Remembering the Rainbow Rocket Man

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Charles “Pete” Conrad (1930-1999), the astronaut who said, “If you can’t be good, be colorful.”

Early 1980 

I sat between two women who had missed the same flight to San Francisco I had missed, and had also rushed to grab seats on this one.

One of them said, “Pete Conrad is on this flight. He was standing in the ticket line right in front of me, and I really wanted to talk to him, but I chickened out.”

Scanning the cabin, the other one asked, “Where?”

“Right now, he’s in that bathroom,” the first answered, pointing ahead, “but his seat is right across the aisle.”

An astronaut who had walked on the moon?! My heart thumped faster at just the thought. “Okay,” I announced, “when he comes out, we’re going to meet him.”

Moments later, he walked down the aisle. All three of us stood up, and I held out my hand. “Mr. Conrad,” I said, “It’s an honor to meet you. Could I ask you something?”

He shook my hand, and looking at me with eyes that were somehow deeper, vaster, fuller than any I’d ever seen, he said, “Sure.”

“What amazed you most about being on the moon?”

He hesitated only a second before answering.

The colors. It would have to be all the colors. Pete Conrad, third man on the moon

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People who knew him agree they never saw him like this; he should be smiling.   (Photo credit for the sunglass reflection: Astronaut Alan Bean/NASA)
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