Watch CBSN Live

Apollo 12 Moonwalker Dies

Charles "Pete" Conrad, a wise-cracking test pilot and astronaut who became the third man to walk on the moon, died after a motorcycle crash Thursday near Ojai, Calif. He was 69.

Police say ConradÂ's motorcycle went off the road. He died of internal injuries several hours later.

Conrad was a deft aviator with a colorful sense of humor that made his Apollo crewmates cringe when thinking about what he might say while cavorting about the lunar surface.

However, Conrad was strictly business when it came to accomplishing the goals of the Apollo 12 mission. And even though many thought he would be the first man on the moon, Conrad kept it all in perspective.

When Neil Armstrong stepped into history as the first man on the moon, he said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But Conrad, one of the shortest astronauts in the corps, was not nearly so formal.

"Whoopie!" he radioed. "Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but it's a long one for me!"

In an interview with this writer for the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11, Conrad said of his mission: "I didn't have any big historical thoughts about the thing for the plain and simple reason, we were the second crew to get there and all that history was long gone. I just wanted to enjoy the flight, which we did."

Born June 2, 1930, in Philadelphia, Conrad earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University in 1953 and an honorary master of arts degree from Princeton in 1966.

Conrad joined the Navy after graduation, became a naval aviator and attended the Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md., before being assigned as a project test pilot and flight instructor.

With more than 4,000 hours flying time - more than 3,000 in jet aircraft - Conrad was selected as a NASA astronaut in September 1962. He first flew in space as pilot of Gemini 5 and blasted off again as commander of the Gemini 11 mission.

Both flights were enormously successful and Conrad was considered a front runner to be the first man on the moon in the Apollo program. But launch delays and crew changes caused by a variety of unrelated factors conspired to make Conrad and Alan Bean the third and fourth men on the moon in November 1969.

Serving as commander of Apollo 12, Conrad and his crew blasted off Nov. 14, 1969. Conrad flew in space a fourth and final time as commander of the first three-man crew to visit the Skylab space station.

Conrad returned to Earth for good on June 22, 1973. In December 1973, Conrad retired from NASA and the Navy to become Vice President, operations and chief operating officer, of American Television and Communications Corp. in Denver.

Conrad passionately believed humanity's destiny is in space.

Â"We're oing to have to look for alternate sources of energy and we're probably going to have to go someplace else,Â" Conrad said. Â"So even though we haven't continued to go back and exploit the moon right now, we're going to have to go somewhere later.Â"

By CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue