Richard Gordon, one of only 24 astronauts to visit the moon, has died

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Richard ‘Dick’ Gordon Jr. stands in front of a training version of Apollo 12’s lunar lander. NASA

Former Apollo 12 astronaut Richard Gordon, one of a dozen men who flew around the moon but didn’t land there, has died, NASA said on Tuesday. He was 88.

Richard “Dick” F. Gordon Jr. was a test pilot chosen in NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963. He flew on Gemini 11 in 1966, walking in space twice. During Apollo 12 in November 1969, Gordon circled the moon in the command module Yankee Clipper while Alan Bean and Charles Conrad landed and walked on the lunar surface.

Gordon died Monday at his home in California, according to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

“NASA and the nation have lost one of our early space pioneers. We send our condolences to the family and loved ones of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard Gordon, a hero from NASA’s third class of astronauts,” acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement Tuesday.

“Dick will be fondly remembered as one of our nation’s boldest flyers, a man who added to our own nation’s capabilities by challenging his own. He will be missed,” Lightfoot added.

‘You’d be happy to be alone’

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Astronaut Dick Gordon during the Gemini XI mission. NASA/Pete Conrad

Born in Seattle, a Navy captain and a chemist, Gordon was such a steely professional that after a difficult first spacewalk, he fell asleep during a break in his second spacewalk. He downplayed Apollo 12 being hit by lightning during launch.

In a 1997 NASA oral history, Gordon said people would often ask if he felt alone while his two partners walked on the moon. “I said, ‘Hell no, if you knew those guys, you’d be happy to be alone’.”

Gordon described the Apollo 12 mission, the second moon landing, as full of antics and dust.

When Conrad and Bean returned and docked their lunar module with his command module, Gordon said he looked in and “all I could see was a black cloud in there. I didn’t see them at all. I looked in there and said, ‘Holy smoke. You’re not getting in here and dirtying up my nice clean Command Module.’

So they passed the rocks over, they took off their suits, passed those over, took off their underwear and I said, ‘OK, you can come in now’.”

Life after Apollo

Gordon had been slated to command the Apollo 18 mission that would land on the moon, but it was cut for budget reasons.

“He was a happy guy and just the best possible crewmate and friend,” Bean said Tuesday.

After retiring from NASA in 1972, he became executive vice president of the New Orleans Saints football team.

He went on to be an executive in energy and science companies.