"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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Pete Conrad

06 Apr 2002

Pete Conrad on the moon

Pete Conrad on the moon, November 1969. Photo: NASA

I was three years old in 1969, and while my mother says that I watched the first moon landing along with the rest of the world, I don't remember a thing about it. I'm not sure if I watched the second landing, but my recollections are pretty much the same.

"Whoopee!" Conrad said as he stepped onto the lunar surface. How can you not like that? I wish all of today's explorers had that sense of fun.

Conrad's death has left me with the a sense of unease that as usual is difficult to describe. The thought of going to the moon and returning safely to the Earth is such a mind numbing difficult thing to imagine. There's the cost. There's the tremendous resources and support team required to develop the technology and run the mission. There's the years of training. All in all, the journey is so unlikely that it's hard to imagine it will ever be repeated. And so when someone who has actually been there dies, it feels as if something very precious is lost forever.

How is it that the Apollo astronauts are not -- "celebrities" is the wrong word, and "heroes" is too jingoistic -- why are they not cherished? Here are people who have witnessed first hand things that almost no one else will see in this lifetime, and yet are they sought out for their perspective? Perhaps they gave their thoughts 30 years ago and would just like to get on with their lives. But still -- these people whose names are in history books are still alive and articulate. We should be eager to listen.

Conrad died from injuries following of a motorcycle accident on July 8, 1999. He was 69.