SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- In a ceremony that featured a farewell phone call from space, Capt. William M. Shepherd, the first commander of the International Space Station and a Navy SEAL, retired Dec. 14, at the San Diego Aerospace Museum.
Shepherd spent more than four years training in Houston and Moscow with two Russian cosmonauts before establishing human operations aboard the 100-ton space station "Alpha" complex in October 2000. He returned to Earth 141 days later in March 2001.
Astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavor, which is currently docked with the International Space Station, placed the call during the ceremony.
Rear Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, gladly paused during his remarks to pass the phone to Shepherd.
Two fellow astronauts wished Shepherd well: Expedition 3 commander and retired Navy officer Frank Culbertson who will return to Earth this week, and Expedition 4 flight engineer and Navy officer Dan Bursch, who just arrived on the Space Station and will stay for the next five months.
While on the phone, they pointed out that the "change of command" ceremony that Shepherd initiated as the Expedition 1 commander of the Space Station was just one of many lasting legacies that he could be proud of.
Complete with a ship's bell, the traditional Navy ceremony is now performed during command turnover of the Space Station, which alternates between American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. Shepherd also had advice for the new Expedition Four Commander, Russian cosmonaut Yury Onufrienko.
"Sail her well," Shepherd said.
Shepherd graduated from basic underwater demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado in 1972 and served with Underwater Demolition Team 11 and SEAL Team 1 in Coronado before attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earning an advanced degree in mechanical engineering in 1978.
He then returned to Naval Special Warfare, serving in positions at SEAL Team 2 and Special Boat Unit 21 in Little Creek, Va. In 1984, he was selected as the first-ever-military non-aviator for astronaut training.
As an astronaut, Shepherd flew three space shuttle missions and was involved in underwater search and rescue of the space shuttle Challenger.
Prior to assuming command of the International Space Station, he had served as the space station's program manager since 1993.
Since June, Capt. Shepherd served on the staff of Naval Special Warfare Command, where he was responsible for assisting in the development of emerging capabilities and programs for tomorrow's SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC).
Shepherd told the audience, filled with numerous children as well as SEAL trainees, that being a SEAL had prepared him well for the rigors of space.
"SEALs have a place in space," he said. "There isn't really anything that a SEAL can't do. SEALs are, above all, adaptable. The proudest moment of my life has been to wear the Trident in space and get the Navy tradition a little bit farther out there," he said, referring to the SEAL warfare insignia.
Olson thanked Shepherd for staying close to his "frogman" roots and setting the example for the community.
"He was always a SEAL officer in a space suit and wore the Trident above his heart," Olson told the audience. He then turned to Shepherd and said, "You took Naval Special Warfare to new heights and you did it with style, skill, humor, integrity and honor."
Several astronauts flew in from Houston to attend the ceremony, and they served as sideboys when Shepherd and his wife, Beth, departed the podium.
As the ceremony concluded, SEAL trainees in attendance honored Shepherd with a traditional BUD/S send-off.
"Capt. Shepherd!" the senior trainee shouted. "Hooyah, Capt. Shepherd!" the rest of the students roared.
Shepherd's future plans are not yet determined, but he said his experience in the Navy, and particularly the SEALs, has taught him valuable lessons that he will always stay with him.
"It is our sense of team," he said of the SEAL community. "This is what binds us together and sets us apart."
For more information on Naval Special Warfare, go to http://www.sealchallenge.navy.mil.