Charles “Pete” Conrad was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 2, 1930. He fell in love with aviation during his first airplane ride at the age of five and by the time he was sixteen was flying solo. He attended the Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and the Darrow School, in New Lebanon, New York. Conrad received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Princeton University in 1953. He holds honorary degrees from Princeton University, Lincoln-Wesleyan University, and Kings College.
In 1953, Conrad entered the Navy, serving as a flight instructor and performance engineer at the Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. After completing his tour of duty where he was an instructor pilot in F4H Phantoms on VF-121 and was then assigned to VF-96 on board the carrier, USS Ranger.
Selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1962, Conrad piloted the Gemini V mission in 1965. He also commanded the Gemini XI mission in 1966, the Apollo 12 mission in 1969 and in 1973, the initial crew of America’s first and only space station, Skylab.
From August 21 to 29, 1965, Pete Conrad and Colonel Gordon Cooper spent what was then a record eight days in orbit during Gemini V, perfecting techniques for use in later lunar missions and proving the capability of astronauts to spend more than a week in space. During the mission, problems developed with the fuel cell that prevented a planned rendezvous with the radar evaluation pod. The secondary objective to demonstrate controlled reentry guidance was not achieved due to incorrect navigation coordinates transmitted to the spacecraft computer from the ground. This caused an 89-mile overshoot of the landing zone; still, lessons learned meant the mission was a success.
On September 12, 1966, Conrad was the Command pilot on the three-day Gemini XI mission. He executed orbital maneuvers and rendezvoused and docked in less than one orbit with a previously launched Agena rocket. He also piloted Gemini XI during two periods of extravehicular activity (EVAs) performed by Pilot Richard Gordon. Other highlights of the flight included the establishment of a new space altitude record of 850 statute miles and the completion of the first fully automatic controlled reentry.
From November 14 to 24, 1969, Pete Conrad was Spacecraft Commander of Apollo 12. With him on this second lunar landing mission were Richard Gordon, Command Module pilot, and Alan Bean, Lunar Module pilot. Apollo 12 included the first precision lunar landing, when the Lunar Module Intrepid safely touched down in the “Ocean of Storms” on November 19. Conrad became the third man to walk on the moon later that day. After stepping onto the lunar surface, he joked about his own small stature by remarking:
“Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil but that’s a long one for me.”
Along with Bean, Conrad spent seven hours and 45 minutes on the lunar surface performing the first lunar traverse, deploying the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package, installing a nuclear power generator station which would provide the power source for long-term scientific experiments, gathering geologic samples of the lunar surface, and completing a close-up inspection of the Surveyor III probe that had landed on the Moon on April 27, 1967. After Bean and Conrad rendezvoused with Gordon, who had remained in lunar orbit aboard the Command Module Yankee Clipper, Apollo 12 returned safely to Earth on November 24.
Conrad’s fourth and final space mission began on May 25, 1973. He was the commander of SL-2, the first crew to live and work on Skylab, America’s first and only space station. The Skylab station consisted of a modified Apollo command module payload and a Saturn IB launch vehicle. The station’s solar panels had been damaged during its unmanned lift-off on May 14 and Conrad and his crew (Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin) undertook two difficult EVAs to repair the damage. Astronaut Tom Stafford later said, “Pete and his crew saved the Skylab. He was one hell of a guy.”
When the SL-2 mission ended on June 22, 1973, Conrad and his crew had set a new endurance record for space flight, 28 days. In his four missions Pete Conrad logged 49 days, 3 hours, and 38 minutes in space, of which thirteen hours were spent in five EVAs, on the Moon, and during the Skylab repairs. In 1978, he was one of the original six recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, for his role in rescuing the Skylab mission.
In December 1973, Pete Conrad retired from NASA and the U.S. Navy, with the rank of captain. He accepted the position of Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer for the American Television and Communications Corporation, responsible for both the operation of existing systems and the national development of new cable television systems. In 1976, he took the position of Vice President and consultant to McDonnell Douglas Corporation and in 1978, was promoted to Vice President of Marketing, responsible for all commercial and military sales for Douglas Aircraft Company. In 1984, he was named Staff Vice President of International Business Development for McDonnell Douglas Corporation.
In 1990, Conrad became Staff Vice President for New Business for McDonnell Douglas Space Company, where he participated in research and development for the Space Exploration Initiative. Captain Conrad also contributed his expertise on SSTO, the Single-Stage-To-Orbit and return space transportation system called the Delta Clipper. In 1993, Pete Conrad became Vice President of Project Development.
Captain Pete Conrad’s achievements brought him many awards in addition to the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. These included two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, the Navy Astronaut Wings, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses; the American Astronautical Society Flight Achievement Award for 1966; Pennsylvania’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology in 1967 and 1969; the Rear Admiral William S. Parsons Award for Scientific and Technical Progress in 1970; the Godfrey L. Cabot Award in 1970; the Silver Medal of the Union League of Philadelphia in 1970; the FAI Yuri Gagarin Gold Space Medal and the De La Vaulx Medal in 1970 for Apollo 12; the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award in 1970; the Federal Aviation Agency’s Space Mechanic Technician Award in 1973; the Collier Trophy in 1973; the FAI Gold Medal, the De La Vaulx Medal, and the AIAA Haley Astronautics Award, all in 1974 for Skylab; and the Harmon Trophy in 1974.
Captain Pete Conrad died as the result of injuries received in a motorcycle accident in Ojai, California on July 8, 1999. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.