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Shooting for the Stars


Oklahoma astronauts’ legacy By Elaine Warner


Thomas P. Stafford Photos courtesy of NASA


John Herrington “C L. Gordon Cooper


arpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Shepard and Slayton,” was a roll call any school child in 1960 would instantly recognize. It was the


height of the Cold War and the race for space between Russia and the United States was un- der way. America put in its first team and an Oklahoman was there. The Russians shocked the world in 1957 by


launching Sputnik, the first man-made object sent into earth-orbit. The U.S. followed suit early the next year. Later that year President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the cre- ation of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The first group of seven astronauts was named in 1959. NASA’s Project Mercury was initiated in 1958 with a number of unmanned efforts. In 1961, a month after the Russians had launched a cosmonaut into orbit, America’s first manned space flight took off—a 15-minute sub-orbital, up-and-down flight pi- loted by Alan Shepard. In February 1962, John Glenn orbited the earth three times in a flight lasting just under five hours. The last of the six manned Mercury flights


was piloted by Oklahoman Col. L. Gordon Cooper. His flight lasted 34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds and orbited the earth 22 times. With this flight the Mercury mission—to orbit a manned spacecraft, to evaluate the astro- naut’s ability to function in space and to re- cover both astronaut and space craft—was completed.


Born in Shawnee, Okla., in 1927, Cooper, a Marine who later transferred to the Air Force, was a test pilot and aeronautical engineer. In addition to piloting the Mercury flight, he later served as command pilot of the Gemini 5 mission and backup command pilot for the Gemini 12 and Apollo 10 flights.


28 The Gemini Program


The Gemini Program’s goals were fourfold: to determine how well astronauts could func- tion on longer flights; to achieve rendezvous and docking maneuvers; to improve re-entry and landing methods; and to evaluate the long-term effects of prolonged space flight on the astronauts. Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad flew the third mission—Gemini 5. Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan flew Gemini 6, which was the first rendezvous mission, coming within 1 foot of Gemini 7 and later flew the Gemini 9 whose mission was to rendezvous and dock with a target. The rendezvous was successful; the docking, due to equipment failure on the target, was not completed. The final Gemini flights were devoted to docking and EVAs— Extravehicular Activities, in layman’s lan- guage, working outside the spacecraft. Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, USAF was born in Weatherford, Okla., on Sept. 17, 1930. From his time at the U.S. Naval Academy through his military experience, his achieve- ments were impressive. He was selected for the second group of astronauts in 1962. He par- ticipated in the Gemini 6 and 9 missions, Apollo 10 and Apollo-Soyuz. He also served as deputy director of flight crew operations and later as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. For a com- plete overview of his accomplishments, visit the Thomas P. Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford.


Apollo/Apollo-Soyuz


The Apollo Program was a series of missions to put the first man on the moon. Apollo 10, with Stafford as commander, was a dry-run for the moon landing. The world watched Apollo 11 as on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. Following another successful


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