OBITUARIES : Stuart Roosa
Friday 23 December 1994
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.
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.
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