Thomas P. Stafford

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Thomas P. Stafford
Thomas Stafford.jpg
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Retired
Born (1930-09-17) September 17, 1930 (age 84)
Weatherford, Oklahoma, U.S.
Other names
Thomas Patten Stafford
Other occupation
Test pilot, consultant
USNA, B.S. 1952 (Distinguished Graduate)
Rank Lieutenant general, USAF
Time in space
21d 03h 42m
Selection 1962 NASA Group 2
Missions Gemini 6A, Gemini 9A, Apollo 10, ASTP
Mission insignia
Gemini 6A patch.png Ge09Patch orig.png Apollo-10-LOGO.png ASTP patch.png

November 1, 1975 (NASA)

October 31, 1979 (USAF)
Awards Dfc-usa.jpg Presidential Medal of Freedom Congressional Space Medal of Honor

Thomas Patten Stafford (born September 17, 1930) is a retired American Air Force Lieutenant general, test pilot and a former NASA astronaut. He flew aboard two Gemini space flights; and in 1969 was the commander of Apollo 10, the second manned mission to orbit the Moon and the first to fly a Lunar Module there.

In 1975, Stafford was commander of the Apollo-Soyuz flight, the first joint U.S.-Soviet space mission. A brigadier general at the time, he became the first general officer to fly in space. He was the first member of his Naval Academy class to pin on the first, second and third stars of a general officer.

Stafford logged 507 hours of space flight time. and has flown over 120 different types of fixed wing and rotary aircraft and three different types of spacecraft.


Early years and education[edit]

Stafford was born September 17, 1930, in Weatherford, Oklahoma. His father, Thomas, was a dentist, and his mother, Mary, a teacher. Mary had moved to Oklahoma as a young girl in a covered wagon, and would live to see her only child fly to the moon. Stafford was a Boy Scout and he earned the rank of Star Scout.[1] He would graduate from Weatherford High School in 1948.

Stafford earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in 1952 from the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He received his pilot wings at Connally AFB, Waco, Texas, in September 1953. He completed advanced interceptor training and was assigned to the 54th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Ellsworth AFB, Rapid City, South Dakota. In December 1955 he was assigned to the 496th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Hahn Air Base, West Germany, where he performed the duties of pilot, flight leader, and flight test maintenance office, flying F-86Ds.

Stafford was then selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School, and graduated first in his class in 1958. He was awarded the "A.B. Honts" trophy as the outstanding graduate. After graduation, Stafford became 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. He is co-author of the Pilot's Handbook for Performance Flight Testing and the Aerodynamics Handbook for Performance Flight Testing.

NASA career[edit]

Stafford was selected among the second group of NASA astronauts in September 1962 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to participate in Projects Gemini and Apollo.

Project Gemini[edit]

Stafford (right) and Eugene Cernan arrive aboard USS Wasp after Gemini 9 on June 6, 1966.

Stafford was originally scheduled to fly with veteran astronaut Alan Shepard on the first manned Gemini mission, Gemini 3. But when Shepard was removed from the flight rotation due to an inner ear problem, Stafford was reassigned to back up pilot for that mission.[2] Stafford would then be paired up with veteran astronaut Wally Schirra to fly the Gemini 6 mission in late 1965. The initial GT-6 flight plan called for Stafford to perform the first American spacewalk (EVA)in late 1965, but this task was moved up to the Gemini 4 mission after Russian Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov surprised the world with his spacewalk in March of that year. When Stafford and Schirra did launch in December, 1965 on the redefined Gemini 6-A mission, they performed what is considered one of the great milestones of space flight history - the first rendezvous with another orbiting spacecraft, a critical maneuver to achieve a lunar landing. From this experience, Stafford would continue to develop basic theory, techniques and training procedures to further refine the concept of rendezvous, eventually flying six complex rendezvous in space during his four missions.

Less than six months later, Stafford was pressed into service again to command the Gemini IX mission, along with crew mate Eugene Cernan, following the deaths of the original prime crew Charlie Bassett and Elliot See in a T-38 crash. Stafford would continue to hold the record for the shortest duration between spaceflights of 5 months 19 days until the launch of STS-94 more than 30 years later. During Gemini 9A, Stafford would perform a demonstration of an early rendezvous that would be used in Apollo 10: the first optical rendezvous; and a lunar orbit abort rendezvous. Cernan would perform America's second EVA, and would become the first astronaut to do a space walk all the way around the Earth during what would become a very difficult two hour plus procedure. As part of the flight plan, Stafford manually flew the Gemini through the entire reentry phase of the mission, and landed his spacecraft only 0.38 miles from the recovery ship - the closest that any Mercury, Gemini or Apollo spacecraft would ever achieve.

Project Apollo[edit]

From August 1966 to October 1968, Stafford headed the mission planning analysis and software development responsibilities for the astronaut group for Project Apollo.

Stafford was the lead member of the group which helped formulate the sequence of missions leading to the first lunar landing mission. He demonstrated and implemented the theory of a pilot manually flying the Saturn booster into orbit and the trans-lunar injection maneuver.

Stafford was named commander of the Apollo 10 mission which launched in May 1969. This mission would be the final, full-scale dress rehearsal for a lunar landing, including flying the first Lunar Module into lunar orbit, the first lunar rendezvous between the Apollo Command Module and the LM, and charting the future landing site for Apollo11. Stafford, with LM Pilot Gene Cernan, would fly their Lunar Module Snoopy to within 50,000 feet of the lunar surface, and conduct every aspect of a moon landing except the actual landing.

Stafford also was largely responsible for NASA adopting color television for its spaceflights.[citation needed] Apollo 10 had planned to be slow-scan black-and-white camera, but Stafford was determined to let the American public share in the beauty of the missions they were funding. The development of a sequential color television system by Westinghouse caught his attention in the early days of 1969, and the demonstration made for him was the catalyst for his pushing NASA to adopt the color format. Once NASA saw how much publicity the color TV pictures generated, the format became standard on all subsequent missions (bar Apollo 11's lunar surface TV camera - which was not flight-approved for color). For their work, the Apollo 10 crew was awarded an Emmy Award by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for sending the first color television back from space.

During the Apollo 10 reentry, Stafford and his crew mates, John Young and Gene Cernan, were cited in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest speed ever attained by a human - 24,791 statute miles per hour - a record that will possibly not be broken until a manned flight returns from a trip to Mars.

Following his lunar mission, Stafford was named Chief of the NASA Astronaut Corps in June 1969, responsible for the selection of flight crews for the remaining Apollo and Skylab missions. He reviewed and monitored flight crew training status reports, and was responsible for coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts.

In June 1971, Stafford was assigned as Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations at the NASA Manned Spacecraft 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.

Also, in 1971, following the tragic deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew when their spacecraft depressurized during reenty, President Richard Nixon chose Stafford to be the sole American to officially attend the funeral in Moscow, where he served as a pallbearer.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project[edit]

Stafford (right) and cosmonaut Alexey Leonov training for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project at Star City.

Stafford logged his fourth space flight as the Apollo commander of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) mission, July 15–24, 1975. This mission would be a joint flight culminating in the historic first meeting in space between American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts that led to the historic "handshake in space." The ASTP program represented a major political risk for both the U.S. and the USSR, and whether it succeeded or not would have had a dramatic impact on the future of the Cold War and the relationship between the world's two great superpowers. Much of the responsibility for the mission success was born by the flight's commanders, Tom Stafford and the Soviet commander, Alexi Leonov. The two would develop a trusting and strong working relationship that would set the professional example from which to follow by everyone else on both sides of the ASTP mission. The ideological and political barriers were overcome, and the Apollo-Soyuz mission went on to become a major triumph for both nations. For his ground-breaking work, General Tom Stafford - who had become the first general officer to fly in space - was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Of the 38 different astronauts who flew the Apollo spacecraft (Apollo, Skylab & ASTP), only seven would fly it twice, and only two - Tom Stafford and Pete Conrad - would command two Apollo missions.

Post-NASA career[edit]

In November, 1975, Brig. General Stafford completed his thirteen-year duty with NASA, and was assigned by the USAF to the command of the Air Force Flight Test Center He was promoted to the rank of major general August 9, 1975, with date of rank of June 1, 1973. Besides overseeing the flight testing of numerous high performance aircraft at Edwards AFB, California, Stafford also commanded aircraft operation at the top-secret Groom Lake Test Facility in Nevada - also known as Area 51. Here, Stafford was charged with overseeing the top-secret flight testing of the first experimental stealth aircraft called ''Have Blue''. Although the Air Force had not brought forth a statement-of-need, Stafford, armed with the stealth experience learned from the "Have Blue" project, began the program that would develop the F-117A, the world's first stealth attack aircraft. Under Stafford's leadership, from the time the contract was signed for the aircraft's development to the first flight of a production model was only 2 years 8 months - a modern day record.

Promoted to rank of lieutenant general on March 15, 1978, he assumed duties as Deputy Chief of Staff, Research Development and Acquisition, Headquarters USAF, Washington, DC, on May 1, 1978. He retired from the Air Force in November 1979.

In June 1990, Vice President Quayle and Admiral Richard Truly, then the NASA administrator, asked Stafford to chair a committee to independently advise NASA how to carry out President George H. W. Bush's vision of returning to the Moon, this time to stay, and then go on to explore Mars. Stafford assembled teams of 40 full-time and 150 part-time members from the DOD, DOE and NASA, and completed the study called America at the Threshold, a road map for the next 30 years of U.S. manned spaceflight. Stafford and Quayle held a news conference at the White House in June 1991 to announce the recommendations to the public.

He co-founded the technical consulting firm of Stafford, Burke, and Hecker, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia. He sits on the board 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., the largest independent hard disk drive maker in the world. He has served as an advisor to a number of governmental agencies including NASA and the Air Force Systems Command. He was a defense advisor to Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign and a member of the Reagan transition team. He has also served as spokesman for Omega watches.

He served on the National Research Council's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board; the Committee on NASA Scientific and Technological Program Reviews, and Vice President Quayle's Space Policy Advisory Council. He was chairman of the NASA Advisory Council Task Force on Shuttle-Mir Rendezvous and Docking Missions, and is currently the chairman of the NASA International Space Station Advisory Committee. He is an honorary board member of the humanitarian organization, Wings of Hope.[3]

Stafford wrote the epilogue of the book Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut's Journey to the Moon by fellow Apollo astronaut Al Worden.[4]


Stafford's first wife was the former Faye L. Shoemaker. They had two daughters, Dionne Kay, and Karin Elaine. They also have two grandsons, Thomas P. Stafford II and Andrew Alexi Harrison. He later married the former Linda Ann Dishman of Chelsea, Oklahoma. They have two sons, Michael Thomas, and Stanslav "Stas" Patten. Linda has two children from a previous marriage, Kassie Neering and Mark Hill, and four grandchildren: Sloane, Lee, Marcus, and Tara.

Stafford enjoys hunting, scuba diving, fishing, and swimming. He recently moved from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Florida.[citation needed]

Honors and awards[edit]

In 2011, Stafford was awarded the National Aeronautic Association Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the most prestigious honor in aviation, which is presented annually to a living American for "significant public service of enduring value to aviation in the United States." He also received the Air Force Association's Lifetime Achievement Award on September 21, 2011.

Stafford was presented with the Medal "For Merit in Space Exploration" from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 12, 2011, at the Moscow Kremlin.

Stafford's many military decorations and awards include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal and Air Force Outstanding Unit Award ribbon with three oak leaf clusters.

Other awards presented to Stafford include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, NASA Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, NASA Exceptional Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Chanute Flight Award (1976), the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Space Award, National Geographic Society's General Thomas D. White USAF Space Trophy (1975), and the Federal Aeronautique Internationale Gold Space Medal. In 1966, he was co-recipient of the AIAA Award, and in 1969 he received the National Academy of Television Arts and Science Special Trustees Award.[5] On 12 April 2011, Stafford received the Russian Medal "For Merit in Space Exploration" "for outstanding contribution to the development of international cooperation in manned space flight".

Stafford received the Harmon International Aviation Trophy twice—in 1966 for piloting Gemini 6, and in 1976 trophy was presented jointly to Stafford and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov for their work on ASTP.

In 1979, Stafford was awarded the Society of Experimental Test Pilots James H. Doolittle Award. On January 19, 1993, he received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

He is the recipient of several honorary degrees. These include a doctorate of science from Oklahoma City University; a doctorate of laws, Western State University; a doctorate of communications, Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts; and a doctorate of aeronautical engineering, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida.


Stafford is heavily honored in his hometown of Weatherford, including his name being on the local airport, Thomas P. Stafford Airport, and The Stafford Air & Space Museum.[6]

In media[edit]

Stafford played himself in the 1974 TV movie Houston, We've Got a Problem. In the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11 he was played by Tony Carlin. In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon he was played by Steve Hofvendahl. Stafford was briefly portrayed by an extra in the pilot episode of the FX show The Americans.

British rock band New Model Army has quoted Stafford in the lyrics to their song "Space" included on their fifth studio album Impurity in 1990.


External links[edit]