THE OBITUARY JULY 10 OF FORMER ASTRONAUT CHARLES P. CONRAD JR. MISSTATED HIS RANK AT THE TIME HE RETIRED FROM THE NAVY. HE WAS A CAPTAIN. (PUBLISHED 07/12/99)
Charles P. "Pete" Conrad Jr., 69, a former Navy test pilot and astronaut who in 1969 became the third man to walk on the moon, died July 8 at a hospital in Ojai, Calif., of injuries he suffered in a motorcycle accident.
A highly competent engineer who also was a cheerful and exuberant extrovert who shouted "Whoopee!" when he first set foot on the surface of the moon, Cmdr. Conrad embodied qualities that have been valued by NASA since the first astronauts were chosen in 1959.
A wiry figure of 5 foot 6 with thinning hair, he had the appearance and the style of an aviator who was prepared to test the limits of flight. He was not a member of the original Mercury manned space-flight program -- he did not become an astronaut until 1962, but he was regarded by colleagues as a prime example of "the right stuff" celebrated by Tom Wolfe in his classic account of the first Americans to go into orbit.
In addition to commanding the Apollo 12 mission to the moon, Cmdr. Conrad was the co-pilot of the Gemini 5 space capsule during a record eight-day flight in 1965. A year later, he commanded Gemini 11 on a flight that set a space altitude record of 850 miles and demonstrated the feasibility of docking with another capsule during orbit. In 1973, he commanded the first mission of Skylab, a permanent space station.
Cmdr. Conrad's decorations included the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. In 1980, he was made a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame.
At his death, flags at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and the Johnson Space Center in Houston were flown at half-staff.
A statement from the California Highway Patrol said Cmdr. Conrad, a resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., was thrown to the pavement when his 1996 Harley-Davidson ran off the road and into a drainage ditch on a curve on Highway 150. He was taken to Ojai Valley Community Hospital and underwent surgery for internal injuries. He died about five hours later.
Cmdr. Conrad and a group of friends were on a trip to Monterey, Calif., to attend a motorcycle event. He was the only person involved in the accident.
A native of Philadelphia, Cmdr. Conrad grew up in Pennsylvania. He became interested in flying as a child and told interviewers he spent hours pretending to fly the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. He received a private pilot's license at age 17.
In 1953, he graduated from Princeton University, where he majored in aeronautical engineering, and then went into the Navy to become a pilot. He was sent to the Navy's test pilot school at Patuxent Naval Air Station. When he graduated, he was assigned to Patuxent as a test pilot and later as a flight instructor and performance engineer.
He applied for the Mercury space program in 1959. Although he passed all the physical and mental tests, he was not one of the seven who were chosen. He later made the (possibly facetious) claim that he had been turned down because he had not taken the psychological tests seriously enough -- when shown a blank white card and asked for comment, he replied that it was "upside down."
Three years later, while serving with a fighter squadron in California, he was chosen as one of the nine members of the second group of astronauts.
The nation's manned space program at the time was the Gemini Project, a series of two-man space flights designed to pave the way for a moon landing. Scientific considerations aside, the political imperative in the Cold War was to reach that goal before the Russians.
The Gemini 5 mission, which Cmdr. Conrad flew with Navy Cmdr. L. Gordon Cooper Jr., was designed to last eight days, the time it would take to fly to the moon and back. Its purpose was to see whether men could exist and function in space for that length of time. In doing so, it set a record, but the crew had to overcome problems with the power system that almost caused officials to order it back to Earth after only two days.
The Gemini 11 mission, which Cmdr. Conrad flew with Navy Cmdr. Richard F. Gordon Jr., tested space docking capabilities and also was part of the moon program.
In November 1969, Cmdr. Conrad and Gordon teamed up again for the Apollo 12 moon landing. The third member of their crew was Navy Cmdr. Alan L. Bean. Cmdr. Conrad was in overall command. Gordon flew the Apollo capsule and Bean was the pilot of the lunar landing module, which was called Intrepid.
The only previous moonwalkers were Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, who landed July 20, 1969. Armstrong's famous first words have been transcribed as follows: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
When Cmdr. Conrad stepped on the dusty landscape of the moon's Ocean of Storms, he shouted, "Whoopee! That may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."
One of the assigned tasks of the mission was to inspect Surveyor 3, a research vehicle that was landed on the moon by remote control, and to return with its television camera. When the time came, Cmdr. Conrad brought the landing module to within 600 feet of Surveyor, an extraordinary feat of navigation for that time.
Over the next 30 hours, Cmdr. Conrad and Bean spent seven hours and 45 minutes on the moon's surface. In addition to visiting Surveyor, they set up a nuclear generating station to power experiments that they put in place.
Cmdr. Conrad's last space flight was in command of Skylab, which spent 28 days in orbit in May and June of 1973. He made several spacewalks to repair damage to the space station that had occurred during its launching. The mission brought his total time in space to 1,179 hours and 38 minutes.
In 1973, Cmdr. Conrad retired from NASA and the Navy. He worked for the American Television and Communications Corp. in Denver and then for McDonnell Douglas Corp., the airplane manufacturer, where he retired in 1996 after 20 years of service. More recently, he founded a company that focused on commercial aspects of space.
Cmdr. Conrad's marriage to the former Jane DuBose ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Nancy Conrad, of Huntington Beach; three sons from his first marriage, Peter, Thomas and Andrew; and seven grandchildren.
Christopher Conrad, another son from his first marriage, died of bone cancer in 1990.
CAPTION: Charles P. "Pete" Conrad Jr., who commanded the Apollo 12 mission to the moon, stands with a mock-up of a lunar landing module. He was the third person to walk on the moon and spent more than 1,179 hours in space.