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Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr.

Also Known As: "Pete Conrad"
Birthdate: (69)
Death: Died
Cause of death: motorcycle accident
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Conrad and Frances de Rappelye Conrad

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Pete Conrad

Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr. (June 2, 1930 – July 8, 1999) was a U.S. Navy officer and NASA astronaut, and during the Apollo 12 mission became the third man to walk on the Moon. He set an eight-day space endurance record along with his command pilot Gordon Cooper on the Gemini 5 mission, and commanded the Gemini 11 mission. After Apollo, he commanded the Skylab 2 mission (the first manned one), on which he and his crewmates repaired significant launch damage to the Skylab space station. For this, President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978.

Early life and schooling

Pete Conrad was born on June 2, 1930, in Philadelphia, the third child and the first son of Charles Conrad, Sr., and Frances De Rappelage Vinson Conrad, a well-to-do real estate and banking family. His mother wanted very much to name her newborn son "Peter", but Charles insisted that his first son bear his name. In a compromise between two strong-willed people, the name on his birth certificate read "Charles Conrad, Jr.", but to his mother and virtually all who knew him, he was "Peter". When he was 21, his fiancee's father called him "Pete" and thereafter, Conrad adopted it. For the rest of his life, to virtually everyone, he was "Pete".

The Great Depression wiped out the Conrad family's fortune, just as it had those of so many others. In 1942, it lost its manor home in Philadelphia, and then it moved into a small carriage house, paid for by Frances's brother, Egerton Vinson. Eventually, Charles, Sr., broken down by financial failures, left his family.

From the beginning, Pete Conrad was clearly a bright, intelligent boy, but he continually struggled with his schoolwork. He suffered from dyslexia, a condition which was little understood at the time. Conrad attended The Haverford School, a private academy in Haverford, Pennsylvania, that previous generations of Conrads had attended. Even after his family's financial downturn, his uncle Egerton supported his continued schoooling at Haverford. However, Pete's dyslexia continued to frustrate his academic efforts. After he failed most of his 11th grade exams, Haverford expelled him from school.

Conrad's mother refused to believe that her son was unintelligent, and she set about finding him a suitable school. She found the Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York. There, Conrad learned how to apply a systems approach to learning, and thus found a way to work around his dyslexia. Despite having to repeat the 11th grade, Conrad so excelled at Darrow that after his graduation in 1949, he not only was admitted to Princeton University, but he was also awarded a full Navy ROTC scholarship.

Starting when he was 15 years old, Conrad worked during the summertime at the Paoli Airfield near Paoli, Pennsylvania, bartering lawn mowing, sweeping, and other odd jobs for airplane flights and occasional instructional time. He learned more about the mechanics and workings of aircraft and aircraft engines, and then he graduated to minor maintenance work.

When he was 16, he drove almost 100 miles (160 km) to help a flight instructor whose airplane had been forced to make an emergency landing. Conrad repaired the plane single-handedly. Thereafter, the instructor gave Conrad the flight lessons that he needed to earn his pilot's license even before he graduated from high school.

Conrad continued flying while he was in college, not only keeping his pilot's license, but also earning an instrument flight rating. He earned his B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Princeton in 1953, and his automatic commission as an ensign in the Navy as a Naval ROTC graduate.

Aviation career in the U.S. Navy

Conrad became a naval aviator and a fighter pilot. He excelled in Navy flight school, and he served for several years as an aircraft carrier pilot in the Navy. Conrad also served as a flight instructor in the Navy flight schools along the Gulf of Mexico.

Next, Conrad applied for and he was accepted by the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Patuxent, Maryland, where he was assigned as a Project Test Pilot.

During this period, Conrad was invited to take part in the selection process for the first group of astronauts for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (the "Mercury Seven"). Conrad, like his fellow candidates, underwent several days of what they considered to be invasive, demeaning, and unnecessary medical and psychological testing at the "Lovelace Clinic" in New Mexico. Unlike his fellow candidates, Conrad rebelled against the regimen. During a Rorschach inkblot test, he told the psychiatrist that one blot card revealed a sexual encounter complete with lurid detail. When shown the next card, he studied it for a moment then he said with a deadpan face, "It's upside down."

Then when he was asked to deliver a stool sample to the onsite lab, he placed it in a gift box and tied a red ribbon around it. Eventually, he decided that he had had enough. After dropping his full enema bag on the desk of the clinic’s commanding officer, he walked out. His initial application to NASA was denied with the notation not suitable for long-duration flight.

Thereafter, when NASA announced its search for a second group of astronauts, the Mercury Alan Shepard, who knew Conrad from their time as naval aviators and test pilots, approached Conrad and persuaded him to reapply. This time, the medical tests were less offensive, and Conrad was selected to join NASA.

NASA career



Conrad joined NASA as part of the second group of astronauts, known as the New Nine, on September 17, 1962. Regarded as one of the best pilots in the group, he was among the first of his group to be assigned a Gemini mission. As pilot of Gemini 5 he, along with his commander Gordon Cooper, set a new space endurance record of eight days. The duration of the Gemini 5 flight was actually 7 days 22 hours and 55 minutes, surpassing the then-current Russian record of five days. Eight days was the time required for the first manned lunar landing missions. Conrad facetiously referred to the Gemini 5 capsule as a flying garbage can.

Conrad tested many spacecraft systems essential to the Apollo program. Conrad was also one of the smallest of the astronauts in height, 1.69 metres or 5 feet 6½ inches, so he found the confinement of the Gemini capsule less onerous than his commander Gordon Cooper, who played American football, did. He was then named commander of the Gemini 8 back-up crew, and later commander of Gemini 11, which docked with an Agena target vehicle immediately after achieving orbit. Such a maneuver was an engineering and flight test because it was very similar to what the Apollo Command Module (CM) and what was referred to at that time as the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) would later be required to do. Later, NASA would change the name of the Lunar Excursion Module to simply Lunar Module or LM, because NASA leadership wanted to acquire funding to engineer a battery powered cart that would eventually be referred to as the Lunar Rover.


In the aftermath of the January 1967 Apollo 1 disaster, NASA’s plan to incrementally test Saturn V and Apollo spacecraft components leading to the lunar landing had to be significantly revised in order to meet John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the Moon by the end of the decade. Initially, Conrad was assigned to command the back-up crew for the first flight of the Saturn V and complete Apollo spacecraft, including the Lunar Module (LM) into low Earth orbit, which was initially scheduled as Apollo 8. But when the LM wasn't ready in time, a lunar orbit mission without the LM was approved and inserted into the schedule as Apollo 8, and the mission backed up by Conrad subsequently became Apollo 9. Deke Slayton’s practice in assigning crews was to assign a back-up crew as prime crew for the third mission after that crew’s back-up mission. Without the 8-9 swap, Conrad might have commanded Apollo 11, which became the first mission to land on the Moon.

On November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 launched with Conrad as commander, Dick Gordon as Command Module Pilot and Alan Bean as Lunar Module Pilot. The launch was the most harrowing of the Apollo program, as a series of lightning strikes just after liftoff temporarily knocked out power and guidance in the command module. Five days later, after stepping onto the lunar surface, Conrad joked about his own small stature by remarking:

“Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.”

He later revealed that he said this in order to win a bet he had made with the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for $500 to prove that NASA did not script astronaut comments. (In actuality, Conrad's "long one" and Armstrong's "small step" refer to two different actions: going from the ladder down to the landing pad, then stepping horizontally off the pad onto the lunar surface. Conrad's words for stepping onto the Moon were "Oooh, is that soft and queasy.")


Conrad's last mission was as commander of Skylab 2, the first crew to board the Skylab space station. The station had been damaged on its unmanned launch, when its micrometeoroid shield tore away, taking one of two main solar panels with it and jamming the other one so that it could not deploy. Conrad and his crew repaired the damage on two spacewalks. Conrad managed to pull free the stuck solar panel by sheer brute force, an action of which he was particularly proud. The astronauts also erected a "parasol" solar shield to protect the station from intense solar heating, a function which the lost micrometeoroid shield was supposed to perform. Without the shield, Skylab and its contents would have become unusable. President Jimmy Carter honored Conrad for this in 1978 by awarding him the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.


Conrad retired from NASA and the Navy in 1973, and went to work for American Television and Communications Company. He worked for McDonnell Douglas from 1976 into the 1990s. After an engine fell off a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 causing it to crash with the loss of all passengers and crew in 1979, Conrad spearheaded McDonnell Douglas’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to allay the fears of the public and policymakers, and save the plane’s reputation.

During the 1990s he was the ground-based pilot for several test flights of the Delta Clipper experimental single stage to orbit launch vehicle.

On February 14, 1996, Conrad was part of the crew on a record-breaking around-the-world flight in a Learjet owned by cable TV pioneer, Bill Daniels. The flight lasted 49 hours, 26 minutes and 8 seconds. Today the jet is on permanent static display at Denver International Airport's Terminal C.

In 2006, NASA posthumously awarded him the Ambassador of Exploration Award for his work for the agency and science.

Personal life

While at Princeton, Conrad met Jane DuBose, a student at Bryn Mawr, whose family owned a 1,600-acre (6.5 km2) ranch near Uvalde, Texas. Her father, Winn DuBose, was the first person to call Conrad “Pete” rather than “Peter,” the name he had used since birth. Upon his graduation from Princeton and acceptance of his Navy commission, Conrad and Jane were married on June 16, 1953. They had four children, all sons: Peter, born in 1954, Thomas, Andrew, and the youngest, Christopher, born in 1961.

Given the demands of his career in the Navy and NASA, Pete and Jane spent a great deal of time apart, and Pete saw less of his boys growing up than he would have liked. Even after he retired from NASA and the Navy, he kept himself busy. Soon, Jane had established a separate life for herself. In 1988, with their sons all grown and moved out, Pete and Jane divorced. Some years later, Jane remarried.

In 1989, Conrad’s youngest son, Christopher, was stricken with a malignant lymphoma. He died in April 1990, at the age of 28.

Conrad met Nancy Crane, a Denver divorcee, through mutual friends. Conrad and Crane married in 1990.


Conrad died on July 8, 1999, less than three weeks before the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing. While motorcycling in Ojai, California, with his wife and friends, he ran off the road and crashed. His injuries were first thought to be minor, but he died from internal bleeding about six hours later. He was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery, with many Apollo-era astronauts in attendance.

Honors and awards

Two Distinguished Flying Crosses
Two Navy Distinguished Service Medals 
Collier Trophy (1973)
Thompson Trophy (1974)
Two NASA Distinguished Service Medals
Two NASA Exceptional Service Medals 
Congressional Space Medal of Honor (1978)
Gagarin Gold Space Medal (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

In television and film

Conrad played himself in the 1991 television movie Plymouth, about a fictional lunar base; and in the 1975 made-for-TV movie, Stowaway to the Moon.

In the 1995 film Apollo 13, Conrad was played by David Andrews. In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, he was played by Peter Scolari (in episode 1, "Can We Do This?") and by Paul McCrane (in episode 7, "That's All There Is").


If you can’t be good, be colorful.—Conrad's personal motto.

A month before he died, Conrad appeared on ABC News Nightline and said, I think the Space Shuttle is worth one billion dollars a launch. I think that it is worth two billion dollars for what it does. I think the Shuttle is worth it for the work it does.

If you don't know what to do, don't do anything.—Conrad's advice for working in space, quoted in the book From the Earth to the Moon.


The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, has a grove of trees that have been planted to honor the memory of the astronauts who have died. After Conrad’s death, NASA planted a tree in his honor. During the dedication ceremony, his Apollo 12 crewmate Alan Bean, during his speech, pseudo-"channeled" Conrad, who purportedly sent instructions from the hereafter. According to Bean, Conrad's instructions were that NASA light the all the trees but one every Christmas season with white lights — but in keeping with his motto, Conrad's tree would have colored lights. NASA has honored this "request", and every Christmas since then, all of the trees in the grove have been lit with white lights, except Conrad's tree, which has been lit with red lights.

Pete Conrad Spirit Award

On September 8, 2008, The Conrad Foundation announced the launch of their 2008 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards. Teams of high school students across the nation are invited to compete in this innovative program. The competition engages high school students in creating commercial products using science and technology.

Students design products in personal space flight, lunar exploration and renewable energy. NASA’s call for a human return to the Moon and the increased interest in space transportation are the foundation of this year’s Conrad Award aerospace challenges. In addition, students will answer Al Gore’s energy challenge to America, by using renewable energy to change everyday life.

“This generation like every other generation, has the ability to design its future. Our award provides the resources for them to do so,” said Nancy Conrad, wife of the late Pete Conrad and founder of the Conrad Foundation.

Students create unique products, produce viable business plans, and are given opportunities to bring their ideas to market. This competition provides students with the ability to network with scientists, university professors, world business leaders, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. “Winning is just the beginning,” said Nancy Conrad. “This competition is the pipeline from education to industry. We have not only created a program, we’re driving a movement.”

In May 2007 the X PRIZE Foundation announced the creation of the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award, to be presented to "the high school team that develops the most creative, new space concept to benefit the emerging personal spaceflight industry." The first award was presented at the 2007 Wirefly X PRIZE Cup at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, it was presented to two students from Milken Community High School.

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Pete Conrad's Timeline

June 2, 1930
July 8, 1999
Age 69