Fredericksburg man reflects on astronaut grandfather

SHEPARD COLEMAN shows one of his mementos, a model Boeing aircraft that was a gift to his grandfather, Alan Shepard.

By Richard Zowie— When Shepard Coleman was an adolescent attending school in Wimberley, his history textbook’s cover showed one particular iconic American from the 20th century.

Alan Shepard, the famous astronaut who, in 1961, became the first American to travel into space. Ten years later, he would command the Apollo 14 moon mission.

Coleman’s teacher then told the class, “Can anybody name the person on the book—besides Shepard?”

Coleman probably felt like covering his face and sinking in his chair. The teacher had just blown his cover.

“My friends loved it,” recalled Coleman, now in his early thirties and living in Fredericksburg. “They’d go around and say, ‘Hey, guess who Shepard’s grandpa is?’”

He and his sister are among the six grandchildren of Rear Admiral Alan B. Shepard Jr., who spent nearly 217 hours in space—of which nine hours and 17 minutes were spent on the moon.

Shepard died in 1998 at 74; this past Monday, Nov. 18, would’ve been his 90th birthday.

Growing up, there was memorabilia of outer space all over Coleman’s house, and they took trips to NASA regularly. Coleman still has an Apollo 14 coin that his grandfather carried into space during the lunar mission.

When Coleman was younger, he and his family spent much time in the River Oaks area of Houston, where they’d often visit his grandparents in the large building affectionately known as the “white house.”

“We spent a lot of summers there,” Coleman said. “I learned to swim in the pool. They’d watch us overnight sometimes.”

Coleman joked that he and his sister particularly enjoyed the white house, since it was a big place where kids can get lost easily.

Coleman described the “Admiral,” as all the Shepard grandchildren referred to their grandfather, as a man huge on family. Summers included swimming while winters included skiing in Colorado.

“He taught me how to ski,” Coleman said. “He also taught me how to snowboard, even though he didn’t know how to snowboard. But, he still taught me. He took me out on my own and said told me I’d learn. He didn’t know what he was talking about, but he sat there the whole day as I was falling on my butt, cheering me on until I got the grasp.”

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