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Fort Benning Soldiers had the opportunity to hear from one of the pioneers of the American space exploration effort August 14 during the latest edition of the Combat Leader Speaker Program.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford was among the second group of astronauts selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in September 1962 for participation in the Gemini and Apollo projects.
Stafford said the early days of the space program had some uncertainty not unlike the uncertain future the military faces today with budget constraints and a drawdown looming.
"It is kind of a fluid period of time," he said. "This is a time where, to me, you've got to take the initiative and in a way think outside the box. Think of something, either management-wise or technical-wise, that can keep the U.S. Army efficient and ahead of anyone else in the world."
During his 13-year tenure at NASA, Stafford participated in several notable space flights. He piloted Gemini VI during the first rendezvous in space. He later commanded Gemini IX and performed a demonstration of a rendezvous that would be used in the Apollo lunar missions.
He commanded Apollo 10 in May 1969, the first flight of the lunar module to the moon. He descended to within nine miles of the moon's surface, performing the entire lunar landing mission except the actual landing. During this mission, he identified what would become the first lunar landing site for Apollo 11.
Upon reentry on Apollo 10, Stafford earned a Guinness World Record for the highest speed ever achieved by man at 24,791 miles per hour.
He was later assigned as deputy director of Flight Crew Operations at the NASA Manned Space Flight Center. He logged his fourth space flight as Apollo commander of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a flight that culminated with the first meeting in space between American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts, bringing an end to the "space race" between the two countries.
Despite all his accomplishments with NASA, Stafford told the Fort Benning Soldiers that it wasn't his intelligence that enabled his success.
"It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that will help you achieve the greatest altitude in your career and your life," Stafford said. "You've got to have some aptitude, but the big thing is your attitude. ... The attitude to do the best job you possibly can is key."
In 1975, Stafford assumed command of the Air Force Test Flight Center and was promoted to major general.
Stafford was later promoted to lieutenant general and initiated the F-117A stealth fighter project and started the B-2 stealth bomber project, in addition to many other innovations.
He said this experience with developing new technologies has helped him to keep an open mind.
"You always have to have your mind open to new ideas, but realistic ideas - what can be achieved, not some fairy tale dream," Stafford said. "We're looking for things that can be put into effect within a reasonable period of time and can work for us."