Astronaut Alan Shepard's daughter says she's excited to follow him to space

Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of the first American in space Alan Shepard, is seen wearing a Blue Origin cap at the first human flight of the company's New Shepard launch vehicle in July 2021. Churchley is set to follow in her father's footsteps, flying on Blue Origin's third crewed flight in December.
Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of the first American in space Alan Shepard, is seen wearing a Blue Origin cap at the first human flight of the company's New Shepard launch vehicle in July 2021. Churchley is set to follow in her father's footsteps, flying on Blue Origin's third crewed flight in December. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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The daughter of NASA astronaut Alan Shepard can't wait to go to space, just like her father, she said.

Laura Shepard Churchley, now 74, is set to fly into space for the first time on Blue Origin's NS-19 flight this Saturday (Dec. 11). She will launch to the skies and back on a suborbital flight, sitting in the company's New Shepard spacecraft that's named after her father.

"I believe he would say the same thing as my children: 'Go for it, Laura'," Churchley said in a Twitter video (opens in new tab) released Tuesday (Dec. 7) by Blue Origin. "I just want to see a space a little closer."

In photosBlue Origin's 1st New Shepard passenger launch with Jeff Bezos

Six people will fly aboard this flight, including "Good Morning America" host and retired football player Michael Strahan. The rest of the crew, besides Strahan and Churchley, includes:

  • Dylan Taylor, 51, chairman and CEO of the space exploration firm Voyager Space, founder of the nonprofit Space for Humanity, and co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
  • Evan Dick, age not disclosed, an engineer and investor who is a volunteer pilot for Starfighters Aerospace.
  • Lane Bess, age not disclosed, principal and founder of a technology-focused venture fund called Bess Ventures and Advisory.
  • Cameron Bess, age not disclosed, who is a child of Lane. They stream variety content on Twitch (opens in new tab) under the alias MeepsKitten.

The six passengers of Blue Origin's NS-19 flight, from left: Dylan Taylor, Lane and Cameron Bess, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan and Evan Dick. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Churchley recounted standing outside with her father watching the Soviet Union's Sputnik satellite launch on Oct. 4, 1957, which was the first human-made object made in space. 

She then discussed what happened just a couple of years later, before Shepard and the rest of the Mercury 7 astronauts were announced publicly on April 9, 1959. At the time, she was about 11 or 12 years old.

"Daddy announced to me, 'I'm going to be working for NASA. I'm going to be an astronaut'," Churchley recalled. After asking her father what an astronaut means, she said that he told her, "NASA is going to put me into a spacecraft on top of a rocket. The rocket is going to blast me up into space. And I will come back to Earth safely.'"

"And I said 'OK,' have a good trip, Daddy'," she said.

Churchley filmed this video at the Kennedy Space Center's Astronaut Hall of Fame, near Orlando, Fla. The facility includes a statue of her father, which is showcased in the video.

Shepard flew in 1961 on the first human spaceflight by NASA and again in 1970, commanding the third mission to land on the moon, called Apollo 14. Recalling Shepard's first flight, Churchley said she will have a bigger window to look out of than her dad (echoing what Blue Origin often says in marketing materials about its "big, beautiful windows.")

She concluded in the video, "Every night I go out and look at the moon, and say hi to Daddy. It's kind of fun for me to say that an original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace