Space pain

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 August, 1999, 12:00am

Anyone who has experienced pain in their ears, either on the ground or while flying, will have some understanding about the difficulties Alan Shepard Jnr overcame.

In May 1961, Shepard, who was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts named by Nasa in 1959, became the first American to journey into space. His historic voyage occurred when he made a sub-orbital flight on board the Freedom 7 spacecraft, a trip which lasted a mere 15 minutes.

Shepard's career suffered a major setback in 1963 when he was diagnosed with labyrinthitis, a condition that caused dizziness and a partial loss of hearing in one ear.

His condition meant he was grounded by Nasa from being a pilot on any aircraft. Disappointed, he accepted a desk job with the space agency but never gave up his dream of walking on the moon.

In the years following, while his colleagues were travelling further into space with each Apollo launch, Shepard consulted a series of doctors on his condition. Each diagnosed it as untreatable.

Help came from Shepard's partner, Tom Stafford, who referred him to a doctor who had perfected a new technique. Stafford, who was part of the Apollo 10 mission, was also grounded by Shepard's condition as Nasa did not like to break up its designated crews.

With his operation successful, Shepard returned to active flight duty and demanded to be part of the Apollo 13 mission. Nasa felt he needed more training and bumped him and his crew to the next mission.

In From The Earth To The Moon (Pearl, 10.30pm), Shepard's plight is chronicled as at 47 he became the oldest person to walk on the moon. He will forever be remembered for his golf swing from the lunar surface, sending the ball 'miles and miles'.

Shepard died last year of cancer at the age of 74.

Starting at 6pm, BBC has live coverage of the solar eclipse. The phenomenon is significant as the last total eclipse of the sun this century. It will first be visible in Nova Scotia and then travel across the Atlantic over Europe and the Middle East before dying out in the evening in the Bay of Bengal.

Romania will experience the longest total eclipse, only two minutes and 23 seconds. Sadly, it will not be visible from Hong Kong.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Star World, 8pm) is an entertaining show and one of the few programmes Star World has that the terrestrials have not already shown.

In the second season opener, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) pays for his youthful rebellion against his destiny of being a Watcher.

There are likely to be a lot of tired people in Hong Kong tomorrow as Cable Sport has live coverage of Manchester United's home opener against Sheffield Wednesday at 2.30am.