Thomas Patten Stafford was born in 1930 at Weatherford, Oklahoma. As a young boy, he decided that he wanted to become a pilot after watching the transcontinental planes fly overhead. He went to Weatherford High School until 1948 and then to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, and graduated with honors in 1952. Straight away, he accepted a commission in the United States Air Force.
By 1955 he was a pilot, flight leader and flight test maintenance officer,at the Hahn Air Base in Germany, before returning to America where in 1959 he graduated from the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.
Tom Stafford in 1965
In 1962, Stafford was one of the nine selected in the second group of NASA astronauts in 1962. His first mission was as the pilot on Gemini 6, where he teamed up with Wally Schirra. Although delayed
twice, Gemini 6 successfully launched on December 15th, 1965, and performed the world’s first rendezvous in space when they orbited within a few feet of James Lovell and Frank Borman in their Gemini 7 spacecraft. It was also the first splashdown to be televised live, via a satellite link from the recovery aircraft carrier USS Wasp.
Gemini 6 insignia
Gemini 9 insignia
Six months later, Stafford was selected as commander of Gemini 9, with Gene Cernan as pilot. Despite various problems, the mission tried out three different types of rendezvous, one
Tom Stafford aboard Gemini 9
one of which would become a standard model for the Apollo missions. It was during this mission that Cernan performed a space walk (EVA) which lasted
lasted over 2 hours during which Gemini 9 orbited the Earth twice. This is a link to be
an excellent webpage which describes in detail all of the many problems this mission encountered. Stafford and Cernan did however accomplish the most accurate
Gemini 9 above the Earth
the most accurate splashdown for any of the Gemini or Apollo flights, landing less than a
Gemini 9 crew on board USS Wasp
a mile from the target. The crew were again picked up by the airc
Tom Stafford & Gene Cernan on USS Wasp
aircraft carrier USS Wasp.
Stafford's next mission was in May 1969 as Commander of Apollo 10, a mission to test every aspect of the Lunar Module, other than actually landing it on the Moon. John Young piloted the command module 'Charlie Brown' and Gene Cernan the lunar module 'Snoopy'. Stafford and Cernan took 'Snoopy' within
Tom Stafford Apollo 10 Commander
9 miles of the lunar surface. They phot
Apollo 10 command module
Apollo 10 lunar module
photo-mapped the lunar surface, picked out the first lunar landing site and carried out the first rendezvous around the moon.
During the return from lunar orbit, using only the Moon's gravity and the command module's thrust, Sta
Stafford and his crew reached the highest speed ever achieved by man at 24,790 mph, earning them a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Cernan, Young & Stafford
Stafford's last mission was the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (unofficially 'Apollo 18'). July 1975 saw Stafford commanding the American half of the first joint space mission between the U S A and the Soviet Union.
Tom Stafford & Deke Slayton on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Tom Stafford, Vance Brand and Deke Slayton docked with Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov in the Soyuz spacecraft, an event which successfully tested a rendezvous & universal docking system. However, a w
worsening of the Soviet - American détente meant that it would be the last such docking for 20 years.
(L - R) Deke Slayton, Tom Stafford, Vance Brand, Alexei Leonov
The crews of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
& Valeri Kubasov
Click here for an excellent account of the time when the American & Russian spacemen shook hands for the first time.
Tom Stafford was a Brigadier General at the time of the flight; and when he retired from NASA in 1975 he was the highest ranking American to have flown in space. He made six rendezvous in space altogether, logging 507 hours in space flight. He has flown over 120 different types of aircraft and helicopters and three different types of spacecraft.
Lieutenant General Tom Stafford in1978
After Apollo-Soyuz, Stafford left NASA and became commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. In 1978 Stafford was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and became Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition in Washington, D.C.
After his retirement from the US Air Force in 1979, Stafford served as an advisor to NASA, and also as defense advisor to Ronald Reagan during his presidential campaign.
The many awards Stafford has received, include the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1992 for his work on the Gemini and Apollo projects. He also has honorary degrees from several universities.
Stafford played himself in the TV film Houston, We've Got a Problem (1974) whilst in Apollo 11 (1996) he was played by Tony Carlin an
and in the mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (1998) he was played by Steve Hofvendahl.
Medal of Honor
Tom Stafford has two daughters from his first marriage to Faye Shoemaker, and two sons from his second marriage to Linda Dishman.
In Stafford's hometown of Weatherford, Oklahoma, there is the Thomas P. Stafford Airport and also the Stafford Air
& Space Museum, both named in honour of his accomplishments. The Museum was started in in 1981 with a few memorabilia items and artifacts donated to the airport and displayed in a cabinet in the lobby. Over the years it has developed into one of the finest museums of its kind in the United States, and houses many of the best flight exhibits & space artifacts available.
Outside the museum stands the Thomas P. Stafford statue which originally stood in Heritage Park across from Weatherford's City Hall.
The Thomas P Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford
The General Thomas P. Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma
Tom Stafford with his family in 1969
Tom Stafford & Gene Cernan at NASA Headquarters on
July 20th 2009. It marked the 40th anniversary of the
first Moon landing
Tom Stafford in US Naval Academy uniform
NASA portrait of Tom Stafford, Commander of Apollo 10
It was a great honour to meet astronaut Tom Stafford when he was a guest of Autographica held at the Birmingham Hilton in September 2009.
Not only is he the highest ranking officer ever to have flown in space, he has also flown at Mach 36 (24,790 mph) during the Apollo 10 flight. This is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records!
He is one of only 24 men to have flown to the Moon.
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