Oklahoma astronaut Gen. Thomas Stafford dead at 93


Retired Air Force three-star General Thomas Stafford, the astronaut whose hometown was Weatherford, Oklahoma died this week.

Stafford, who commanded the first U.S.-Soviet space linkup, was 93 when he died on Monday. He was part of four space missions and before Apollo 10, he flew on two Gemini flights. One of them was the first rendezvous of two U.S. capsules in orbit. He was also one of 24 people who flew to the moon but Stafford did not land on it.

Max Ary, director of the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, said the general died in a hospital near his Space Coast Florida home.

The space museum’s website explained his history.

Thomas Patten Stafford was born in Weatherford, Oklahoma on September 17, 1930, to Thomas and Mary (Patten) Stafford. He was raised in the western Oklahoma community of Weatherford and never forgot his roots; he was a proud “Weatherford Eagle” to the end. He often credited his hometown as the foundation for the incredible life and career that unfolded for him.

After graduation from Weatherford High School in 1948, Stafford was selected to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, where he graduated in the top 1% of his class.  Ever since he was a small child, his dream was to become a fighter pilot, and graduation from Annapolis allowed him to pursue that dream.  Just prior to graduation, the United States Air Force was established as a brand new, separate military department.  To fill the fledging Air Force’s need for officers, outstanding graduates from both the Army and Naval academies were given the option to stay with their original branch of service, or transfer to the newly created department.  Stafford knew the Air Force had the hottest, most cutting-edge aircraft, and his choice was simple.  He transferred to the Air Force, and gained his silver wings.

Stafford’s flying skills were quickly recognized, and he was selected to attend the elite Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California – a legendary facility where he would later serve as Commanding General.  He graduated first in his test pilot’s class and went on to test new aircraft designs, pushing them to their extreme limits.  It was highly dangerous work, but Stafford thrived under its challenges.  He was then chosen to become a test pilot instructor, and co-authored two books to help train test pilots, parts of which are still being used more than six decades later.

“Today General Tom Stafford went to the eternal heavens which he so courageously explored as a Gemini and Apollo astronaut as well as a peacemaker in Apollo Soyuz,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said via X, formerly known as Twitter. “Those of us privileged to know him are very sad but grateful we knew a giant.”

As the late Senator and astronaut, John Glenn, once said about his good friend:

“Few people have ever matched Tom Stafford’s endearing impact on this nation, and we are a safer and better nation for it.”

“Cindy and I are profoundly saddened by the loss of General Stafford, who served his hometown, state, and nation until his last day. He was an Air Force officer, pilot, astronaut, patriot, husband, father, and a man who never stopped serving his country. In the past few months, General Stafford was in my office talking about the next generation in space and ways we can strengthen our nation. In 1962 he not only piloted Gemini VI—he helped develop and prove the basic theory and practicality of space rendezvous—a truly remarkable achievement for a boy from Weatherford. General Stafford leaves a legacy and an example to young Oklahomans of the American dream—no matter who you are or where you start, if you work hard, you can achieve greatness in the United States. We will pray for his family as they grieve his passing.”

Sen. Markwayne Mullin also issued a statement.

“Very sad to hear that renowned General Tom Stafford (USAF, ret.) has passed away. A Weatherford native, Stafford graduated from Weatherford High School and went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He became a pilot, flight leader, and flight test maintenance officer before being selected for both the Gemini and Apollo missions in 1962. He was a commander on the 1969 Apollo X mission and is still recognized for the all-time highest reentry speed of any manned spacecraft. Amazingly, General Stafford remains the first and only active General to fly in space. General Stafford dedicated his life in service to our country, and his proud legacy will never be forgotten. #OklahomaStandard”—U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin