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Rare letter by astronaut Alan Shepard on block

Alan Shepard wrote his parents 52 years ago, telling them about the possibility that he could be asked to pilot America's first mission into space.
Image: Alan Shepard letter
This photo released by RR Auction in Amherst, N.H., shows the second page of a letter dated Jan. 29, 1959, written by Navy pilot Alan Shepard to his parents in East Derry, N.H. In the letter, Shepard wrote that he was being considered for the country's manned space flight program, and would volunteer for it if given the option.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Alan Shepard wrote his parents 52 years ago, telling them about the possibility that he could be asked to pilot America's first mission into space.

But before letting them in on the big news, he offered pleasantries and discussed how much he liked his renovated house and was looking forward to an upcoming wedding.

"Thanks so much for your recent note, Daddy," Shepard started the letter that's up for auction next month.

Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space, was an experienced Navy test pilot when he wrote the Jan. 29, 1959, letter to "Mother and Daddy." He began talking about the space program in the fourth paragraph, and stuck to the topic for the rest of the three-page letter.

RR Auction of Amherst, New Hampshire, told The Associated Press the rare handwritten letter written in ink is being auctioned next month by a California collector who bought it five years ago. The company expects it to sell for as much as $80,000.

Shepard, who was born in Derry, N.H., and died in 1998, said early in the letter how much he was enjoying a new addition to his house in Virginia Beach, Va., and how he had room for guests, "so come on down!"

He added that he was planning to attend a wedding in April before telling his parents he was driving to Washington that afternoon for a briefing and for consideration to be part of the "Man in Space" program.

"Basically, 100 of the country's top pilots have been selected to go to Washington to be briefed on the plans for putting a man in space some time during 1961," Shepard wrote. "We are being given a chance to volunteer for or reject the opportunity after the briefing."

He wrote that volunteers would go through a "rigorous elimination process until a handful are selected." He said the program and space travel was a fascinating subject that he was proud to be associated with.

"I assure you that I will analyze the entire picture based on my past flight experience. I intend to do it very carefully of course — and will most certainly volunteer. There is no reason for expression of fear but merely gratitude to be considered for this very important contribution to science and the country," he wrote.

Seven astronauts were chosen that April for the Mercury program: Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton.

Shepard rode in Freedom 7 in a rocket-powered suborbital flight, on May 5, 1961, to become the first American in space. The flight reached an altitude of 116 miles.

In 1971, Shepard led the Apollo XIV mission to the moon. He was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and received two NASA Distinguished Service Medals among numerous other awards.

His letter is one of a number of items on space and aviation being auctioned on the Internet. The auction is from Sept. 15-22 and will be held through RR Auction's website.

Bobby Livingston, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, said the letter originally was bought by a different collector when Shepard's mother sold her Derry house and its contents in October 1989 in preparation for a move to Florida. Livingston said the company auctioned the letter in 2006 to its current owner, who did not want to be identified, for $28,976.

"We feel it's going to get considerably more than that. We estimate between $60,000 and $80,000," he said Monday.