Apollo 12 astronaut Richard ‘Dick’ Gordon passes away at 88
Former astronaut Richard Francis “Dick” Gordon, one of 24 people to fly to the Moon, died on Monday, November 6, 2017, in his home in California, according to a statement issued by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. He was 88.
Gordon first flew to low-Earth orbit in 1966 as part of the Gemini 11 crew and then to low-lunar orbit in 1969 for Apollo 12. On the latter, he stayed alone in the Apollo command module while his two crewmates, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, flew to the surface of the Moon in the lunar module.
“NASA and the nation have lost one of our early space pioneers,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a statement. “We send our condolences to the family and loved ones of the Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard Gordon, a hero from NASA’s third class of astronauts.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1929, Gordon graduated from North Kitsap High school in Poulsbo, Washington, in 1947, according to NASA, before receiving a bachelors degree in chemistry from the University of Washington in 1951.
Selected by NASA in October of 1963, Gordon joined 14 others as part of the space agency’s third group of astronauts. He had more than 4,500 flying hours in the U.S. Navy, according to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and served as the pilot of Gemini 11 and command module pilot for Apollo 12. In total, he had 13 days, 3 hours and 53 minutes of spaceflight experience with 2 hours, 41 minutes of spacewalking time during two spacewalks on his first spaceflight.
“Naval officer, aviator, chemist, test pilot, and astronaut were among the many hats of this talented and daring explorer,” Lightfoot said. “Dick was [the] pilot of Gemini 11 in 1966, on which he performed a spacewalk where he tethered the Gemini and Agena together for the very first attempt at creating artificial gravity by rotating spacecraft. He was also command module pilot for Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the Moon. While his crewmates Pete Conrad and Alan Bean landed in the Ocean of Storms, he remained in lunar orbit aboard the Yankee Clipper, taking photos for potential future landing sites and later performing final re-docking maneuvers.”
After he retired from NASA in January 1972, he went on to serve as the executive vice president of the New Orleans Saints Professional Football Club in the National Football League as well as other executive positions at several companies in the oil and gas, engineering, and technology industries, NASA said.
“Dick Gordon is an American hero, and a true renaissance man by any measure,” Curt Brown, board chairman of the Orlando-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and an astronaut and veteran of six space flights, said in a statement on the foundation’s website. “He was an American naval officer and aviator, chemist, test pilot, NASA astronaut, professional football executive, oil and gas executive[,] and [a] generous contributor to worthy causes. He was in a category all his own.”
In November 2005, NASA said that the space agency honored Gordon with an Ambassador of Exploration award, which was given to the astronauts who flew in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions between 1961 and 1972.
“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,” Lightfoot said. “He will be missed.”
There is little doubt that Gordon’s sense of humor will be how many of his colleagues will best remember him by.
“I was very sorry to hear about the passing of Dick Gordon. Although not a close friend, I had numerous opportunities to be at technical seminars or social events with Dick,” former NASA astronaut Robert C. Springer told SpaceFlight Insider. “As Naval aviators, we shared the joy of our flight experiences. I particularly enjoyed his rare sense of humor, which could be both biting and insightful. Dick was a true professional who shall be missed by our spaceflight community.”
Indeed, for some space flyers, Gordon’s passing was the loss of a guiding light for them in terms of their careers beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
“[…] Dick always knew how to make someone laugh and he was one of my personal heroes,” five-time Space Shuttle veteran Scott Parazynski told SpaceFlight Insider. Gordon’s sense of humor was something also noted by Jerry Ross and by other astronauts that we spoke to about the Gemini and Apollo astronaut. In fact, whomever SFI spoke to, the sentiment was the same: a good man, with a great sense of humor.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.