action to take with the heat shield problem. Some controllers thought the retrorocket pack should be jettisoned after retrofire, while other controllers thought the retro pack should be retained, as added assurance that the heat shield would stay in place…
“I am in a big mass of some very small particles, they’re brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it! They round a little: they’re coming by the capsule and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by. They swirl around the capsule and go in front of the window and they’re all brilliantly lighted.” John Glenn – Friendship 7