When We Were Apollo: “Meniere’s Disease Makes Alan Shepard a Moonwalker”

When We Were Apollo: “Meniere’s Disease Makes Alan Shepard a Moonwalker”

Something a little different to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the doomed Apollo 13 mission.

While originally slated to command Apollo 13, America’s first in space, Alan Shepard, was grounded indefinitely due to a chronic inner ear condition known as Meniere’s Disease.  A surgical procedure would eventually resolve the issue, but by then Shepard’s command was reassigned to Gemini/Apollo veteran, Jim Lovell. Back in the astronaut rotation, Shepard would swap positions with Lovell as commander of the Apollo 14 mission.

Alan Shepard poses with the American flag on the Fra Mauro Highlands, February 1971.

At a time when the future of lunar missions was already in doubt (the threat of budget cuts in the early 70’s raised the possibility that every flight could be the last), Lovell must have been relieved to know that he was going to the moon, leaving Shepard to wonder whether he would ever get a chance to walk on its surface.

Apollo 14 lunar module, Antares, basking in the lunar sunlight.

Of course nothing in life is ever certain. Had Shepard commanded Apollo 13 as originally intended, he would have found himself in the fight of his life after an explosion crippled the Apollo 13 command module, scrubbing the lunar landing and leaving the astronauts with only the lunar module as a life boat for their journey back to earth. Lovell, meanwhile, would have taken his place among the other 11 men who walked on the moon. I’m sure Alan breathed a huge sigh of relief that day in February 1971 when he finally touched down on the Fra Mauro Highlands!