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Oklahoma Memories

Stuart Roosa Flies on Apollo 14

2011-01-31

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"30 seconds and counting. Stu Roosa just said 'Thanks, it's been a good count.'"

That's the voice of a NASA flight controller, and the 'Stu Roo' he is referring to is Stuart Roosa, and 'Stu Roo', Stuart Roosa, was seconds from being launched into space.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

Stuart Roosa was born in Colorado but grew up in Claremore, Oklahoma. In 1966, Roosa, then an Air Force test pilot, was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps. And on January 31, 1971, he, along with the first American astronaut Allen Shepard, and Edgar Mitchell, were launched into space aboard the Apollo 14 mission, the third landing on the Moon.

Roosa graduated from Claremore High School then attended Oklahoma State University for a short time before transferring to the University of Arizona then the University of Colorado. He dropped out of school in the early 1950s and served as a smoke jumper with the U.S. Forest Service. He joined the Air Force, completed gunnery school at Del Rio Air Force Base then graduated from the Aviation Cadet program where he earned his wings. He returned to Colorado to complete his degree in aeronautical engineering. Roosa served as a research test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base when NASA came calling. He was in the back up crew for Apollo 9.

"Ignition sequence start. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0."

Then the primary flight crew for Apollo 14, the flight that returned Allen Shepard to space.

"We have liftoff with Apollo 14. 3 minutes past the hour. The tower is clear. 'Houston is controlling.'"

Roosa was the sixth man to orbit but not land on the moon. That honor went to Shepard and Mitchell.

"Now, I can see the reason we have a tilt is because we landed on the slope. The landing gear struts appear to be about evenly depressed. 'Roger out.' And moving around, getting familiar...getting familiar with the surface."

Roosa remained in the command module, circling the moon. While flying around the moon, his son Christopher said his dad would look at the Earth gleaming "like a jewel in the sky" and reflect on how it held "everything I know" and then cover it with the palm of his hand.

At that point, circling the moon by himself in the command module, more than 200,000 miles from home, "he felt very alone," Christopher said.

Roosa named the command module the Kitty Hawk to honor the Wright Brothers and the sand dunes in North Carolina where man's flight began. Roosa died in 1994 from pancreatitis, but his memory lives on in a number of Moon trees. In his personal items kits he took on the Apollo 14, he included a bag of seeds. During decontamination, the canister holding the seeds burst open. Scientists feared the seeds wouldn't germinate but between 420 and 450 did. The Forest Service gave the seeds to a number of state forestry organizations, and many of those trees are still alive today. The most common varieties are loblolly pines, sycamores, Douglas firs, and redwoods. None, however, were given to Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is the only state to have an astronaut fly in every phase of the manned space program. You can see a permanent exhibit on Oklahomans in space at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.