Apollo Astronauts at UNC

Apollo Astronauts at Morehead Planetarium, 6 June 1966

This homage to the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon is posted at the approximate time Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the lunar surface.  Did you know, however, that before Armstrong made that famous footprint, he—and almost every National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut—walked the grounds of UNC-Chapel Hill?

From 1959 through 1975, Morehead Planetarium hosted an astronaut training program designed to teach stellar constellation recognition and stellar navigation.  Neither Neil Armstrong nor Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.—the first two men to walk on the moon—appear in this photograph, but both attended the training program on subsequent dates within the next few weeks.  In total, Aldrin attended five training missions and Armstrong completed eleven at Morehead between 1964 and 1969, and the two trained together in the program twice, once in 1968 and once 1969.

In the photograph above by Wolf Witz from the UNC Photographic Laboratory Collection (negative 28733), twenty-one astronauts, about a month after their induction into the NASA space program, line a staircase at Morehead Planetarium on 10 June 1966, encircling an exhibit panel labeled “In Our Lifetime . . . .”  The negative and photographic prints in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives have no identifications, but we know from the Web page “Astronauts Who Trained at Morehead Planetarium and the Missions They Flew” that the following astronauts are in the photograph:

  • Vance D. Brand
  • John S. Bull
  • Gerald P. Carr
  • Charles Conrad Jr.
  • Charles M. Duke Jr.
  • Ronald E. Evans
  • Edward G. Givens Jr.
  • Fred W. Haise Jr.
  • James B. Irwin
  • Joseph B. Kerwin
  • Don L. Lind
  • Jack R. Lousma
  • Thomas K. Mattingly Jr.
  • Bruce McCandless II
  • F. Curtis Michel
  • Edgar D. Mitchell
  • William R. Pogue
  • Stuart A. Roosa
  • John L. Swigert Jr.
  • Paul J. Weitz
  • Alfred M. Worden

How many of these men made it to the moon?

The moon as projected inside Morehead Planetarium.  Photographer Richard McKee.

(The moon as projected inside Morehead Planetarium, 6 July 1962.  The man in the lower left corner is probably planetarium director A. F. Jenzano.  Photographer Richard McKee, UNC Photography Laboratory Collection, negative 23170.)

18 thoughts on “Apollo Astronauts at UNC”

  1. Matt Harper,

    Interesting, I was checking my emails and found this site. You’ll see just how interesting it is… I wanted to see if I had indeed received an attachment from Allison at The Literary Scrapbook regarding information the late poet laureate, Sam Ragan had submitted. He was the editor also of the newspaper named the Pilot in Southern Pines, NC. In 1990, he printed one of my poems in the Pilot. I wasn’t sure if that was it, or not, since I use to attend a writing in residence program at Weymouth manor.

    I called Allison today after I “googled” my name, just to see what would come up. That’s what happened, and she explained it was a poem I had written that Mr. Ragan had included in one of his newspapers. This explains how I find myself here. I think she sent me the wrong article.

    Now, I have wanted to connect with the Apollo mission, specifically: Buzz Aldwin. He has recently written a book that I can identify with. Not the substance abuse part, rather the being estranged from that “time” when life was different. My x-husband was an on-site journalist with The Voice of America and covered the Moon mission when Neil Armstrong first stepped for mankind, into a new frontier. Wanting to implement my passions in a genre that contributes, much like he has after many idle years. I must say mine weren’t, however.

    So now, I will read what you had to say. I’m sure it speaks to many levels.

  2. Very interesting, Stephen. Your question, “How many of these men made it to the moon?” is indeed a trick question.

    Of the men pictured, as you say, four walked on the moon… Conrad (Apollo 12), Mitchell (Apollo 16), Irwin (Apollo 15). and Duke (Apollo 16). Each mission had a command module pilot who stayed in orbit in the command module but really went to the moon, just didn’t walk on the surface. They are: Worden (Apollo 15), Mattingly (Apollo 16), Evans (Apollo 17). Then there are three flights that came really close by orbiting the moon, but didn’t land…Apollo 8, Apollo 10, and Apollo 13. No one from Apollo 8 or Apollo 10 is in the picture, but Swigert and Haise from Apollo 13 are there.

    Now, let me pose a question: Of the 12 men who walked on the moon, 11 of them trained at the Morehead Planetarium. Which one didn’t? I’ll post the answer a bit later.

  3. Jack is on the right flight path! There’s still one more . . . Stuart A. Roosa was the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 14. So if my count is correct, ten of those pictured—almost half—made it to the moon: Conrad, Duke, Evans, Haise, Irwin, Mattingly, Mitchell, Roosa, Swigert, and Worden.

  4. Of the 12 Apollo moonwalkers, 11 of them trained at UNC’s Morehead planetarium. Which one didn’t?

    Here are a few clues:

    (1) The only geologist among the Apollo crews. (PhD in Geology from Harvard, 1964).

    (2) Was part of the crew on the only Apollo night time (actually early morning) launch.

    (3) Was Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 17.

    (4) He is believed to have taken the photograph of the Earth known as The Blue Marble…one of the most widely distributed photographic images in existence.

    (5) Next to the last man to walk on the moon.

    (6)) US Senator from New Mexico, 1977-1983.

    His name: Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt

  5. Again, Stephen, thanks so much for the astronaut/planetarium posts. It was such a special time at UNC, especially for those of us who were on campus during the early 1960’s.

    I remember the day after the Alan Shepard flight, the “Daily Tar Heel” ran a picture of Shepard and John Glenn at the Morehead Planetarium. The front page picture was taken about a year before the flight when both astronauts were training in Chapel Hill. The accompanying article told of the training program and said the astronauts stayed at the Carolina Inn. During the time the astronauts were training at Morehead Planetarium, several national magazines ran stories…”Sky & Telescope,” “Missiles and Rockets,” and the “Saturday Evening Post” ran a picture of John Glenn in the Morehead simulator.

    The astronaut training program was not the only time the Morehead Planetarium was in the national spotlight. The first Planetarium Director, Dr. Roy K. Marshall, who had come to Chapel Hill from the Fels Planetarium in Philadelphia, brought with him a NBC television program called “The Nature of Things.” Dr. Marshall had started the program in late 1948 and it continued until 1954.

    The Morehead Planetarium was officially dedicated during a ceremony held on May 10, 1949 that attracted some of North Carolina’s most prominent citizens. U.S. Senator Frank Porter Graham, N.C. Governor Kerr Scott, Acting University President William Carmichael, University Chancellor Robert House, and John Motley Morehead, III as well as other members of his family attended the ceremony. Following the dedication, assembled dignitaries viewed the Planetarium’s first show, “Let There Be Light,” narrated by Dr. Marshall. (A Planetarium booklet published in 1949, says that admission to the planetarium was 38 cents for adults).

    The astronaut training program continued at the Morehead Planetarium through the Apollo-Soyuz program in July, 1975.

    On June 16, 1989, five of the seven original Mercury Astronauts returned to the Morehead Planetarium to celebrate several aniversaries…the 30th anniversary of US space program, the 40th anniversary of the Morehaed Planetarium, and the 20th anniversary of the first moon landing. Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter. Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, and Donald “Deke” Slayton, along with Betty Grissom, wife of the late “Gus” Grissom were on hand for a special celebration. (Sen. John Glenn, the other Mercury Seven astronaut was not able to leave his duties in Washington). The astronauts presented a plaque commemorating their Chapel Hill training to Planetarium Director Anthony Jenzano.

    Finally, let me mention one of my favorite planetarium displays. On page 75 of “Life” magazine for October 3, 1949, there is what the magazine called a “Celestial Choo Choo”… An image of UNC All America Charlie Choo Choo Justice, projected in stars eluding as astral tackler.

  6. I ran across an interesting Morehead Planetarium article this weekend in “The State Magazine” for March 5, 1949. The article is called “New Moon Over Chapel Hill” by Sebastian C. Sommer. The article is on pages 3-4 and concludes on page 17.

  7. It’s good to see this picture from the astronaut training program. One of the astronauts pictured, Fred Haise, Jr., had another Chapel Hill connection. His wife Mary was the first cousin of Betty Geer (my mother), Chapel Hill librarian. When Fred came to Chapel Hill for this training, we would enjoy his visits. On one visit, my mother drove him back to the airport, and we were amazed to see the little private jet in which he had flown to NC. It was a freezing day and there was ice on the jet. We were amused by the contrast of technology when Fred borrowed the plastic windshield scraper from my mother’s little car to clear the windshield of his jet.

  8. The man in the photograph is indeed A F (Tony) Jenzano who was the director of the Morehead Planetarium when the astronauts received their training.

  9. Morehead Planetarium and the Astronauts were so wonderful. Around 1961 – I was in the 5th grade and they
    had our whole class come to the planetarium to meet and ask questions of the astronauts. What a privilege!!!!!! I will never forget the experience.

  10. The United States has lost one of its heroes. Astronaut Scott Carpenter has died


    He was the second American to orbit the earth back in 1962 and he trained at the Morehead Planetarium on three occasions:

    February 23-24, 1960
    October 28-29, 1961
    April 28, 1962

    The April, 1962 training session was less than a month before his historic flight on May 24, 1962 in Aurora 7.

    Scott Carpenter also made a special visit to the Morehead Planetarium on June 16, 1989 to help celebrate the Planetarium’s 40th birthday.

  11. I just found this website. Lovely memories. I was in jr, High when the Mercury Astronauts came to the Morehead Planetarium to train. Even at that young age, I knew these men were special. I would walk down from school on Franklin street and enter in one of the “blackout doors” where no light came in and sit and watch them train. They were completely committed to the task and I was amazed at how quickly they remembered the stars and constellations assigned. They would come out to the house after a busy day to relax knowing that nothing knew they were there. Incredibly personable, gifted, and competitive. I cherish the memories from Jr. High into college. I also returned for the festivities at the Planetarium in 1989…the 40th anniversary of Morehead, the 30th anniversary of the space program, and the 20th anniversary of the moon landing!

  12. Morehead is proud to announce that the astronaut training program has been selected for commemoration by the NC Highway Historical Marker Program. The marker will be installed and unveiled in a public ceremony on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, at 2 p.m.

  13. I was so very pleased to learn of the honor coming to Morehead Planetarium and Science Center for the part it played in the US space program.

    (It’s ironic this announcement was made in the comment section of the “North Carolina Miscellany” web site on February 20, 2015…the 53rd anniversary of Astronaut John Glenn’s historic three-orbit flight in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. Of course, Glenn trained for this flight at Morehead).

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