Thomas P. Stafford flew on Gemini VI, the first space rendezvous mission, and on the Gemini IX mission. He orbited the moon on Apollo 10 and commanded the American spacecraft that linked in orbit with a Soviet Soyuz craft during the Apollo-Soyuz mission.
Stafford was born in Weatherford, Oklahoma on September 17, 1930. Interested in aviation since he was a young boy on his family’s farm, he graduated from Weatherford High School. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1952, graduating with honors. He also has several honorary degrees.
In 1952, Stafford was commissioned as second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He completed advanced interceptor training and served tours of duty at Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, and at Hahn Air Base, Germany, where he flew F-86Ds. He graduated in 1959 from the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, receiving the A.B. Honts award as that year’s outstanding graduate.
He was an instructor in flight test training and specialized academic subjects-establishing basic textbooks and directing the writing of flight test manuals for use by the staff and students. Stafford is a co-author of the Pilot’s Handbook for Performance Flight Testing and the Aerodynamics Handbook for Performance Flight Testing. He has piloted over 110 different types of aircraft and has over 7,100 flying hours.
On September 11, 1962, Thomas Stafford was among the second group of astronauts selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He first entered space as Pilot on the Gemini VI-A mission on December 15 and 16, 1965. Wally Schirra was Spacecraft Commander. The primary mission objective was to rendezvous with the Gemini VII spacecraft, launched eleven days earlier. Secondary objectives included: a closed-loop rendezvous in the fourth orbit, station keeping with Gemini VII, evaluation of reentry guidance capability, and conducting visibility tests for rendezvous using Gemini VII as the target. Stafford helped make the first rendezvous in space, aiding the development of techniques to prove the basic theory and practicality of space rendezvous. The mission ended after almost 26 hours with NASA’s first truly accurate re-entry.
From June 3 to 6, 1966, Stafford was Command pilot of Gemini IX-A (Eugene Cernan was Pilot). They performed three different types of rendezvous, including a demonstration of an early rendezvous that would be used in Apollo, including the first optical rendezvous and a lunar or abort rendezvous. The three-day mission, highlighted by a spacewalk by Cernan, ended safely after 45 orbits.
From May 18 to 26, 1969, Thomas Stafford commanded Apollo 10, the first flight of the lunar module to the moon. His crew consisted of Lunar Module pilot Eugene Cernan and Command Module pilot John Young. During this “dress-rehearsal” for the Apollo 11 moon landing, Stafford performed the first rendezvous in lunar orbit and the entire lunar landing mission except the actual landing. During its return to Earth, Apollo 10 orbited the moon for 61 hours and achieved the highest speed ever attained by humans, 24,790 miles per hour.
In June 1971, Stafford was assigned as Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations at the NASA Manned Space flight Center. He was responsible for assisting the director in planning and implementation of programs for the astronaut group, the Aircraft Operations, Flight Crew Integration, Flight Crew Procedures, and Crew Simulation and Training Divisions.
Thomas Stafford logged his fourth and final space flight as Apollo commander of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission, July 15 to 24, 1975. This was a joint US/USSR space flight, culminating in the historic first meeting in space between Americans and Soviets. Along with Apollo astronauts Deke Slayton and Vance Brand, Stafford rendezvoused with Soyuz-19 cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Valery Kubasov for nearly 44 hours. The flight ended successfully after 217 hours in space, though a near-disaster occurred during the final descent of the Apollo module. Due to a malfunctioning valve, the crew cabin was flooded with toxic gas from the spacecraft’s thrusters for 30 seconds. Despite the poison fumes, Stafford was able to open the valves and save the lives of all aboard. With this, his last mission, Stafford logged a total of 507 hours and 43 minutes in space flight, for which he received the Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings. In 1993, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for “saving the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project U.S. crew from fuel intoxication.”
General Thomas Stafford assumed command of the Air Force Flight Test Center on November 4, 1975. He was promoted to the grade of Major General on August 9, 1975, with the date of rank of June 1, 1973. Stafford became a Lieutenant General on March 15, 1978, and on May 1, 1978, assumed the duties as the Deputy Chief of Staff, Research, Development, and Acquisition, at USAF Headquarters in Washington, D.C. During that time he was personally involved in initiating the F-117A Stealth Fighter program. In early 1979, Stafford wrote the initial desired specifications on and started the development of the B-2 “Stealth Bomber.” Stafford retired from the Air Force in November 1979.
In June of 1990, Thomas Stafford chaired a team to independently advise NASA how to carry out President H.W. Bush’s vision of returning to the Moon, this time to stay, and then go on to explore Mars. He assembled teams of 40 full-time and 150 part-time members from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and NASA, to complete the study called “America at the Threshold,” a road map for the next 30 years of the U.S. Manned Space Flight Program. In 1994, Stafford chaired the committee to review and make recommendations to enhance the efficiency of the research and development initiatives of the NASA Human Exploration Enterprise.
Stafford co-founded the Technical Consulting Firm of Stafford, Burke, and Hecker, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia. He also is on the Boards of Directors of six corporations listed on the New York Stock Exchange, one listed on the American Exchange, and two others, including Seagate Technology, Inc. He has served as an advisor to a number of governmental agencies including NASA and the Air Force Systems Command.
In addition to being just the eighth person to earn the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, General Stafford also holds two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings. He currently resides in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.