NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
To the Moon
Site Map

Tom Stafford Tom Stafford
Hear Stafford via RealAudio

Get RealAudio software

Tom Stafford

A Lieutenant General in the U.S. Air Force, Tom Stafford flew on Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. On Apollo 10, he and his crew descended to within nine miles of the lunar surface, paving the way for the first moon landing.

On Gemini 9: "[Cernan] lost 10 or 10 1/2 pounds in two hours and five minutes outside."
So the sun came up, he was still fogged over I said, and also the communications when he's hooked into the backpack versus the hard line that he had on there. It was unacceptable. So I called the ground, and ... I called it quits. I'm going to get him back in before we go into the next nighttime. And then he slowly worked his way back in. And, of course, I had to pull in the snake he was on to get him back in. Got him in. See, I didn't do a maneuver like this and pulled down low a bar we'd designed. And all that meant I went and used this over the center mechanism I was pressurized like that, then we wrested it home and then turned the pressure up. And, of course, both our suits started to inflate. Finally, he just couldn't hardly move. And then when he opened his visor he was absolutely pink like he'd been in a sauna about an hour too long. And I had to help him get his gloves off. His hands were pink. So, what I did was take the water gun and just hose down his face to start cooling him even though you shouldn't have water splashing around in a spacecraft. I had to do it to cool him down. And then that night he nearly froze, you know, with all the water. And I think the data showed the next day we landed and they flew the suit right back to Houston because we were right off the East Coast. They had over a pound or a pound and a half of water out of each boot. But he lost 10 or 10 1/2 pounds in two hours and five minutes outside. So we said wait a minute, wait a minute. There is a lot we do not know about walking in space and working and doing tasks in space. So how do we simulate it better? Well, then the idea came up about using a water tank. And finally, they were able to do that before Gemini 12. And from that you could ballast a neutral buoyancy and then hook up the right connections, and you can start to really evaluate things. So, Aldrin had a very significant increase in capability on Gemini 12. Now, suppose we'd never done any of this? Say Whoopee! we're going to the moon and never done it with Apollo it would have been a disaster.

On whether to cut Cernan loose if there were a problem and he were to die: "Then the pilot chute comes out. Is that going to get snared with what's left of Cernan?"

Hear Stafford via RealAudio
Well, what I went on to tell Deke was: Look, I said, assuming I can get through the retro fire maneuver, then I start the reentry. And the spacecraft doesn't have too much stability to start with, small margins in stability. We've never simulated what would happen coming in like this oscillates and here you have this thing whipping around, it's pretty well insulated and his suit and the mass of that rocket pack and tether all that whipping around, what would that do to it? And would it bounce back and forth ... and furthermore, I've got an open hatch and all I have is this thin suit I was in. Just one layer of nylon over the bladder, and I've got 3,200-degree plasma coming a couple inches right about my shoulders through that open hatch. So he's got seven layers of insulation. That's not going to help him too much he's dead anyway. But I've got one layer here and this this plasma is going to come through the hatch and I've got to be rolling the spacecraft back and forth to try to get the lift back for him to come down here. And suppose we even get through all that and the parachute comes out—and there's going to be something left there with that big heavy insulation. Then the pilot chute comes out. Is that going to get snared with what's left of Cernan? And then here comes the main parachute out. Is that going to get snared? And then remember Gus' spacecraft sank in Mercury? And so here I'm going to plop down in the ocean with a hatch open. What happens then? And he says, Well, what should I tell the NASA management? I said, you tell them that when the bolts blow I'm the commander and will take care of this in real time. So anyway, this took a little while to go into all this. So anyway, I got all suited up, I was lots later than Gene. So we come out and, of course, we didn't have any sophisticated gear where we could talk back and forth to each other. And so the first time I could talk we got over to pad 19, we got in the pad and we plugged in. And he said, hey Tom, what did Deke talk to you so long about over there? I said he said that he hoped we'd have a good flight today.

On Apollo 10: "But it was just so unique: you see those big boulders that I thought were as big as a three- or four-story building. Well, they were bigger than the Astrodome down in Houston."

Hear Stafford via RealAudio
Well, it was really unique. First of all, lunar orbit velocity is so much slower than Earth orbit velocity. You're doing 5,500 feet/second versus 25,700 feet/second. So even though you're lower, you would have more appearance moving faster, but you're still the relative velocity, you're so much slower. But the one thing was trying to judge distance down there. Here around the Earth you get used to an orbit, you look at rivers, you see interstate highways, when the weather's right, and cities. There's some judging of distance. Up there, there were no roads, no section lines. There was nothing, no cities to look at in trying to judge distance. So we had the map that we were going down, we'd put that out in front of us, put the thumb down and look at these awesome craters and boulders. Those boulders were what really amazed me.

NOVA: What were you thinking as you were looking at this?

Well, it was just something that I'd never seen before, even though I had looked at the photos of them. But it was just so unique: You see those big boulders that I thought were as big as a three- or four-story building. Well, they were bigger than the Astrodome down in Houston.

Back to Hear the Space Pioneers

Photo: NASA

Explore the Moon | Lunar Puzzlers | Last Man on the Moon
Hear the Space Pioneers | Origins | Resources
Transcript | Site Map | To the Moon Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2000