Manchester's astronaut: Jerry Carr, dead at 88

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MANCHESTER — Gerald "Jerry" Carr, who died recently, lived a life about which movies are made.

Carr — a NASA astronaut, fighter pilot, artist — has written his name into the history books several times.

Carr died Aug. 26 in Albany following a recent illness. He was 88.

Carr was the commander of Skylab 4, spending 84 days, 1 hour and 15 minutes in space before returning to Earth.

BBA teacher Bill Muench, who was friends with Carr and his wife Pat Musick, has spent the past four years producing a documentary about their lives, coupling Carr's thrilling exploits in space with Musick's path to becoming an artist. After first marriages for each, they found each other and spent the past 40-plus years together.

In the movie, Carr reflects on receiving the phone call from Alan Shepard on April 1, 1966, that he had been accepted as one of 19 NASA astronauts.

Many of those astronauts would end up orbiting and landing on the moon, while others, including Carr, would earn their trip into space as part of the Skylab program.

Carr was close to walking on the moon himself.

He had been assigned to fly on Apollo 19 and was two months into training for the mission when the program was scrubbed after Apollo 17.

Carr was involved in those lunar missions, however.

In those days, Carr's friends and neighbors were the Aldrins and Armstrongs, among many others.

Neil Armstrong was his dive buddy in scuba diving school.

And on July 20, 1969, while the entire world was sitting on the edge of its seat, Carr was holding Joan Aldrin's hand as her husband, Buzz Aldrin, piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module to the moon's service.

"She just about squeezed all the juice out of my hand," Carr said.

CAPCOM

He was also the "CapCom" or capsule communicator for the Apollo 8 and 12 missions. The CapCom is a communication position between the space crew and mission control.

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It was Carr's voice during the Apollo 8 mission that orbited the moon you hear on recordings as the crew returned from the dark side of the moon.

"Apollo 8, Houston, what does the ol' moon look like from 60 miles?" Carr famously asked the crew.

Carr is quoted joking about that exchange.

"I guess I"m the first guy on earth to speak to people going behind the moon for the very first time," Carr says in the film. "That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald's."

He was also on the radio for Apollo 12 when it was struck by lightning during launch and gave the famous instruction for the crew to flip the switch that gave them back control over their instruments.

"Apollo 12, Houston, try SCE to Auxiliary, over."

He repeated it several times before once of the men on board was able to understand what it meant, flipped the switch, and the signals straightened out and communications returned to normal.

SKYLAB

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With the disappointment of not going to the moon, Carr settled into his work.

But soon, he was asked to command the Skylab 4 mission despite not having been in space. In fact, none of the three crew members on that flight had been to space.

That didn't stop them from being one of the most productive crews on Skylab.

The crew blasted off from Kennedy Space Center Nov. 16, 1973, and 84 days later returned to Earth on Feb. 8, 1974.

In addition to several spacewalks, the crew completed a lot of scientific studies, but Carr said the thing he thought was the most important was the work done on living in space for extended periods.

NOT JUST SPACE

But Carr isn't know just for flying to space.

Much of his work was performed at much lower altitudes.

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After joining the Navy, and then returning to school, Carr ended becoming a Marine aviator, flying a variety of fighters and landing them aboard aircraft carriers at sea.

Among the jets he piloted were the F-9, F-6A Skyray, and F-8 Crusader.

He logged more than 5,300 hours as a test pilot.

In one of his most tense periods of flying, Carr was in a fighter accompanying surveillance aircraft over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crises as they took photos of installations.

After retiring from NASA in 1977, he and Musick founded an aerospace consulting company, CAMUS Inc., and one of its main jobs was in development of crew systems for the International Space Station.

JUST JERRY

In Manchester, however, Carr was just Jerry.

Muench said that anybody who knew him would say he was the nicest person and despite his achievements, "he didn't feel he was more important than anybody else."

In his later years, he joined Musick in her art and he worked to create art and development Musick's projects.

One of their larger installations was a piece called "Yokes on the Trail of Tears," that commemorated the forced walk of Native Americans from the south to Oklahoma. The installation was ongoing across six states.

"Here's a guy who was a cold warrior and is making art that deals with social justice issues," Muench said. "You don't expect someone to fly a jet over Cuba and then make art about the Trail of Tears."

Muench said Carr was strong and vibrant right up to the time his health failed.

"I saw him a few days before he got sick," Muench said. "He will always be this tough, strong person in my mind because he never grew old."

Muench said Carr was the real deal: he played football at USC, he was a colonel in the Marines, an engineer, a NASA astronaut and an artist.

"The depth with which he thought about politics and art and the space program you hope the people you admire from a distance are as genuine and legit when you meet them," he said. "Without a question, Jerry Carr was as advertised. He was a person who never thought he was a celebrity in any sense."

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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