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Remembering the Alabamian who almost walked on the moon


As the eyes of the University of Alabama focus on UA graduate Bob Hines and his upcoming flight as a rookie astronaut aboard a SpaceX “Crew Dragon” capsule, other space enthusiasts are recalling Mobile native Clifton Williams.

The NASA astronaut-in-training was scheduled to walk on the Moon aboard Apollo 12 in 1969. Williams served on the backup crew of the flight of orbital flight of the Gemini 10 spacecraft, a two astronaut spaceflight that helped pave the way to the lunar surface. He was later selected to join NASA veterans Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon on the moon mission of Apollo 12, which followed up the historic trip of Apollo 11 where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first steps on the “sea of tranquility.”

Williams was flying a NASA training jet to Mobile to visit his family in 1967, when there was a mechanical failure which caused the aircraft to plunge to the ground near Tallahassee, Florida. Williams was killed. Astronaut Alan Bean took his place on Apollo 12 and became the fourth person to talk on the lunar surface. Each NASA moon mission crew helped design an embroidered cloth patch to symbolize their flight. The Apollo 12 patch was re-designed to have four stars, including one for astronauts Conrad, Bean, and Gordon, and an extra star for Williams. NASA says Bean also left Williams’ naval aviator wings on the surface of the moon as a tribute the mission’s lost crewman.

Bob Hines, UA graduating class of 2010, is scheduled to join three crewmates on the planned blastoff of a SpaceX “Crew Dragon” vehicle no earlier than Tuesday. The automated vehicle is supposed to dock with the International Space Station for a six month mission of science experiments. Hines will be the second UA grad to fly to space, after James Kelley, UA class of 1996.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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