OBITUARIES : Stuart Roosa

Stuart "Smoky" Roosa earned his place in history as one of six Apollo astronauts who flew solo around the Moon, but he was fated never to set foot on its dusty, arid surface.

Although he served on the support crew for the Earth- orbiting Apollo 9 mission, his chances of flying to the Moon seemed dim until the veteran astronaut Alan Shepard was given command of Apollo 14. Shepard's choice of crew was highly controversial sinceit included Roosa and Edgar Mitchell, neither of whom had any spaceflight experience. Despite this apparent disadvantage, they completed a highly successful 10-day trip to the lunar plains of Fra Mauro and revived Nasa's flagging image after the Apollo 13 debacle of the previous year.

Apollo 14 took off from Florida on 31 January 1971 and arrived at the Moon three days later. As command module pilot, Roosa was the chauffeur responsible for driving his companions safely to and from the Moon. This included the task of linking up with the lunar module en route. Unfortunately, the normally routine docking manoeuvre turned into a nightmare just a few hours after take-off when the command module's docking probe refused to link up with the receptacle on the lunar module. After fiv e failed attempts and with fuel running low, Roosa made a final desperate effort to save the mission. Ramming the throttle forward, he succeeded in slamming home the probe so that its latches caught and held.

The outward trip was something of a nightmare for the publicity managers - the trio were dubbed "the silent crew" - until the craft entered lunar orbit. Displaying his dry humour, Roosa commented, "We sure picked a clear day to arrive - you can see all the way to the horizon."

While Shepard and Mitchell grabbed most of the headlines down on the surface, Roosa orbited the Moon alone for 33 hours, quietly carrying out a routine programme of photography and visual observations. After a successful first-time docking with the lunarmodule on its return from the surface, Apollo 14 headed home for a Pacific Ocean splashdown on 9 February.

After three weeks in quarantine in case they had brought back an alien bug from the Moon, the crew were granted a tickertape parade and a flurry of awards.

Stuart Roosa was born in 1933 in Durango, Colorado. He attended the local High School in Claremore before starting work as a firefighter for the US Forest Service. He enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1953 and over the next dozen years graduallyworked his way up to the rank of captain.

His first step was to pass through gunnery school and earn his flight training commission from the Aviation Cadet Programme at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. During his assignment as a fighter pilot at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, he flew the front line F-84F and F-100 aircraft.

After signing up for the Air Force Institute of Technology Program, Roosa earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado. As a result, he was transferred for two years to Tachikawa Air Base, in Japan, as chief of service engineering.

In 1962 he became a maintenance flight test pilot at Dimstead Air Force Base in Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1965 he graduated from the Aerospace Research Pilots School and gained the coveted position of test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Edwards was one of the most important recruiting grounds for astronauts, and Roosa was eager to join the expanding space programme. After an exhaustive selection procedure, he was accepted for the fifth group of astronauts in 1966. Assigned as capsule communicator for the Apollo 1 mission, he witnessed the fire which killed three astronauts during a ground test in January 1967.

Unlike some of his fellows, Roosa never forgot the wonder and awe of his remarkable journey on Apollo 14. In a recent interview he confided, "I look at the Moon all the time and I say, `I was there.' Sometimes I joke, `Was that another life? Another lifetime away?' "

Although he served on the back-up crews for Apollos 16 and 17, Roosa never flew in space again. He worked for a while on the fledgling Space Shuttle programme before resigning from Nasa and the Air Force in 1976. Having completed an advanced management course at Harvard Business School, in 1973 he moved to Athens as President of US Industries Middle East Development Company. He later spent four years in property development before becoming president and owner of a Gulf Coors beer distributorship in Mississippi in 1981.

Peter Bond

Stuart Allen Roosa, air force officer, astronaut, property developer, businessman: born Durango, Colorado 16 August 1933; married (three sons, one daughter); died Falls Church, Virginia 12 December 1994.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada