A Trip to the Grand Bahama Islands after Alan Shepard’s Space Voyage

Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961. Although Shepard’s mission was a mere 15 minutes, it held tremendous historical significance. Shepard, seated in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After travelling approximately 300 miles, Shepard splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean near the Grand Bahama Island (GBI). Soon after landing in the Atlantic, Shepard arrived at the Grand Bahama Island to be examined and interviewed. Reporters flocked to the Grand Bahama Island from all over the world to send information about the extraordinary event back home. Clyde Randolph, a reporter for RCA, was present on the island when Shepard arrived from his mission.

One report, from Lamont, Grand Bahama Island to Project Mercury Periodical Press Pool in Cape Canaveral, Florida stated,

“Sometime early today, weather permitting, America’s first astronaut will drop into the Atlantic 75 to 80 miles northeast of GBI, and the spatial part of Project Mercury’s suborbital launch will be over. The personal data-gathering aspect of the launch, however, will have just begun. The exhaustive medical examination and information gleaning of the astronaut will take place on a desolate strip of sand and pines just 55 miles from the Florida coast and 162 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral. After the astronaut has been fished from the drink and undergone his initial medical checkup on the pickup ship, he’ll be flown to GBI for a 48-hour de-briefing period.”

Don Datisman made a report to the Gary Post-Tribune to NASA Press Pool Cape Canaveral which stated,

“Shepard had a statement of his own for newsmen Saturday. It was his first direct comment to the press since the space exploit. It was not made directly, however, but relayed by Col. John A. However, public information chief for Project Mercury. It was, ‘The only complaint I have is that the flight wasn’t long enough.’”

This scroll is a master copy containing the reports gathered before and after Shepard’s landing; this scroll was once owned by Clyde Randolph and was donated to Tennessee Tech Archives by Mark Dudney. The reports not only describe the events regarding Shepard’s mission, but also the conditions of the GBI in 1961. This scroll provides an interesting look into the history of the GBI. One report mentions that in May 1961, only 8,500 people lived on the GBI. Today, however, approximately 51,000 people inhabit the island.

Several of the reporters described the less-than-ideal circumstances on the island. The reporters who were staying on the island were not very impressed with their surroundings. It is possible that the reporters had never been to an area that had a climate similar to the Bahamas; many of the reports mentioned the unbearable humidity and heat on the Grand Bahama Island.  In the week leading up to Shepard’s arrival, there was a series of small fires all over the island caused by lack of rain. These fires caused much of the island to be covered in smoke; Al Erxleben, a reporter for Florida Times-Union, wrote “‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ could easily have been the island’s theme song.”


The scroll, originally encased in a brass tube, was removed and rehoused. Some rolled archival items are flattened; however, this scroll is being maintained rolled up in a protective bag.  The scroll has great value as an artifact and is a unique addition to Tennessee Tech University Archives.

About University Archives

Archives and Special Collections resides in Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library on the first floor. The collection includes materials of legal, fiscal and historical significance to Tennessee Tech University and documents the history of the Upper Cumberland Region. The collection includes over 2,500 cubic feet of manuscripts, photographs, and archives from Tennessee Tech as well as surrounding people, businesses, and organizations of the Upper Cumberland. The collection contains books on the history and culture of the Upper Cumberland Region of Tennessee.
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