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Pioneering astronaut dies

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. 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. He will be missed," acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement Tuesday.

Gordon died Monday at his home in San Marcos, California, according to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Born in Seattle, a Navy captain and a chemist, Gordon was such a steely professional that after a difficult first spacewalk, he fell asleep during a break in his second spacewalk. He downplayed Apollo 12 being hit by lightning during liftoff; backup batteries saved the crew from having to abort the mission.

"He's a cool guy," Bean recalled Tuesday. "He's the kind of guy you want when you go to the moon."

Gordon had been slated to command the Apollo 18 mission that would land on the moon, but it was cut for budget reasons. Apollo 17 was the last mission to the moon. In all, 24 Americans flew to the moon and 12 landed on it.



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