As­tro­naut flew around moon but didn’t land

Chicago Sun-Times - - CLASSIFIEDS - AP Science Writer BY SETH BOREN­STEIN

WASH­ING­TON — Apollo 12 as­tro­naut Richard “Dick” F. Gor­don Jr., one of a dozen men who flew around the moon but didn’t land there, has died, NASA said. He was 88.

Mr. Gor­don was a test pi­lot when he was cho­sen for NASA’s third group of as­tro­nauts in 1963. He flew on Gemini 11 in 1966, walk­ing in space twice. In 1969, Mr. Gor­don cir­cled the moon in the Apollo 12 com­mand mod­ule Yan­kee Clip­per while crew­mates Alan Bean and Charles Con­rad landed and walked on the lu­nar sur­face.

Over the two flights, he spent nearly 316 hours in space.

“Dick will be fondly re­mem­bered as one of our na­tion’s bold­est fly­ers, a man who added to our own na­tion’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties by chal­leng­ing his own. He will be missed,” act­ing NASA ad­min­is­tra­tor Robert Light­foot said in a state­ment Tues­day.

Mr. Gor­don died Mon­day at his home in San Mar­cos, Cal­i­for­nia, ac­cord­ing to the As­tro­naut Schol­ar­ship Foun­da­tion.

Born in Seat­tle, a Navy cap­tain and a chemist, Mr. Gor­don was such a steely pro­fes­sional that after a dif­fi­cult first space­walk, he fell asleep dur­ing a break in his sec­ond space­walk. He down­played Apollo 12 be­ing hit by light­ning dur­ing liftoff; backup bat­ter­ies saved the crew from hav­ing to abort the mis­sion.

“He’s a cool guy,” Bean re­called Tues­day. “He’s the kind of guy you want when you go to the moon.”

In a 1997 NASA oral his­tory, Mr. Gor­don said peo­ple would of­ten ask if he felt alone while his two part­ners walked on the moon. “I said, ‘ Hell no, if you knew those guys, you’d be happy to be alone’.”

Mr. Gor­don called that ex­pe­ri­ence won­der­ful: “You don’t have to com­mu­ni­cate. You don’t have to worry about pleas­ing any­one be­side your­self. And there’s a lot of things that you have to do and ac­com­plish. And it’s a mo­ment of soli­tude.”

Mr. Gor­don had been slated to com­mand the Apollo 18 mis­sion that would land on the moon, but it was cut for bud­get rea­sons. Apollo 17 was the last mis­sion to the moon. In all, 24 Amer­i­cans flew to the moon, and 12 landed on it.

While in the Navy as a test pi­lot, Mr. Gor­don won the Bendix Tro­phy Race from Los An­ge­les to New York in 1961, set­ting a speed record of 869.74 miles per hour.

Mr. Gor­don was the in­stant leader of a star- stud­ded class of 14 as­tro­nauts that in­cluded Apollo 11’ s Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and the last man on the moon, Eu­gene Cer­nan, Bean re­called.

“He was a happy guy and just the best pos­si­ble crew­mate and friend,” he said.

Dur­ing his first Gemini 11 space­walk, Mr. Gor­don said he and crew­mate Con­rad “were so jacked up” that they were ready an hour early. When it came time to put on his hel­met, it wouldn’t fit. After much ef­fort and lost time, he got it on but was ex­hausted and be­hind sched­ule.

“I was per­spir­ing,” he later re­called. “My eyes were sting­ing . . . they de­cided to quit.”

His sec­ond space­walk was so calm that he and Con­rad caught them­selves falling asleep.

“It was nice and warm and cud­dly,” Mr. Gor­don said.

After re­tir­ing from NASA in 1972, he be­came ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the New Or­leans Saints foot­ball team. He went on to be an ex­ec­u­tive in en­ergy and science com­pa­nies.

Mr. Gor­don is sur­vived by six chil­dren, two stepchil­dren and five grand­chil­dren.

After re­tir­ing from NASA in 1972, Dick Gor­don be­came ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the New Or­leans Saints.

| NASA VIA AP

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