Astronaut recalls his days in space


MANCHESTER -- When Col. Gerald Carr was 14, living in California, he dreamed of flying airplanes over the clouds. Twenty-seven years later he went far beyond the clouds and into space, where he stayed 84 days as the commander of Skylab 4.

Carr, who now lives with his wife, Patricia Musick, in Manchester Center, is partly responsible for information and techniques still used by NASA today after he and his crew conducted 56 experiments on their 34.5-million-mile journey in 1973-’74.

But his dreams all started long before any man had been in space.

After earning money washing airplanes in his early teenage years, Carr joined the naval reserve as a senior in high school and became an apprentice to an air captain with the responsibility of warming up a World War II fighter plane.

"I’d warm it up, check it out and then shut it down," Carr recalled in a recent interview. "It was pretty heavy stuff for a 17-year-old boy."

After studying engineering at University of Southern California, Carr became a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marines and 11 years later made a decision that would shape the rest of his life.

"In ‘66 I made an application to become an astronaut, just to see how far I could get in the program. I didn’t expect I would be accepted," he said.

"On April Fools Day, Alan Shepard called ... I recognized his voice so I knew immediately it was real," Carr said.

After 1 1/2 years of basic astronaut training, Carr got his first NASA job testing a lunar module being built in New York. Later Carr served on the support crew and CAPCOM for Apollo 8 and Apollo 12.

Carr was then assigned to in the backup crew of Apollo 16, which meant he’d be assured of a later Apollo trip to the moon.

"According to the sequence, we’d go on Apollo 19," Carr said. "A couple of months into training for (Apollo) 16, NASA announced they were going to cancel Apollo 18 through 20. A bunch of people were moping around because they had lost their chance of going to the moon, and I was one of them.

Within a couple of weeks, Carr was told he was still going to get the chance of going to space as the commander of Skylab 4, the third and final manned visit to the Skylab Orbital Workshop. His crew included Edward Gibson and William Pogue, making an all-rookie space crew that was expected to conduct more than 50 experiments.

Although it’s been 36 years since returning to Earth, Carr said he still remembers the feeling that overwhelmed him leading up to his journey.

"We were mostly anxious and excited, we waited seven and a half years waiting to fly," Carr said.

After launching Nov. 16, 1973, Carr and his crew had three missions -- the first was to study the effects of space on the human body, which Carr said was the most important mission.

After the crews of Skylab 2 and 3 exercised 30 minutes and 60 minutes a day respectively and still showed great signs of de-conditioning upon their return to Earth, Carr and his crew were asked to exercise 90 minutes a day.

"They needed to develop a countermeasure ... so my crew was given an hour and a half in our schedule, which we did, and doctors declared we looked to be in better shape (upon returning to Earth) than when we left," Carr said. "So we think we solved the problem."

The crew was also asked to study the sun through several telescopes and gather data, and to watch the Earth and take pictures to gather information about meteorology, fault zones and the freezing over the St. Lawrence Seaway.

While in space, Carr and his crew also watched and drew pictures of the rare Comet Kohoutek.

The flight was deemed a huge success in conducting 56 experiments, 26 scientific demonstrations, 15 subsystem-detailed objectives and 13 student investigations, although Carr recalled there were some mishaps.

Early in the mission Pogue suffered dizziness and the crew attempted to hide the fact he had vomited from everyone else.

"The rules were, and we broke them, if somebody gets sick you’re supposed to save the vomitous, like everything else ... but at that time there was a cry about space sickness, which could bring the program to the end if (astronauts) got space sickness and (NASA) didn’t know how to control it," Carr said. "So we talked about what we were going to do about it, and because of all the flap over space sickness I said let’s not report it. Well, we forgot that the tape recorder was on so the guys on the ground found out about it 10 hours later."

On another day, the crew forgot to configure their radios to link them with radios on Earth, which they had to do periodically as they moved. Because they had lost communication with CAPCOM, rumors quickly began circulating that the crew, which had previously complained of being overworked, had purposely shut down their lines of communication.

"The press had said we mutinied," Carr said.

Carr said he still gets angry when he sees mention of the "mutiny" from time to time.

The crew returned to Earth on Feb. 8, 1974, which Carr said he and his crew still celebrate the anniversary of along with the launch date.

Although a world away from home, Carr said he never felt isolated or any homesickness in space.

"I didn’t feel isolated because we had contact with the ground and had big windows so we could watch the Earth go by," he said.

Carr retired from NASA in 1977, but he still visits Cape Canaveral three times a year to do lectures and talk about the space program at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Looking back has his long list of accomplishments, Carr said at one time he had regretted NASA’s cancellation of Apollo 19, but those regrets are long gone.

"I regretted not going to the moon, but once I trained and flew the Skylab mission I realized being the 13th or 14th man to step on the moon would not be as important as the work we did on Skylab," he said. "We learned a lot of things about the human body and it was all scientifically documented."

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