EVERGREEN, Colo. (CBS4) – In a room in Laura Shepard Churchley’s home in Evergreen, there are precious moments of American history. Images of her father on the moon and President John F. Kennedy watching his launch in the Freedom 7 when Alan Shepard became the first American in space.
“In the White House and then he autographed it,” said Laura, referring to one of her framed photos of her dad.
The idea of Laura going to space existed long ago, when she was a child. Her father would show her the heavens.
“We would go out in the backyard and we would have to identify the constellations and the different planets and stars. So I’ve always had that love.”
The idea for going on a Blue Origin rocket to space came up when she was at a 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 14 trip her father took to the moon, when he was the fifth person ever to walk on moon. She said it out loud.
“I think that a real Shepard should ride on the New Shepard.”
The New Shepard is the name of the spacecraft given by Blue Origin, a company started and led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. More than one person at the celebration heard her. Word got to Bezos’ brother and in a matter of weeks the phone call came from the company inviting her to be one of the six crew members on Dec. 9.
“Why didn’t we think of that?” said the company representative on the phone says Laura.
“I’m ready for anything,” she says about the trip.
She’ll report for training at the start of December ahead of her flight. She has already sent in her measurements for her flight suit.
“An original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard.” Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of the first American in space, will embark on her own journey to space on board #NewShepard on December 9. pic.twitter.com/vQfzTKo1ze
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) November 23, 2021
For years, she’s given talks to school children about space wearing her father’s flight suit from the Navy, adorned with and Apollo 14 patch.
She was in the 8th grade when the Freedom 7 launched in 1961. She remembers getting a phone call at boarding school from her mother and father both ahead of the flight. That was unusual. It was usually her mother calling. Her father was often gone in the military and later with NASA.
“And he told me that he had been chosen to be the first American in space, but that I couldn’t tell anybody.”
That’s a hard secret when America’s attention was already focused on the Mercury 7 astronauts that included her father. Life Magazine had a deal with NASA and was trying to create mystery about who would be selected for the first manned space flight. “But I didn’t tell anyone,” says Laura.
As she grew older, she too thought about being an astronaut. But it was an all-male career at that time.
“I wasn’t able to be the astronaut that I thought I wanted to be.”
Her father, she believes, agreed at the time that was wasn’t for women, but later changed his view when women started being included.
“I’m sure it would have, because he knew a lot of the women.”
Now she will go along as Blue Origin tries to develop excitement and refinement of its flights aboard the New Shepard, a fully reusable suborbital rocket system designed to take astronauts and research payloads to space. Thrilled to be going, Laura is ready. She’s been waiting a long time.
“Now I will be able to wear my flight suit when I give talks,” she said.
Space is waiting for her.
“I just want to know what’s out there.”