Third Astronaut To Walk on Moon Dies
OJAI, Calif. (AP) _ Former astronaut Charles P. ``Pete″ Conrad, who in 1969 became the third man to walk on the moon, uttering an exuberant ``Whoopee!″ as he stepped on the lunar surface, died in a motorcycle accident. He was 69.
Conrad, who also flew two Gemini missions in the 1960s and commanded first Skylab mission in 1973, crashed on a turn Thursday on Highway 150 near Ojai and died five hours later at Ojai Valley Community Hospital.
Flags at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and at Johnson Space Center in Houston flew at half-staff today in observance of Conrad’s death.
Conrad, who lived in Huntington Beach near Los Angeles, was on a trip to Monterey with his wife, Nancy, and friends, Ventura County Deputy Coroner James Baroni said.
Baroni said Conrad’s injuries didn’t initially appear to be severe, but he got worse after arriving at the hospital. He had some chest pain and had more trouble breathing.
``He showed that he had some type of internal bleeding and they needed to do exploratory surgery,″ Baroni said. But doctors were unable to revive him.
Just this spring, Conrad joked that he was looking forward to the day he would turn 77.
``I fully expect that NASA will send me back to the moon, as they treated Sen. (John) Glenn. And if they don’t do otherwise, why, then I’ll have to do it myself,″ he declared in an interview with The Associated Press.
Glenn became the oldest person in space at age 77 aboard the shuttle Discovery last year. Like Glenn, Conrad’s passion for space exploration never diminished. In 1995, he formed several companies with the goal of commercializing space.
``He was going back to space as an entrepreneur, trying to create ways for rockets to launch inexpensively and manage satellites,″ Mrs. Conrad said Thursday evening. She had been riding on another motorcycle at the time of the accident.
``I didn’t know anyone that was filled with more irrepressible enthusiasm and sense of humor and new ideas and general joy of life than Pete,″ Glenn said today. ``He was an outstanding pilot and astronaut.″
He recalled how Conrad spoke excitedly a few weeks ago about a small executive jet he was thinking of buying.
``He was just an enthusiastic guy about everything he did. It was just infectious,″ Glenn said.
NASA selected Conrad, an aeronautical engineer and Navy test pilot, as an astronaut in 1962, three years after the first seven astronauts were announced. He piloted the eight-day Gemini 5 mission in 1965, which set an endurance record in orbiting the earth. A year later, Conrad commanded Gemini 11, which docked with another craft during orbit and set a space altitude record of 850 miles.
As commander of the Apollo 12 mission in November 1969, Conrad earned the distinction of being the third man to walk on the moon after bringing the lunar module down in the moon’s Ocean of Storms.
The first two moonwalkers were Neil Armstrong and Edwin ``Buzz″ Aldrin, who landed there 30 years ago this month, on July 20, 1969. Armstrong’s first words became famous: ``That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.″
When the 5-foot-6 Conrad stepped onto the surface four months later, he exclaimed with his trademark sense of humor: ``Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.″
Conrad and astronaut Alan Bean spent seven hours and 45 minutes on the lunar surface. Among their tasks was installing a nuclear power generating station to provide a power source for long-term experiments.
During the 28-day Skylab flight in May-June 1973, Conrad established a personal endurance record for time in space by bringing his total flight time to 1,179 hours and 38 minutes. He called his last mission in space the most satisfying, working to repair the damage Skylab suffered during its liftoff.
After retiring from NASA and the Navy in 1973, he worked as chief operating officer of American Television and Communications Corp. in Denver and later for McDonnell Douglas Corp., the aviation manufacturer.
Among his numerous awards were the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. He was enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1980.
The Philadelphia native is the third of the 12 original moon walkers to die. James Irwin of Apollo 15 died in 1991 and Alan Shepard of Apollo 14 died a year ago.
In reflecting on the upcoming 30th anniversary of Apollo 11, Conrad recently said, ``Time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve been having fun for the last 30 years.″
Conrad, who divorced his first wife, is survived by his second wife, three sons and seven grandchildren. A son preceded him in death.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Howard Benedict, executive director of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and a former Associated Press aerospace writer, recalled that Conrad’s moon-bound rocket generated its own lightning and was struck by two bolts seconds after liftoff. Conrad calmly called down, ``I think we got hit by lightning.″
Most of the electrical power was knocked out, but it quickly came back on. Conrad quipped that for a while, it looked like a lit-up pinball machine.