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SUN 04 JUL 1999: The First Few Perfect Numbers

SUN 11 JUL 1999

SUN 18 JUL 1999: Why Apollo Didn't Work
SUN 04 JUL 1999: The First Few Perfect Numbers

KNOWLEDGE

SUN 19 SEP 1999: Errors I Have Known

Space

SUN 19 DEC 1999: Missions Worth Making a Fuss Over

WEEKLY WHINE

Astronaut Pete Conrad: 1930-1999

courtesy Caltech SEDS Space News

He was a unique mixture of professionalism and excitement, and he would always remind us, through his words and his actions, why we put him there in the first place.

As one might expect, sentiments poured in from across the world since the passing of astronaut Pete Conrad on THU 08 JUL 1999. What one might not expect, though, that so many have said so much in praise of this accomplished space traveller whom history seemed to have forgotten.

"whoopie! that may have been one small step for neil, but it's a long one for me!"
- astronaut pete conrad on being the third person on the lunar surface
Conrad was given the task of commanding Apollo 12, the mission that succeeded Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's historic lunar landing. Richard Nixon took the trouble to head out to Kennedy Space Center to see the launch, but the general public would eventually forget about the Apollo 12 crew of Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean.

Pete Conrad, born MON 02 JUN 1930 in Philadelphia, went through the risks of an unstable space station and a landing on the Moon, but lost his life to a simple motorcycle accident in Ojai, CA. Fellow Moon walker Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 veteran, remembers him for his complete devotion to whatever it was he would be doing.

"He clearly believed there were lots of risks worth taking and contributed as much as anybody to the success of the Apollo program," said Schmitt. Conrad was a veteran of four missions: Gemini V, Gemini XI, Apollo 12, and Skylab 2. Each time, he let his character and his joy show through.

In 1965, he joined Gordo Cooper, sixth of the Mercury Seven astronauts, for Gemini V. By the time they returned to Earth, they had set a space endurance record at 190 hours, 56 minutes - nearly eight full days. He was chosen as commander of Gemini XI the following year and executed a perfect docking with an unmanned empty stage from an Agena rocket. Working alongside his good friend Gordon, he guided the Gemini capsule to a new record, this for altitude above Earth. As the two reached apogee 1360 km [850 mi] above the surface, Conrad shouted out "Whoop-de-doo!" to a bewildered but also happy Mission Control.

However, on the same mission, Conrad was subjected to the cold realities of space flight. On an EVA by Gordon, Conrad was waiting inside the capsule when he realized that his friend was nearing exhaustion. Due to the equipment in a Gemini capsule, Conrad would be unable to go outside and retrieve Gordon should he collapse.

Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon, recalls, "He would just have to cut the cord and come home without him. That was his best friend out there, and that scared him to death." Fortunately for both, Gordon managed to return to the safety of the capsule, and Gordon would go on to give Conrad a lift to the Moon.

"there didn't seem to be anything he wasn't good at as an astronaut."
- author andrew chaikin on astronaut pete conrad
"We were the second crew to get there and all that history was long gone. I just wanted to enjoy the flight, which we did," he said ten years ago at the twentieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

If anyone deserved the right to enjoy a flight, it was Conrad. His success led many to believe that he would be chosen for the first landing. However, a variety of factors put Armstrong and Aldrin in Eagle rather than Conrad and Bean. Chaikin wrote, "Pete Conrad had been disappointed not to fly the first lunar landing."

As the Saturn V lifted off in 1969, storm clouds rumbled over the Cape. But barely a minute after launch, the vehicle was struck by lightning, killing power in the Yankee Clippercommand module and tripping nearly every alarm imaginable.

"we were the second crew to get there and all that history was long gone. i just wanted to enjoy the flight, which we did."
- astronaut pete conrad on apollo 12's place in history
The three then worked to find the source of the problem, reset the module, and bring everything back online. Conrad told Mission Control, "We had everything in the world drop out. For a minute, it looked like a lit-up pinball machine." They returned the spacecraft's systems to normal operations and went through the mission without a hitch.

After he and Bean moved into the lunar module Intrepid and left Gordon in orbit about the Moon, Conrad was placed in charge of the landing on the surface. This was a nontrivial task; after all, Armstrong and Aldrin consumed nearly all their descent fuel and still landed 6 km [4 mi] from their target site. It was also more important because this landing site was near the Surveyor 3 probe, which landed on the Moon in 1967. Too far, and the astronauts would be unable to visit the probe.

Conrad guided the module's descent, taking information from Bean's calculations since computers in Houston were too slow. As they approached the surface, dust lifted up and obscured the surface, forcing Conrad to fly blind.

Conrad later said about the landing: "I wanted to really make sure the Surveyor was there. It was going to spoil my whole day if it wasn't. So when I finally got outside and the Surveyor was there, two things struck me. One, it was super to know that we were in the right place.... But the second thing, the most important thing, I really thought I would think this was a lonely place. But the fact that we were not flying made a big difference. I found it super friendly."

Space reporter Bill Harwood remembers Conrad as "a deft aviator with a colorful sense of humor that made his Apollo crewmates cringe when thinking about what he might say while cavorting about the lunar surface."

As Conrad stepped out of the lunar module, Intrepid, he cleverly parodized Neil Armstrong's first words on the surface of the Moon. The 1.68m [5'6"] Conrad reported to the world, "Whoopie! That may have been one small step for Neil, but it's a long one for me!"

His unorthodox first words on the surface earned him quite a bit of jokes from his fellow astronauts and from others. "But it was exciting; there we were, the third and fourth people on the Moon, doing what we were supposed to do, what we had planned to do, and keeping within schedule," he said. "Add to that the excitement of just being there, and I think we could have been forgiven for reacting with enthusiasm."

"so when we went to the moon we sort of fell off the edge of a cliff."
- astronaut pete conrad on apollo's abrupt end
He made one more trip into space and was given another challenge. As Skylab was launched in 1973, a meteor shield ripped away, removing one of the main solar panels. The other was not able to deploy fully. Controllers were still able to orient the station to give it power, but this lifted internal temperatures to 335 K [126°F]. Conrad, with Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin, freed the jammed solar array and set up a shield that reduced temperatures to a tolerable 297 K [75°F].

Two years ago, frustrated that NASA had taken not a single further step into space after the Apollo program, founded Universal Space Lines in 1997 in hopes that it would bring space flight into a boom period similar to the postwar boom of aviation in the 1940s and 1950s.

Since Friday morning, flags at KSC, JSC, and other NASA institutions have been flying at half mast in his honor. He will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on MON 19 JUL 1999, the day before the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

On the Apollo program's sudden cancellation, he once said, "People forget that the Cape was put together to launch a Saturn V a week. That's 50 Saturn Vs a year. And then all of a sudden, before we got started, we shut down. I mean we actually cut the Saturn V production and everything before 1969 came along."

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