Tom Stafford, astronaut, dies

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford died Monday at the age of 93. The retired Air Force three-star general commanded a dress rehearsal flight for the 1969 moon landing.



March 19, 2024 - 2:23 PM

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, who commanded a dress rehearsal flight for the 1969 moon landing and the first U.S.-Soviet space linkup, died Monday. He was 93.

Stafford, a retired Air Force three-star general, took part in four space missions. Before Apollo 10, he flew on two Gemini flights, including the first rendezvous of two U.S. capsules in orbit. He died in a hospital near his Space Coast Florida home, said Max Ary, director of the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Stafford was one of 24 NASA astronauts who flew to the moon, but he did not land on it. Only seven of them are still alive.

After he put away his flight suit, Stafford was the go-to guy for NASA when it sought independent advice on everything from human Mars missions to safety issues to returning to flight after the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident. He chaired an oversight group that looked into how to fix the then-flawed Hubble Space Telescope, earning a NASA public service award.

“Tom was involved in so many things that most people were not aware of, such as being known as the ‘Father of Stealth’,” Ary said in an email. Stafford was in charge of the famous “Area 51” desert base that was the site of many UFO theories, but the home of testing of Air Force stealth technologies.

The Apollo 10 mission in May 1969 set the stage for Apollo 11’s historic mission two months later. Stafford and Gene Cernan took the lunar lander nicknamed Snoopy within 9 miles of the moon’s surface. Astronaut John Young stayed behind in the main spaceship dubbed Charlie Brown.

“The most impressive sight, I think, that really changed your view of things is when you first see Earth,” Stafford recalled in a 1997 oral history, talking about the view from lunar orbit.

Then came the moon’s far side: “The Earth disappears. There’s this big black void.”

Apollo 10’s return to Earth set the world’s record for fastest speed by a crewed vehicle at 24,791 mph.

Later, Stafford was a central part of discussions in the 1990s that brought Russia into the partnership building and operating the International Space Station.

Growing up in Weatherford, Oklahoma, Stafford said he would look up and see giant DC-3 airplanes fly overhead on early transcontinental routes.

“I wanted to fly since I was 5 or 6 years old seeing those airplanes,” he told NASA historians.

Stafford went to the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated in the top 1% of his class and flew in the backseat of some airplanes and loved it.