excerpt from
The Unbroken Chain
by Guenter Wendt with Russell Still

Shepard was an odd mix. Some days he had the personality of an iceberg and other days he was all jokes. But even when playing a prank, he had a stroke of nastiness in him.

One day while running a test at the pad, Walt Williams got a phone call. He was needed immediately at a press conference in Cocoa Beach. He didn't have any wheels that day and was trying to figure out how he could get there in time. Shepard tossed him the keys to his gray Corvette and said. "No problem, Walt. Just take my Vette. I'll ride to lunch with Gus."

Williams thanked him and shoved off. Shepard went straight to the phone and got security on the line. "Hey, this is Al Shepard. Some son of a bitch just stole my Corvette and is heading for the South Gate."

When Williams arrived at the gate, four guards stopped him and jerked him out of the convertible. They had him slammed against the wall when Williams convinced them to call Shepard back at the pad.

"Oh, is that who it was? Well, yeah, sure. He's ok," Shepard replied with an evil grin.

On another occasion, a press crew was scheduled to come out to the astronaut quarters and do some filming. Shepard rounded up a handful of cardboard washers and inserted them behind the screw-in fuses at the box where they would be plugging in their equipment. He got a lot of pleasure watching those poor guys trying to figure out why none of their equipment would work.

Glenn, on the other hand, was a straight arrow. Always good with the public and generally good-natured with all of us.

I belonged to the Presbyterian church in Cocoa Beach. During the summer, groups of kids would stay there in a sort of camp. I remember asking John if he would come out and talk to the kids one time. As I had expected, he said he would be happy to.

On the day of the visit, John was running a little late. I went ahead and started the meeting by telling them what the objects and goals of the Mercury program were. Then we went over the general issues of spaceflight. The rockets, the training the astronauts went through, things like that. When John arrived, I introduced him as a friend of mine from NASA. I said his name was "John" but I didn't tell them he was an astronaut.

John took over and started to describe the phases of a launch and the orbital insertion and tried to explain how the spacecraft remained in orbit.

"When we bring the spacecraft back, we have to be very careful," he told them. "If we bring it in at the wrong angle, it could skip back out into space and the astronaut would never make it home."

I interjected the question to the group: "What should we do if we lose an astronaut like this? Should we cancel the program?"

One of the kids quickly spoke up. "That shouldn't be any problem. You still have six more don't you?"

Design and status meetings rotated around so I was frequently flying over to Huntsville, or back to the McDonnell factory in St. Louis. I preferred the trips to St. Louis since there I could actually look in on the spacecraft development and testing.

Normally, the hangar where the Mercury capsules were being built was clean and orderly. On one trip, however, I noticed a distinct farm smell when I walked in.

"It smells like a pig pen in here," I remember telling one of the engineers. He referred me over to a corner of the building. In it was exactly that. A pig pen. A dozen grunting pigs lounged in the thick straw. Feed troughs and water tubs lined the side.

Although the plan was for water landings of the Mercury capsules under parachute, we had to be prepared for other contingencies. The spacecraft, and the astronaut's couches in particular, had to be stressed to absorb significant energy in the event of a hard landing, or an impact with terra firma. The structure of internal organs in pigs and their weight to bone mass ratio was roughly the same as that of humans. Because of this, they became the test subjects in a series of drop tests.

Couches were designed for the animals and were built on shock absorbing structures of honeycombed aluminum. From up to forty feet in height, the brave pigs tested the energy absorbing qualities of different honeycomb configurations. A nearby youth center appreciated the resulting windfall of hams and pork chops.

Back at the Cape, the Air Force was responsible for the training of our animal subjects there. Two chimpanzees, Ham and Enos, were selected as our first Mercury passengers.

Ham was a fairly good natured fellow, but Enos was known to have his days. We typically tried to keep the public away from him. VIPs of all sorts were frequent visitors, however, and they always wanted to see everything. I usually got the job of conducting a tour.

Some Congressman, I can't remember his name, was down on a fact finding mission. As was normal, I was given escort duties.

"I want to see the monkeys," demanded the fat little politician.

"Well, actually they are chimpanzees," I answered.

"They're all monkeys to me and I want to see them."

I knew he wouldn't appreciate the difference in the primates, so I checked in with the Air Force trainers to see if Ham was available.

"Ham's in training right now, but Enos has just finished a session," I was told.

I knew Enos would be a poor spokesman for the program so I returned to tell the congressman that none of the chimps were available. Our guest wouldn't take no for an answer and insisted that he see one of the "monkeys." Alright. He asked for it. I had some idea of what to expect.

The two of us walked from Hangar S into the sheet metal building next door where the chimps were housed. Inside, several Air Force technicians were busy with paperwork and Enos was standing in his cage. When he saw the congressman, a stranger, he grabbed the bars and began making growling sounds.

"So that's the astronaut, eh?" the congressman chuckled and walked over to the cage. "What are you doing in there, little spaceman?"

Enos backed away from the bars and squatted on his hands.

"Want to go for a ride on a rocket?" the congressman teased.

Enos brought out his hands from under him, gripping a steamy load of freshly laid feces. With a snarl, he flung it straight onto the congressman. I had seen it coming and had already backed well away.

"God damnit!" our fat visitor shouted, flinging foul debris off his tie and shirt.

In short order, the congressman was on his way back to Orlando and I don't think we ever had him as a guest again.

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