DERRY — It’s a tribute to America’s first man in space with roots planted deep in Derry.
New Hampshire officials gathered Friday to celebrate the completion of an Interstate 93 expansion project and to rededicate the highway in honor of Alan B. Shepard Jr.
The ceremony, held at a state Department of Transportation garage in Derry, brought together not only state and local officials including Gov. Chris Sununu, but members of the state’s U.S. congressional delegation.
Shepard family members also attended the ceremony, where a new sign was unveiled to honor Shepard.
Shepard became the first American in space in 1961 as one of NASA’s seven original Mercury astronauts. In 1971 as part of the Apollo 14 mission, he walked on the moon and was notably remembered for driving golf balls across the lunar surface.
In a 2013 Derry News column, historian Richard Holmes gave a glimpse into the highway project’s start, honoring the road’s 50th anniversary that year and how Shepard became part of the highway’s history.
“Early into the project, it was decided to name the road from Salem to Hooksett as the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway, a singular honor for this son from Derry and America’s first man in space,” Holmes wrote. “In late June 1962, Shepard took a tour of the project. At one site he drove a huge gravel spreader and at another he operated a massive crane. He commented later that the road building equipment was more difficult to operate than a space capsule.”
Holmes continued saying at a location just off Route 102, Shepard also pushed the plunger that set off the first dynamite charge to begin construction of Exit 4A.
A year later, on June 28, 1963, the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway was completed and ready for the public.
The I-93, 20-mile widening project created four lanes going in each direction, from the Massachusetts line to the I-293 split. State officials said the highway project not only supports better traffic flow and safety, but spurs economic growth along that corridor and better access to properties like trail systems.
At the ceremony, Department of Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan said it was a day to celebrate.
“And it’s a fitting tribute to one of New Hampshire’s heroes,” she said.
Laura Shepard Churchley attended the ceremony with her sister Julie Shepard Jenkins, and said she and all Shepard family members were honored to pay tribute to the legacy of her father.
“Daddy would be very, very pleased,” Churchley said. “It’s been an honor for our family.”
She also showed off a replica of the golf club her father took to the moon aboard Apollo 14 and how it was crafted and folded to make the flight. The actual club taken to the moon is on display at a golf museum in New Jersey.
Sununu said he grew up close by off Exit 3 in Salem and that knowing a true American hero like Shepard came from nearby Derry was always something of which he felt proud.
“It was a very exciting thing growing up with an American hero and New Hampshire icon right up the road,” Sununu said.
He added I-93 is “not just a highway” but an economic driver for the state and beyond.
“We got it done and we got it done right,” he said.
After the ceremony, a new sign was unveiled near the highway.