Apollo 12 astronaut Richard "Dick" F. Gordon Jr., one of a dozen men who flew around the moon but didn't land there, has died, NASA said. He was 88. Gordon was a test pilot when he was chosen for NASA's third group of astronauts in 1963. He flew on Gemini 11 in 1966, walking in space twice, reports the AP. In 1969, Gordon circled the moon in the Apollo 12 command module Yankee Clipper while crewmates Alan Bean and Charles Conrad landed and walked on the lunar surface. Over the two flights, he spent nearly 316 hours in space. "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," acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. Gordon died Monday at his home in San Marcos, Calif., according to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
A Navy captain and chemist, Gordon was such a steely professional that after a difficult first spacewalk, he fell asleep during a break in his second. He downplayed Apollo 12 being hit by lightning during liftoff; backup batteries saved the crew from having to abort. "He's a cool guy," Bean recalled Tuesday. "He's the kind of guy you want when you go to the moon." Gordon and Bean described the second moon landing as full of antics and dust. When Conrad and Bean returned from the moon, Gordon said he looked in and "all I could see was a black cloud in there. I didn't see them at all. I ... said, 'Holy smoke. You're not getting in here and dirtying up my nice clean Command Module.' So they passed the rocks over, took off their suits and underwear, and I said, 'OK, you can come in now'." Gordon had been slated to command Apollo 18, but it was cut for budget reasons. In all, 24 Americans flew to the moon and 12 landed on it.