Weatherford's Stafford Air & Space Museum offering free admission for Oklahoma astronaut Gen. Thomas P. Stafford's 90th birthday
WEATHERFORD - To celebrate the 90th birthday of Oklahoma astronaut and aerospace legend, Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, the Stafford Air & Space Museum will offer free admission Sept. 17.
Stafford was the veteran of four space missions, including three as mission commander. Upon returning to the Earth from his Apollo 10 mission to the moon, Stafford and his crewmates, John Young and Gene Cernan, slammed back into the atmosphere at a speed of 24,791 mph – or nearly seven miles a second. It established the all-time human speed record that still stands today more than a half century after it was set, according to a news release.
Stafford was the commander of the mission, and is now the only living member of that historic mission crew, earning his the title of the fastest living human on Earth.
After his graduation from Weatherford High School and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, Stafford became a fighter pilot. He was selected to the elite U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where he graduated No. 1 in his class. He went on to test many supersonic aircraft in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the end of this Air Force career,
Stafford would have flown nearly 130 types of military aircraft and several types of helicopters.
On his 32nd birthday in 1962, Stafford was informed by NASA that he had been selected to join eight other elite test pilots in the second class of astronauts to be selected by the space agency.
On his first space mission, Stafford would pilot the Gemini 6 spacecraft that would perform one of the greatest milestones in spaceflight, the first successful rendezvous in orbit with other spacecraft – a maneuver that many thought was impossible due to its complexity. Without accomplishing this difficult maneuver, the future moon landing would be impossible, according to the news release.
Just six months later, Stafford would be orbiting the Earth again, commanding the Gemini 9 mission. This established a record for the shortest period of time between two missions that an astronaut would fly.
After the completion of the Gemini Program, Stafford was named to command the Apollo 10 mission to the moon. After Apollo 8 successfully orbited the moon in late 1968, the planned mission schedule would have made Apollo 10 as the first attempt to make a lunar landing, and for Stafford to become the first man to walk on the moon. But, as fate would have it, the highly complex Lunar
Module spacecraft that would carry the astronauts to the lunar surface was about two months behind schedule, and still too heavy for Apollo 10 to attempt the landing.
Instead, Stafford and his Apollo 10 crew would fly the complete profile of a landing, including being the first to fly the Lunar Module into lunar orbit, and flying it down to within 47,000 feet of the surface. It would be the final
full-scale dress rehearsal prior to the Apollo 11 crew’s successful landing just two months later.
Upon returning from the moon, Stafford would be chosen to serve in a variety of NASA administrative capacities, including chief of the astronaut corps.
Stafford would then be selected to command in 1975 his fourth and final space mission, which would have international implications. The Cold War was at its peak, and had squared off the world’s two great superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in a nuclear standoff that had brought the world to the brink of World War III on several occasions. In an effort to find some common ground, and to defuse the tension, both nations signed an agreement to fly a joint mission in space named the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. It would be a mission of great political risk for the U.S. and the Soviets. If the mission proved to be a
success, the Cold War tension might be defused. If it failed, the future of the world might be at risk.
Stafford was named to lead the American side, and Alexei Leonov – the first person to walk in space – would lead the Soviet crew. Stafford and Leonov would become very close, lifelong friends, and the mission would go on to be a huge success. Many historians today consider the success of the Apollo-Soyuz mission to have been the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and Stafford would be
nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
During this time, Stafford would be the first astronaut to become a general, and the first general to fly in space.
After his Apollo-Soyuz mission, Gen. Stafford resigned from NASA, and reentered the Air Force, where he received his second and third stars. He was named to command the Flight Test Center at Edwards, Air Force Base in California, where all Air Force test pilots are trained, and all new experimental aircraft are tested.
At the same time, Stafford would assume the command of the famous Groom Lake Test Facility in Nevada, better known as Area-51. It was here that projects that were considered to be “above top secret” were conducted. Gen. Stafford would then be assigned to the Pentagon as deputy chief of staff for all Air Force Research Development and Acquisition.
It was during this time that Stafford would become known as the “Father of Stealth Technology.” His vision of the importance of stealth would move the technology from the abstract, theoretical level, to actual practical use. His efforts would lead to the development of the F-117A Stealth fighter and the B-2 Stealth bomber.
Gen. Stafford would retire from the Air Force in 1979. He would go on to form an aerospace consulting firm, and serve on many corporate boards, including numerous Fortune 500 companies. He continued to work closely with NASA, and was asked to form and lead numerous special committees for the space agency – work that continues to this day. He still is asked to do technical
consulting for members of Congress, the Department of Defense and various aerospace corporations on matters of space exploration technology.
Even at the age of 90, Stafford still chairs NASA’s primary Oversight Committee on Space Station Safety and Operations – a position that requires him to travel to Russia several times a year to assure that the Russian Space Agency is living
up to their responsibilities in the operation of the International Space Station.
For his seven decades of commitment to this nation, and the development of aviation and spaceflight, Gen. Stafford has been awarded hundreds of awards and honors for his accomplishments. He was named as Oklahoma’s Aviator of the Century, and is one of only a few living astronauts to be awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
He has won the prestigious Harmon Trophy, not once, but twice. He also has received the Wright Brothers Memorial Award; the James Doolittle Award; the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Award; The Von Braun Medal for Space Exploration; and hundreds of other honors, including an Emmy Award for his development of a compact color TV camera that he carried on Apollo 10 to send the first live color television images back from space.
John Glenn, the late U.S. Senator and first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth, said of Stafford: “There have been few people that have impacted the development of aviation and space exploration in this country as much as Tom Stafford.”
Still a consummate engineer and brilliant mathematician, Stafford has calculated that he has traveled 52 trillion, 560 billion miles during his 90 orbits around the Sun. That does not include the approximately 2.6 million extra miles he traveled during his four space missions.
In addition to offering free admission during the day on Stafford's Sept. 17 birthday, the Stafford Air & Space Museum, located in his hometown of Weatherford, a special member's only event that evening. For information about becoming a member, contact Teresa Schoonmaker at 580-772-5871 or at Teresa@cityofweatherford.com.