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Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr. (June 2, 1930 – July 8, 1999), was an Americanmarker astronaut and engineer, and the third person to walk on the Moon. He also described himself as the first man to dance on the Moon. He flew on Gemini 5 and 11, Apollo 12, and Skylab 2 missions.

On the launch of his Gemini 5 flight on August 21, 1965, Conrad became the 10th American and the 20th human to fly in space.

Early life and Navy career

Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. was born on June 2, 1930 in Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, the third child and first son of Charles Conrad Sr. and Frances De Rappelage Conrad (née Vinson), a well-to-do real estate and banking family. His mother wanted very much to name her newborn son “Peter,” but Charles insisted that his first son bear his name. In a compromise between two iron wills, the name on his birth certificate would read “Charles Conrad, Jr.” but to his mother and virtually all who knew him, he was “Peter.” When he was 21, his fiancée’s father called him “Pete” and thereafter, Conrad adopted it. For the rest of his life, to virtually everyone, he was “Pete.”

The Great Depression wiped out the Conrad family’s fortune, as it did so many others. In 1942, they lost their Philadelphia manor home and moved into a small carriage house, paid for by Frances’ brother, Egerton Vinson. Eventually, Charles Sr., broken by financial failure, moved out.

From the beginning, Conrad was clearly a bright, intelligent child, but he continually struggled with his schoolwork. He suffered from dyslexia, a condition which was little understood at the time. Conrad attended The Haverford Schoolmarker, a private academy in Haverford, Pennsylvania where previous generations of Conrads had attended. Even after his family’s financial downturn, his uncle Egerton supported his continued attendance at Haverford. However, Conrad’s dyslexia continued to frustrate his academic efforts. After he failed most of his 11th grade exams, Haverford expelled him.

Conrad’s mother refused to believe her son was unintelligent, and set about finding him a suitable school. She found the Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York. There, Conrad learned how to apply a “systems” approach to learning, and thus, found a way to work around his dyslexia. Despite having to repeat the 11th grade, Conrad so excelled at Darrow that after his graduation in 1949, he not only was admitted to Princeton Universitymarker, but he was also awarded a full Navy ROTC scholarship in the bargain.

Starting when he was fifteen, Conrad worked summers at Paoli Airfield in Philadelphia, trading lawn mowing, sweeping, and other odd jobs for airplane rides and occasional stick time. As he grew, and learned more about the mechanics and workings of aircraft and their engines, he graduated to minor repairs and maintenance. When he was 16, he drove almost to assist a flight instructor whose plane had been forced to make an emergency landing due to a throttle malfunction. Conrad repaired the plane single-handedly. Thereafter, the instructor gave Conrad the formal lessons he needed to earn his pilot’s license even before he graduated from high school.

Conrad continued flying while in college, not only maintaining his pilot’s license, but earning an instrument rating as well. He earned his bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Princeton Universitymarker in 1953, after which he entered the United States Navy. [R 83] Conrad excelled in Navy flight school, and became a carrier pilot, known by the call sign “Squarewave.” Later, he became a flight instructor and a test pilot at Naval Air Station Patuxent Rivermarker.

Conrad was invited to participate in the selection process for what would become the first group of NASAmarker astronauts (the “Mercury Seven”). Conrad, like his fellow candidates, underwent several days of what he considered invasive, demeaning, and unnecessary medical and psychological testing at the Lovelace Clinic in New Mexicomarker. Unlike his fellow candidates, however, Conrad rebelled against the regimen. During a Rorschach inkblot test, he dismissively told the psychiatrist that one blot card revealed a sexual encounter, complete with lurid detail. When shown the next card, he studied it for a moment then deadpanned, “It’s upside down.” And when he was asked to deliver a stool sample to the on-site lab, he placed it in a gift box and tied a red ribbon around it. Eventually, he decided he'd had enough. After dropping his full enema bag on the desk of the Clinic’s commanding officer he walked out. His initial NASA application was denied with the notation "not suitable for long-duration flight."

Thereafter, when NASAmarker announced its search for a second group of astronauts, Alan Shepard, who knew Conrad from their time as Naval aviators and test pilots, approached Conrad and persuaded him to re-apply. This time, the medical tests were less offensive and Conrad was invited to join NASA.

NASA career

Gemini

Conrad preparing for water egress training in the Gemini Static Article 5 spacecraft.
Conrad joined NASA as part of the second group of astronauts, known as the New Nine, on September 17, 1962. Regarded as one of the best pilots in the group, he was among the first of his group to be assigned a Gemini mission. As pilot of Gemini 5 (he referred to the capsule as a flying garbage can), along with commander Gordon Cooper, set a new space endurance record of eight days. The duration of the Gemini 5 flight was actually 7 days 22 hours and 55 minutes, surpassing the then-current Russian record of five days. It would take fourteen days to get to the moon and back and, with the success of Gemini 5, it was determined that if man could sustain space flight for eight days then he could surely sustain for fourteen days.

Pete Conrad tested many spacecraft systems essential to the Apollo program. Conrad was also one of the smallest of the astronauts in height (1.69 metres (5 feet 6½ inches)) and build so he found the confinement of the Gemini capsule less onerous than his taller commander. He was then named commander of the Gemini 8 back-up crew, and later commander of Gemini 11, which docked with an Agena target immediately after achieving orbit: a maneuver similar to that required for Apollo lunar landing missions.

Apollo

In the aftermath of the January 1967 Apollo 1 disaster, NASA’s plan to incrementally test Saturn V and Apollo spacecraft components leading to the lunar landing had to be significantly revised in order to meet John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the Moon by the end of the decade. Initially, Conrad was assigned to command the back-up crew for the first flight of the Saturn V/Apollo spacecraft into high earth orbit, which was initially scheduled to become Apollo 8. When a “lunar-orbit-without-lunar-module” mission (known in NASAmarker parlance as the “C-prime” mission”) was later approved and inserted into the schedule, that mission became Apollo 8, and the mission backed by Conrad subsequently became Apollo 9. Deke Slayton’s practice in assigning crews was to assign a back-up crew as prime crew for the third mission after that crew’s back-up mission. Without the “C-prime” mission, Conrad might have commanded Apollo 11, which became the first mission to land on the Moon.

On November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 launched with Conrad as commander, Dick Gordon as Command Module Pilot and Alan Bean as Lunar Module Pilot. The launch was the most harrowing of the Apollo program, as a series of lightning strikes just after liftoff temporarily knocked out power and guidance in the command module. Five days later, after stepping onto the lunar surface, Conrad joked about his own small stature by remarking:

He later revealed that he said this in order to win a bet he had made with the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for $500 to prove that NASA did not script astronaut comments. (In actuality, Conrad's "long one" and Armstrong's "small step" refer to two different actions: going from the ladder down to the landing pad, then stepping horizontally off the pad onto the lunar surface. Conrad's words for stepping onto the Moon were "Oooh, is that soft and queasy.")

Conrad might have returned to the moon had Apollo 20 not been canceled.

Skylab

Conrad's last mission was commander of Skylab 2, the first crew aboard the space station. This crew had to repair damage caused by a mishap on launch of the station. On a spacewalk, Conrad managed to pull free the stuck solar panel by sheer brute force, which saved the rest of the mission, an action of which he was particularly proud.

Post-NASA

Conrad retired from NASA and the Navy in 1973, and went to work for American Television and Communications Company. He worked for McDonnell Douglas from 1976 into the 1990s. After an engine fell off a McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 causing it to crash with the loss of all passengers and crewmarker in 1979, Conrad spearheaded McDonnell-Douglas’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to allay the fears of the public and policymakers, and save the plane’s reputation.

During the 1990s he was the ground-based pilot for several test flights of the Delta Clipper experimental single stage to orbit launch vehicle.

Conrad had a cameo role in the 1991 TV movie Plymouth.

Conrad played himself in the 1975 TV movie Stowaway to the Moon.

On February 14, 1996, Conrad was part of the crew on a record-breaking around-the-world flight in a Learjet owned by cable TV pioneer, Bill Daniels. The flight lasted 49 hours, 26 minutes and 8 seconds. Today the jet is on permanent static display at Denver International Airportmarker's Terminal C.

In 2006, NASAmarker posthumously awarded him the Ambassador of Exploration Award for his work for the agency and science.

Personal life

While at Princeton, Conrad met Jane DuBose, a student at Bryn Mawrmarker, whose family owned a ranch near Uvalde, Texasmarker. Her father, Winn DuBose, was the first person to call Conrad “Pete” rather than “Peter,” the name he had used since birth. Upon his graduation from Princeton and acceptance of his Navy commission, Conrad and Jane were married on June 16, 1953. They had four children, all boys: Peter, born in 1954, Thomas, Andrew, and his youngest, Christopher, born in 1961.

Given the demands of his career in the Navy and NASA, Pete and Jane spent a great deal of time apart, and Pete saw less of his boys growing up than he would have liked. Even after he retired from NASA and the Navy, he kept himself busy. Soon, Jane had established a separate life for herself. In 1988, with their sons all grown and moved out, Pete and Jane divorced. Some years later, Jane remarried.

In 1989, Conrad’s youngest son, Christopher, was stricken with malignant lymphoma. He died in April 1990, at the age of 28.

Conrad met Nancy Marjorie Crane, a Denvermarker divorcee, through mutual friends. After a time, their friendship blossomed. Pete Conrad and Nancy Marjorie Crane were married in San Franciscomarker in the spring of 1990.

Death

On July 8, 1999, less than three weeks before the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing, while motorcycling in Ojai, Californiamarker with friends, he ran off the road and crashed. His injuries were first thought to be minor, but he died from internal bleeding about six hours later. He was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemeterymarker, with many Apollo-era astronauts in attendance.

Popular culture

Conrad is a central figure in the book The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Much of the book's insight into the attitudes and behavior of both the astronauts and their wives before and during the astronaut selection process are presented through the eyes of Conrad and his wife. In the movie, much of this was shifted to Alan Shepard and the other Mercury astronauts.

In television and film

In the 1995 film Apollo 13, Conrad was played by David Andrews. In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, he was played by Peter Scolari (in episode 1, "Can We Do This?") and by Paul McCrane (in episode 7, "That's All There Is"). Pete Conrad played himself in the television movie "Plymouth," about a fictional lunar base and in the made for TV movie "Stowaway to the Moon".

Quotes

"If you can’t be good, be colorful." — Pete's personal motto

A month before he died, Conrad appeared on ABC News Nightline and said, "I think the Space Shuttle is worth one billion dollars a launch. I think that it is worth two billion dollars for what it does. I think the Shuttle is worth it for the work it does."

"If you don't know what to do, don't do anything." — Pete's advice for working in space, quoted in the book From the Earth to the Moon

"If the engine doesn't work, we'll just be a permanent monument to the space program." — Speaking to copilot Alan Bean just prior to liftoff from the lunar surface

Tribute

The Johnson Space Centermarker facility in Houstonmarker, Texasmarker includes a grove of trees planted to honor the memory of astronauts who have died. After Conrad’s death, NASAmarker planted a tree in his honor. During the dedication ceremony, Apollo 12 crewmate Alan Bean, during his speech, irreverently “channeled” Conrad, who purportedly sent instructions from the great beyond. According to Bean, Pete’s instructions were that NASA light the trees every Christmas season with white lights – but that in keeping with his motto, his tree was to have colored lights. NASA has honored this “request,” and every Christmas since, all the trees in the grove are lit with white lights – except his tree, which is lit with red lights.

Pete Conrad Spirit Award

On September 8, 2008 The Conrad Foundation announced the launch of their 2008 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards. Teams of high school students across the nation are invited to compete in this innovative program. The competition is engages high school students in creating commercial products using science and technology.

Students design products in personal space flight, lunar exploration and renewableenergy. NASA’s call for a human return to the moon and the increased interest in spacetransportation are the foundation of this year’s Conrad Award aerospace challenges. Inaddition, students will answer Al Gore’s energy challenge to America, by usingrenewable energy to change everyday life.

“This generation like every other generation, has the ability to design its future. Ouraward provides the resources for them to do so,” said Nancy Conrad, wife of the latePete Conrad and founder of the Conrad Foundation.

Students create unique products, produce viable business plans, and are givenopportunities to bring their ideas to market. This competition provides students with theability to network with scientists, university professors, world business leaders, venturecapitalists and entrepreneurs. “Winning is just the beginning,” said Nancy Conrad. “Thiscompetition is the pipeline from education to industry. We have not only created aprogram, we’re driving a movement.”

In May 2007 the X PRIZE Foundation announced the creation of the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award, to be presented to "the high school team that develops the most creative, new space concept to benefit the emerging personal spaceflight industry." The first award was presented at the 2007 Wirefly X PRIZE Cup at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, it was presented to two students from Milken Community High Schoolmarker

See also

References

Chaikin, Andrew. A Man On The Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (Penguin Group New York 1994) ISBN 0-670-81446-6Conrad, Nancy and Klausner, Howard. Rocketman: Astronaut Pete Conrad's Incredible Ride to the Moon and Beyond (NAL 2005)Slayton, Donald; Cassutt, Michael. Deke! (Forge, New York 1994) ISBN 0-312-85918-X,

External links



Notes

  1. Conrad, Nancy and Klausner, Howard. Rocketman: Astronaut Pete Conrad's Incredible Ride to the Moon and Beyond (NAL 2005) p 17, 74.
  2. Rocketman, 43.
  3. Rocketman, 35, 43.
  4. Rocketman, 64 - 67.
  5. Rocketman, 54 - 59.
  6. Rocketman, 83, 146.
  7. Rocketman, 113 - 118.
  8. Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Page 108 (hardcover). Farrar-Straus-Giroux, New York. 1979. ISBN 0374250332.
  9. Conrad Profile
  10. Slayton, Donald; Cassutt, Michael. Deke! (Forge, New York 1994) ISBN 0-312-85918-X, p. 184, 216
  11. Fallaci never paid off. NASA Honor site; Rocketman, 176.
  12. Apollo Lunar Surface Journal [1]
  13. Rocketman, 230 - 1.
  14. Rocketman, Buzz Aldrin’s foreword, xiii - xiv; NASA article
  15. http://space.xprize.org/space/pete-conrad-award/past-awards



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