Tech News

Frank Borman, Apollo 8 commander who led the first crew to orbit the Moon, has died at 95

Frank Borman, a NASA astronaut who commanded Apollo 8, the first crewed mission to orbit the Moon and return safely to Earth, and later as chief executive of Eastern Air Lines, flew the carrier in a turbulent business climate that led to its takeover and eventual demise. , died on November 7 at a medical center in Billings, Montana. He was 95 years old.

The cause was a stroke, family spokesman Jim McCarthy said. Mr. Borman, who lived in a retirement community in Billings, died a week after his fellow astronaut Ken Mattinglywho helped bring Apollo 13 home following an explosion on board.

Mr. Borman became the oldest former American astronaut after the Death of John Glenn in 2016one of the original seven astronauts of NASA’s Mercury program.

After graduating at the top of his class from the United States Military Academy, Mr. Borman became a supersonic jet fighter test pilot in the Air Force. He once refused to eject from an F-104 fighter whose engine failed at twice the speed of sound, instead managing to stabilize the plane until it regained power. He won an award for flight safety.

“With delicious irony,” he wrote in his 1988 memoir, “Countdown“, “They also awarded the prize to another driver for not restarting his engine in almost the same circumstances. He had instead parachuted and investigators discovered that if he had restarted his engine, he would have blown the plane into five million pieces. »

In 1962, Mr. Borman was one of nine men commissioned for NASA’s Second Astronaut Corps and served as pilot commander of two NASA missions that laid the critical groundwork for the 1969 moon landing.

During the Gemini 7 flight in December 1965, he and astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. set a record for endurance in space. They spent two uncomfortable weeks orbiting Earth in what Mr. Borman later described as a capsule the size of the “front seat of a Volkswagen.”

Under constant medical supervision, the men endure the boredom, heat and unsanitary conditions, even sharing a toothbrush during part of the mission. Lovell then joked that he and Mr Borman had decided to get engaged.

In space, Gemini 7 came within six feet of the Gemini 6 crew, proving that NASA could perform the rendezvous maneuvers necessary for lunar missions. Until Mr. Borman and Lovell’s in-orbit medical experiment, space historian Andrew Chaikin said in an interview, NASA wasn’t sure humans could survive such a long trip into space. ‘space.

Mr. Borman and Lovell were rewarded with leadership roles on Apollo 8. The mission had been planned to orbit the Earth, but intelligence reports that the Soviets were planning a crewed mission around the Moon led NASA to change its plan, sending Mr. Borman, Lovell and teammate William Anders more than 230,000 miles from Earth and to orbit the Moon 10 times.

It was a bold gamble for the space agency and for the three astronauts, who became the first humans to leave Earth’s gravitational field and the first to orbit the Moon. Anders took an iconic photograph, known as “Earthrise,” showing the planet’s dawn above the lunar horizon.

Mr. Borman coordinated the Live message from the Apollo 8 crew on Christmas Eveduring which the three astronauts read the first 10 verses of Genesis, their television camera pointed through the capsule window, towards the moon.

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with a good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless you all, all of you on the good Earth,” he said in the final moments of the show.

“Earth seemed so alone in the universe. It’s the only thing that has color,” he said years later, of that Christmas Eve. “All our emotions were also concentrated there, with our families. So that was the most emotional part of the flight for me.

Within the space agency, Mr. Borman was known for his unwavering commitment to protocol. When the Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton sent small bottles of contraband cognac on Apollo 8 for the astronauts to enjoy as Christmas presents, Mr. Borman refused to let anyone participate.

“You know, I didn’t find it funny at all,” Mr. Borman told a NASA oral historian in 1991. “If we had drunk a drop of the damn brandy and the thing would have exploded on the way , at home they would have blamed the brandy. You know, I wanted to do the mission and I didn’t care about the other bullshit. I didn’t care about the food or anything else. I just wanted do it.

After Apollo 8, Mr. Borman joined NASA Administration as Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations. He retired from the military and space agency in 1970. He later cited family stress as one of the main reasons he left the astronaut corps, particularly alcohol addiction of his wife.

Each spouse, he writes in “Countdown“,” was to appear to the public as the perfect wife married to the perfect husband who was a perfect astronaut in a perfect American family raising perfect children. But how they were supposed to achieve this was completely ignored.

According to one account, around Christmas Eve, when Apollo 8 was about to circle the Moon and lose its signal to Earth, Susan Borman asked mission control to transmit a coded message to her husband: “The cream is in the oven at 350.” It was a long-running inside joke, her way of assuring Mr. Borman that she was fine and that everything at home – “the custard » – was under control.

“No comprehension,” he replied to mission control, absorbed in his duties. It took him a while to understand what she was saying.

“Why didn’t she ever tell me anything?” Mr. Borman later asked, referring to his wife’s anxiety during this period, in his memoir. “Because at this point in our lives, it wouldn’t have done any good. She was married to Frank Borman, a man determined to accomplish whatever the mission. I would have been upset if she had confided what was eating away at her.

After leaving NASA, Mr. Borman became vice president of Eastern and in 1976 was named general manager.

He found the legendary carrier, once led by World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, on the brink of bankruptcy. He made it profitable, implementing cost cuts and even appearing in advertisements. He has been praised for aspects of his management style, even going so far as to work on the baggage carousels during the holiday season.

“The Colonel,” as Eastern employees called him because of his rank in the Air Force, banned alcohol at events for corporate executives and removed other perks for employees. senior executives. He drove a beat-up 1969 Chevrolet convertible to work, setting an example for thriftiness.

His successes were short-lived. When the U.S. government began deregulating the country’s airlines in 1978, Eastern was not equipped to weather the instability, industry analyst Richard Aboulafia said in an interview for this obituary. The company built its business model at a time when prices and markets were set by the government. As ticket prices fell and revenue declined, Eastern struggled to reduce costs. Additionally, Mr. Borman found himself mired in protracted and hostile salary negotiations, and employee morale plummeted.

He resigned in 1986, after Eastern — the nation’s third-largest carrier — was acquired by low-cost carrier Texas Air for $676 million. (The airline continued to struggle and sold its shuttle business to future President Donald Trump in 1989. Eastern shut down operations in 1991. USAir acquired the Trump Shuttle the following year.)

Aboulafia said Mr Borman was “a remarkably accomplished fighter pilot at the dawn of the jet age, a remarkably accomplished astronaut, and then a respected airline executive – but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In his memoir, Mr. Borman recalls driving home and crying on his wife’s shoulder when Eastern’s board sold the airline. “For the first time in my life, I had not accomplished a mission,” he wrote.

Frank Frederick Borman II was born in Gary, Indiana, on March 14, 1928. He suffered from respiratory problems, and the Bormans moved to Tucson in the hope that the dry desert air would improve the health of their only child.

He later recalled a “peaceful existence”, capturing Gila monsters and walking downtown to watch westerns on Saturdays. He excelled in school, became quarterback of the Tucson High School football team and met Susan Bugbee, his future wife, during his senior year.

Mr. Borman built model airplanes as a child and as a teenager worked odd jobs to earn money for flying lessons.

In 1950, the year he married, he graduated eighth in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1957.

His wife died in 2021. Survivors include two sons, Frederick and Edwin Borman; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

The “last thing I ever wanted to be was a professional astronaut,” Mr. Borman told NASA Oral Historian. Invoking the Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, he added: “I just try to never look back. As Satchel Paige said: Someone might win over you if you look back.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button