Saturday, March 12, 2011

Astronaut Pete Conrad - The Spirit of the Conrad Foundation

Even though I have been so very busy lately, today I want to take the time and write down some thoughts about our future workforce and how we all can have an impact on today's youth. Keep in mind, what positives we do today, will pay out in the future! There are many wonderful stories filled with inspiration that can help us to become inspirational to others.

Here is one story of a "Little Fella" who made it far. Very far. In fact, so far only two other people had made it that far before him. On November 18, 1969 astronaut Pete Conrad became the 3rd human to step foot on the dusty surface of the Moon. His story proofs that reaching for the sky is what it takes and touching the Stars (or in this case the Moon) is a goal that can be achieved.

Charles Pete Conrad was born on June 2, 1930 in Philadelphia. It was clear that Charles was an intelligent kid despite his struggles with homework. In the early 40s the Great Depression also impacted him and his family and they lost pretty much everything. It was not easy but Charles had made it into The Haverford School, which was a private academy. Even after the financial loss, his uncle continued to ensure Charles could go to school there. However, Charles suffered from dyslexia, which was a not very well understood condition at the time. And his dyslexia continued to be a distraction and after failing most of his 11th grade exams, he was expelled from Haverford.

Hi mother did not accept the view that her son was not smart and she found another school for him. And she sure found a good place - one that taught Charles how to apply a system approach to learning and he found a way around his dyslexia. This was the start of what was to become one amazing life. In 1949 he was admitted to Princeton University with a full NAVY ROTC scholarship.

In 1940 Charles had started to work at an airfield during the summers. Even though his first job duties included sweeping, moving the lawns and other ground maintenance work, he also got to fly on airplanes and even get a little piloting lessons. Later on he learned about the mechanics of airplanes and got to do minor repair jobs. As history always has it - there are always turning points. Another one of those points happened when a flight instructor had to do an emergency landing and Charles drove to the landing site and fixed the plain. That earned him a very special "payment"; lessons he needed to earn his pilot's license. All of that before even graduating high school.

In 1953 Charles earned his BA in Aeronautical Engineering from Princeton University and he entered into the Navy. He excelled in flight school and earned his call sign "Squarewave".

Charles, by now called Pete, thanks to his fiancee's father, was invited to participate in the selection process for what would become the first group of NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven. The candidates underwent several days of medical and psychological testing, which Pete didn't really care for. Unlike the other candidates, be rebelled against these procedures and was labeled "not suitable for long-duration flight".
Not long after NASA announced their search for a second group of Astronauts and Alan Shepard, who knew Pete from their time together as Naval aviators and test pilots, convinced Pete to re-apply. Pete did and he followed all the testing instruction and became part of NASA.

As one of the "New Nine" he reported to NASA in late 1962. Because of his excellent piloting skills, Pete become one of the first to be assigned to a Gemini mission. Pete, the funny guy he was, called the capsule of Gemini 5 a flying garbage can and set the new long duration flight record to 7 days and almost 23 hours. He was also named commander of the Gemini 8 back-up crew and then later commander of Gemini 11. That mission docked with an Agena target - a maneuver similar to that on Apollo required for lunar landing missions.
Astronaut Charles Conrad inside the Gemini 5 spacecraft after launch

Gemini 11 prime and back-up crews at Gemini Mission Simulator at Cape Kennedy

3rd Man on the Moon

Then on November 14, 1969 Apollo 12 launched with Pete as the commander, Dick Gordon was the Command Module Pilot and alan Bean the Lunar Module Pilot. During the launch lighting stroke, temporarily knocking out power and guidance in the command module. But the crew continued on and five days later Pete stepped onto the Moon's surface. His words were of meaning "Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me!".
Astronaut Pete Conrad and the Surveyor 3. The Lunar Module can be seen in the back. 
Skylab 2
But this was not it - there was one final mission awaiting for Pete. He was the commander of Skylab 2, the first crew aboard the Space Station Skylab. And it wasn't an easy mission. This crew had to repair some launch damage. On May 25, 1973 was launched. Their task was a difficult one. They had to repair Skylab's meteorite-and-sun shield and one of tis solar arrays. Without its shield, Skylab cooked in the heat of the sunshine. The first repair attempt was by Pete flying the Apollo Command/Service Module near the station and fellow crew member Astronaut Paul Weitz was trying to deploy the solar array from the Apollo Command/Service Module hatch, while the third crew member, Astronaut Joseph Kerwin held onto Paul's legs. Daring! The fix didn't work because they didn't have the proper tools. So they docked to Skylab and first managed to get the temperature under control. Two weeks later Pete and Joe were able to free the stuck panel and electricity began flowing to their new home. Up until then they didn't have enough power to even make coffee! Those were two long weeks!
Close-up view of partially deployed, damaged solar array

Astronaut Charles Conrad poses in shower facility in crew quarters

Skylab 2 Solar Physics Experiment. This black and white view of a solar flare was taken from
the skylab remote solar experiment module mounted on top of the vehicle and 
worked automatically without any interaction from the crew.

Skylab 2 Farewell View from the Departing Skylab Command/Service Module
A heroic NASA career came to an end in 1973 with Pete retiring from NASA and the Navy. In 2006 NASA posthumously awarded him the Ambassador of Exploration Award for his work for the agency and science. He had earned many other awards during his lifetime, among them the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, the Navy Astronaut Wings, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Harmon Trophy.

In 1990 Pete married Nancy M. Crane in San Francisco but not much later and only 3 weeks before the first moon landing Pete left Earth for the very last time. He passed away after a motorcycle accident and was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery, with many of his Apollo-era astronaut friends in attendance.

Conrad Foundation - Spirit of Innovation Awards
about imageThis brings now brings me to today! In Pete's honor, Nancy established the "Conrad Foundation" which gives talented students their moon shot. They are providing students the opportunity to design, develop, and commercialize innovative products using science and technology that solve 21st century problems.

Their vision is to have an education system where every student is engaged in and excited about learning and to engage and mentor students and their teachers in the process of creating science and technology products.

In my next blog I will tell you about two wonderful high school students who won the Spirit of Innovation award in 2010. I had a chance to catch up with them and hear their story, along with the Conrad Foundation one. This was true inspiration for me.

For now - let's nod our heads to Pete and his service and dedication. To one who never gave up and by doing so experienced what being a hero and inspiration really is.

The Conrad Foundation -


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