January 24, 2018

Richard Gordon, Gemini and Apollo Astronaut, Dies at 88

Richard Gordon, Gemini and Apollo Astronaut, Dies at 88


“I had a job and a function to perform,” he continued. “And I was happy for them, that they were going to get to do that.”

Mr. Gordon’s missions also included two troublesome episodes.

He emerged from the Gemini 11 cabin for a spacewalk that was to last an hour and 47 minutes after a separately launched unmanned space vehicle, the Agena, had docked with it. He was tethered to his Gemini capsule. But he quickly experienced difficulty stabilizing himself while trying to carry out various tasks.

Photo

Mr. Gordon floated outside his spacecraft during a spacewalk on the Gemini 11 mission in 1966.

Credit
NASA

He accomplished some of his scheduled assignments in his first 10 minutes outside the capsule, but the work was so arduous that he was perspiring into his helmet, temporarily losing vision in one eye, and his heart rate soared. He rested outside the Gemini for another half-hour, but had to re-enter it at that point because he was too drained to continue.

“Our understanding of spacewalking was still not good,” Chris Kraft, the director of flight operations for the mission, recalled in his 2001 memoir, “Flight.” “His strength was fading rapidly and his frustrations were growing apace. At one point, I thought he was going to have a panic attack.”

Mr. Gordon later spent more than two hours standing in an open hatch of the Gemini 11 spacecraft taking photographs for analysis by astronomers.

After docking with the Agena and uncoupling several times, Gemini 11 completed a three-day flight with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

There was trouble anew for Mr. Gordon, and a worrisome moment as well for his two fellow astronauts, all three of them Navy officers, in the first minute of their blastoff during a thunderstorm from Cape Kennedy, Fla., in Apollo 12.

Lightning twice struck the craft, and warning lights flashed on the astronauts’ console, signaling that the electrical and primary guidance systems had been knocked out. Batteries took over, but the systems were restored quickly and the flight continued without further electrical problems.

Mr. Gordon’s fellow astronauts advanced the exploration of the moon with their treks on its surface, the setting up of experiments and the collection of lunar rocks. Apollo 12 concluded a 10-day flight with a splashdown in the Pacific.

Photo

Richard Gordon behind Charles Conrad, waving, and in front of Alan Bean, before the Apollo 12 mission in 1969.

Credit
Associated Press

Richard Francis Gordon Jr. was born on Oct. 5, 1929, in Seattle, the eldest of six children. He majored in chemistry at the University of Washington and graduated in 1951. He then became a Navy aviator, graduated from flight-test school and was selected as a Gemini astronaut in October 1963.

He had hoped to walk on the moon as the commander of the scheduled Apollo 18 flight, but it was canceled because of budget cuts. He retired from NASA and from the Navy in January 1972 as a captain — and then embarked on an odd career change.

Mr. Gordon’s friend John Mecom Jr., the owner of the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League, hired him as the team’s executive vice president, a post that included handling the duties of general manager, though his previous football experience had consisted only of one season as a high school halfback.

“If anybody has any suggestions on how to run a football team, I’ll be glad to listen,” Mr. Gordon said at his introductory news conference.

Mr. Gordon spent five years with the Saints, during which they continued the losing ways they had endured since entering the league in 1967.

He later held executive posts with companies focusing on technology and energy.

Mr. Gordon’s wife, the former Linda Saunders, died in 2017. His first marriage, to Barbara Field, ended in divorce; she died in 2014. He is survived by five children from his first marriage, Carleen, Richard, Lawrence, Thomas and Diane; two stepchildren, Traci and Christopher; and a number of grandchildren.

Alan Bean, one of Mr. Gordon’s fellow Apollo 12 astronauts, devoted much of his life after his NASA career to painting. One of his artworks solidified a bond between Mr. Gordon and his fellow crewmen, notwithstanding his disappointment over never having explored the moon.

“It’s called ‘The Fantasy,’ ” Mr. Gordon told a NASA interviewer in 1999. “He’s got one of all three of us standing on the lunar surface.”



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