Visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy’s Museum can now see a small part of the moon and a huge part of history.
On Thursday, the museum was presented with a lunar rock sample in a special ceremony honoring Rear Adm. Alan B. Shepard Jr.—the first American in space and the spacecraft commander of Apollo 14 in 1971.
Shepard’s three daughters accepted the sample on behalf of their father, a 1945 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Laura Shepard Churchley, Julie Shepard Jenkins and Alice Shepard Wackerman attended the ceremony to honor their father.
The award recognizes "the sacrifices and dedication of the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury astronauts," according to a Naval Academy press release. The award provides a sample portion of the 842 pounds of moon rocks and soil collected from the six lunar missions from 1969 to 1972, the release states.
“I’m very grateful to NASA for saving some lunar rocks that my father collected when he was on Apollo 14 in 1971,” said Churchley.
The sample was presented to Churchley and her sisters to donate to the museum of their choice. The women said selecting the U.S. Naval Academy as the recipient was a no-brainer.
“This is the place where we wanted to put the moon rock. This is where it had to be. There was never a doubt and that’s where it should be and we’re honored to give it to the academy,” said Jenkins.
“For us to be able to give it to the United States Naval Academy is just, is the best thing there is. Daddy loved the academy,” Churchley said, adding that his time at the school was some of the best days of Shepard’s life.
[The Naval Academy Museum] was just the most natural place for us to donate because it meant the world to Daddy,” she added.
Churchley said this trip to the academy was “emotional,” calling it a “bittersweet day.” She added that they toured the campus stopping at notable sites, like where her father participated in crew and where they did the ring dance.
“I think after having the tour today … I understand my father a whole lot better,” Jenkins said.
“And these were some of the best days of his life at this university. Growing up, he had to grow up. They all had to grow up,” Churchley said.
A Class Coming Together
Among those gathered at the ceremony were many members of the class of 1945, a tight-knit group who came together during a difficult time in our nation’s history.
“When you think about the class of '45 that Alan Shepard graduated in— these men … they graduated in '44 early so they could go out and serve in the war,” Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller said.
“I look at that sort of commitment and I see a connection this day to that long history that leads back into a very, very dark time in our nation’s history led by people like the class of '45 that have guaranteed the freedoms we enjoy today” he added.
Bob Williams, president of the class of ‘45 and Shepard’s roommate, was there. Churchley referred to Williams as "the make it happen man" for his efforts in making the honor come to fruition.
Williams said he actively worked to make the event happen for a little less than a year, though the process took about five years.
As J. Scott Harmon, director of the Naval Academy Museum noted, the subject of presenting the award to the museum was first brought up about five years ago, when the security and environmental conditions inside the museum were poor. Since then, the museum has undergone rennovations.
“I always loved coming here. I can’t tell you how many times a day I’ve had tears running down my face over this school, my pal ... and the event,” said Williams, who traveled from San Francisco for the occasion.
Williams said Shepard was one of the most “charismatic men I’ve ever met,” speaking of his love for sailing and adding that "you knew he was going to go somewhere."
A Legacy Lives On
“You think about what Alan B. Shepard means to this school and I tell you, it is a mark that will stand the test of time,” Miller said during a speech before the award was presented.
With Shepard paving the way, the U.S. Naval Academy has produced “more astronauts than any other institution in the nation,” as stated on its website and as noted by NASA Chief Historian William Barry, who spoke Thursday night.
Barry also noted that the academy has produced the most people who walked on the moon, including Shepard, James Irwin (class of '51) and Charles Moss Duke Jr. (class of '57).
In addition, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, who delivered a taped message at the ceremony due to the pending shuttle launch, was a USNA graduate in the class of 1968.
"In the terms of the introduction to Star Trek ... they call space the final frontier. I hope it is not the final frontier. I think there are going to be more frontiers for humankind to explore, for graduates of this institute to explore, for people like Alan Shepard, who are going to go on and explore new frontiers," said Harmon.
"And this Ambassador of Exploration award here in the museum will inspire many more of our graduates," he added.