July 1969: Dora grad aboard ship that picked up Apollo astronauts

Posted 7/26/19

A Dora High graduate was on the aircraft carrier that picked up the Apollo 11 astronauts after they splashed down about 1,000 miles southwest of Honolulu on July 24, 1969.Tommy R. Kirkpatrick, was in …

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July 1969: Dora grad aboard ship that picked up Apollo astronauts

Posted

A Dora High graduate was on the aircraft carrier that picked up the Apollo 11 astronauts after they splashed down about 1,000 miles southwest of Honolulu on July 24, 1969.

Tommy R. Kirkpatrick, was in the radar combat information division on the USS Hornet. Before entering the Navy, he majored in industrial engineering at the University of Alabama. He was completing his major aboard the Hornet by taking correspondence courses. 

In a letter home to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Kirkpatrick, he said that the crew was extremely busy preparing for the recovery as well as President Nixon's "welcome home" visit with the astronauts.

"It's a thrill to be aboard the Hornet and there's a lot of excitement going on," Kirkpatrick said.

After the Apollo 11 recovery, the Hornet returned to Hawaii to pick up the capsule and NASA personnel before returning home to Long Beach, California.

Kirkpatrick's wife, Sherry, flew to Long Beach to spend the last part of August with him during the Family Day Cruise. The Hornet sailed from Long Beach to San Diego and back with the crew and their families aboard.

As for the astronauts, they went into 18 days of isolation after the splashdown.

Lt. Clancey Hatleburg, 25, was responsible for handing coveralls to the crew through the hatch of their command module, Columbia. The clothing filtered their breath and sealed them for the move into an aluminum quarantine trailer on the deck of the Hornet.

According to a blog post on Airstream's website, the Apollo 11 crew entered the quarantine trailer along with Recovery Engineer John Hirasaki and Flight Surgeon Dr. William Carpentier. 

"Employees here at Airstream beamed with pride at their televisions as they watched the astronauts speak with President Nixon while peering through the rear window of the MQF. While in the MQF, the astronauts went through medical exams and filled out reports. They also ate, relaxed, and shared stories of their adventures with Hirasaki and Carpentier," the post states.

The quarantine trailer that housed the Apollo 11 crew is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The trailer used for the Apollo 12 mission is on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. After being declared surplus property by NASA, the Centers for Disease Control used it to transport scientists who had been exposed to dangerous viruses overseas.

It was then "lost" for years before being discovered at a fish hatchery in Marion in 2007. 

The trailer is housed in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, named for Oakman native Dr. Julian Davidson. Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions called Davidson "the father of missile defense in America" at his memorial service in 2013. 

"Davidson is known for developing the instrumentation for the Jupiter C rocket that launched America’s first satellite, Explorer, into space. But while von Braun left the Army to help lead the nation’s space program at Marshall Space Flight Center, Davidson remained with the Army’s ballistic missile defense programs. His career included work on the Nike Zeus program, which included a successful funding briefing to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara; and several other missile systems that were the precursor to the nation’s ballistic missile network of today," the Redstone Rocket reported at the time.

I found very little local news of note in Daily Mountain Eagle issues from the last week in July 1969 other than a burglary that occurred at the paper office late on July 28 or early on July 29. 

Editors ran a series of photos on July 29 of Detective George Guthrie collecting evidence. The burglars got away with $150 taken from six vending machines and a cash box.   

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.