Princeton in Space

Several Princetonians have braved the final frontier, beginning with NASA’s Apollo missions. Here we present a brief overview of their contributions to space exploration.


Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53

Charles Conrad studied aeronautical engineering at Princeton, earning his B.S. in 1953. A little less than a decade later, NASA chose him alongside eight other men to train for the Gemini and Apollo projects. After his return to Earth as the pilot for Gemini 5 in 1965 set a record for the longest time humans had spent in space (eight days), Princeton took the unprecedented step of raising its flag above Nassau Hall to celebrate.

As commander of the Apollo 12 mission in 1969, Conrad was the third human to walk on the moon, quipping, “That might have been a short step for Neil [Armstrong] but it was a damn long one for me.” He took five Princeton flags with him on the trip, later presenting one to the University.

Princeton University flag taken to the moon by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

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This Week in Princeton History for November 14-20

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, football rivalry with Yale begins, an African American graduate breaks through a color barrier, and more.

November 14, 1969—Charles Conrad, Jr. ’53 is in command of the Apollo 12 mission, the second mission in which humans will travel to the moon, when it launches today. He carries four Princeton University flags with him.

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Flag taken to the moon by Charles Conrad, Jr. ’53. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

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This Week in Princeton History for November 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an alum takes the school flag to the moon, Ella Fitzgerald performs, and more.

November 17, 1983—Diplomats from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Great Britain are in Alexander Hall to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended America’s Revolutionary War. Princeton is chosen because the Continental Congress resided here in 1783.

November 19, 1969—Astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. ’53, third man to walk on the moon and Commander of the Apollo XII mission, brings a Princeton flag to the moon’s Ocean of Storms. Princeton President Robert F. Goheen observes that this is “a noble summit for the Orange and Black,” and Dean of the Faculty J. Douglas Brown orders Princeton’s rarely-flown flag to be raised atop Nassau Hall in honor of the occasion. The flag is typically flown only for Commencement exercises, or at half-staff upon the death of a faculty member.

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Princeton University’s flag, back from the moon and signed by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53, Commander of NASA’s Apollo XII. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

November 20, 1936—A teenager from  Harlem performs at Princeton for the first time as the featured vocalist at a dance in the old gymnasium. At the 1990 Commencement exercises nearly 54 years later, Princeton will award the woman—Ella Fitzgerald—an honorary Doctorate of Music.

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Ella Fitzgerald with University president Harold Shapiro at Princeton’s 1990 Commencement. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 170.

November 21, 1933—A self-described “most desirable, good-looking northern girl, unfortunately stranded in the South” writes to the Daily Princetonian asking for a “most desirable, good-looking northern Princetonian” with whom to correspond. “Hurry up before I weaken,” she says. “I am in demand here.”

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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