Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pete Conrad

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of the death of Pete Conrad, so I'll share a few interesting tidbits about him.

The Conrad family lost its fortune in the Great Depression, and soon after, Pete's father left the family. Pete struggled with schoolwork, mostly because of a little-understood condition called dyslexia. After he failed all his 11th Grade tests, he was kicked out of the prestigious Haverford School. (Pete's uncle was financing his education.)
Conrad's mother was determined to find a good school for her son, whom she knew was not "stupid" or "slow." She enrolled Pete in the Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York. Though Pete had to repeat 11th Grade, when he graduated, he was accepted to Princeton. On a full-ride Navy ROTC scholarship. How do you like them apples, Haverford School?

By the time Pete was 16 years old, he had earned his pilot's license. Instead of paying for lessons, he worked odd jobs at the airport in exchange for stick time. As a teenager, Pete once drove 100 miles to repair an aircraft which no one else could fix. He fixed the plane all by himself, to the astonishment of the mechanics and pilots present.

Pete was invited to the application process to choose the first Mercury astronauts. Still having a rebellious nature, he gave 'em hell. During an inkblot test, he told the psychiatrist that one blot was a sex act, and described the act in graphic detail. For the next blot, he simply deadpanned, "It's upside-down." His initial application was (surprise!) denied. He was, they said, "not suitable for long-term flight."

Alan Shepard talked Conrad into reapplying during the next selection process, and since many of the invasive and intrusive and unnecessary tests had been done away with, Pete passed with flying colors and was accepted.

On November 12, 1969, Pete became the third man to step on the lunar surface. Since there was no pressure to make a dramatic statement a la Neil Armstrong, Pete used the moment to make fun of his own height and get a laugh out of everyone. He also won $500 from an Italian journalist, who was certain that NASA gave its astronauts scripts, though Pete denied it and said he could prove it. And so the third man to step on the moon exclaimed to the world:

"Whoopeeeee! Man, that may have been one small step for Neil, but it was a long one for me!"

Pete died in a motorcycle crash in a small town called Ojai, California.
Ojai is a word from the Chumash Indian tribe meaning "moon."
True story.

JSC has an area of planted trees in memory of all the astronauts who have died. After Pete's death, they planted a tree and held a memorial service. Alan Bean, also an Apollo 12 moonwalker, humorously"channeled" his late crewmember at the service and informed everyone that Conrad's message from beyond was that he wished for the lights in his particular tree to be colorful, even though the only lights on the memorial trees are white. To this day, the lights in Pete's tree are the only colored lights in JSC's trees at Christmas.

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

I think we can all agree that Pete Conrad was both.

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