A hero of the American Space Odyssey, Frank Borman led the first team of American
astronauts to circle the moon, extending man’s horizons into space. Frank Frederick Borman II was born on March 14, 1928, at 2162 West 11th Avenue in Gary, Indiana, USA.
He was the only child of Edwin Otto Borman (1901–1994) and his wife Marjorie Ann Borman (née Pearce), who named him after his paternal grandfather. His great-grandfather Christopher Borman immigrated from Germany in the late 19th century and worked as a tuba player in a traveling circus. Because he suffered from numerous sinus and mastoid problems in the cold and damp weather,
his family moved to the better climate of Tucson, Arizona, which Borman considered his hometown. His father bought a lease on a Mobil service station. As a youth he played soccer and baseball, and worked a newspaper route. He was and honor student in high school where he was quarterback for their state championship team. After the United States entered World War II in 1941, his parents found work at a new Consolidated Vultee aircraft factory in Tucson. He learned to fly at 15, built balsa wood plane models, and joined the local flying club.
Borman entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1946, with the Class of 1950. Borman chose to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force (USAF) on June 2, 1950. He became an Air Force fighter pilot after graduating from West Point. He married Susan Bugbee whom he had met in high school. Like most of his fellow generation of astronauts, he trained as a test pilot before being selected for NASA’s second astronaut program in 1962. That experience was key, he said in his autobiography.
We were veteran pilots before we became rookie astronauts, and that made the differenceFrank Borman
In 1967 he served as a member of the Apollo 204 Fire Investigation Board, investigating the causes of the fire which killed three astronauts aboard an Apollo spacecraft, reminiscent of the Challenger tragedy. Later he became the Apollo Program Resident Manager, heading the team that reengineered the Apollo spacecraft. He also served as Field Director of NASA’s Space Station Task Force. Frank Borman retired from the air Force in 1970, but is well remembered as a part of the Gemini 7, 1965 Space Orbital Rendezvous with Gemini 6.
An Apollo mission to the Moon was expected to take at least a week, so one of the objectives of Project Gemini was to test the ability of the crew and spacecraft components to operate in space for that length of time. At 8,076 pounds, it was 250 pounds heavier than any previous Gemini spacecraft.
Special procedures were developed for the stowage of consumables and garbage. A lightweight space suit was developed to make the astronauts more comfortable. Gemini 7 was launched at 14:30 local time on December 6, 1965 with Borman and Jim Lovell. Gemini 6, with Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford on board completed the rendezvous with Gemini 7, coming within 12 inches of each other.
At one point Schirra held up a sign in the window for Borman to read that said: “Beat Army”. Schirra, Stafford and Lovell were all United States Naval Academy graduates; Borman was outnumbered. Gemini was a tough go,” Borman told the Associated Press in 1998. “It was smaller than the front seat of a Volkswagen Bug. It made Apollo seem like a super-duper, plush touring bus.
Three years later, Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968, with Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders. On the second day Borman awoke feeling ill. He vomited twice and had a bout of diarrhea; this left the spacecraft full of small globules of vomit and feces, which the crew cleaned up as best they could. Borman did not want anyone to know about his medical problems, but Lovell and Anders wanted to inform Mission Control.
The Apollo 8 crew and Mission Control medical personnel concluded that there was little to worry about and that Borman’s illness was either a 24-hour flu, as Borman thought, or an adverse reaction to a sleeping pill. Researchers now believe that he was suffering from space adaptation syndrome, which affects about a third of astronauts during their first day in space as their vestibular system adapts to weightlessness.
Space adaptation syndrome had not occurred on Mercury and Gemini missions because those astronauts could not move freely in the small cabins of those spacecraft. The increased cabin space in the Apollo command module afforded astronauts greater freedom of movement,
contributing to symptoms of space sickness. Borman made 10 trips around the moon with his crewmates on a mission that stretched over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They were the first humans to witness and photograph the far side of the Moon and an Earthrise. “My main concern in this whole flight was to get there ahead of the Russians and get home. That was a significant achievement in my eyes,” Borman said during a Chicago appearance in 2017.
We were the first humans to see the world in its majestic totality, an intensely emotional experience for each of us. We said nothing to each other, but I was sure our thoughts were identical – of our families on that spinning globe. And maybe we shared another thought I had: ‘This must be what God sees.’Frank Borman
After NASA, Borman’s aviation career ventured into business in 1970 when he joined Eastern Airlines – at that time the US’s fourth-largest airline. He eventually became Eastern’s president and CEO and in 1976 also became chair of the board. He resigned in 1986 and moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he would help operate his son’s car dealership, work on a book, and be closer to his family. He received many honors, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978.
I didn’t want to ride for the rest of my life on the publicity I had received from NASA and become a dancing bear. I knew (Eastern) had some problems and I thought I could contribute.Frank Borman
Frank Borman has been a member of the Board of Directors of Home Depot, National Geographic, Outboard Marine Corporation, Auto Finance Group, Thermo Instrument Systems, and American Superconductor. He was named Chief Executive Officer of Patlex Corporation in the spring of 1988, acting as Chairman, CEO, and President of that Corporation.
In 1998, Borman purchased a cattle ranch in the Bighorn Mountains of southern Montana, running 4,000 head of cattle on 160,000 acres. Borman continued his hobbies of rebuilding and modeling aircraft. Notably, he owned and painstakingly rebuilt a very rare World War II single-engine fighter, the Bell P-63 Kingcobra.
Frank Borman died from a stroke, at the Billings Clinic, on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, in Billings, Montana. He was 95 and was the oldest American astronaut still living; that mantle now passes to Jim Lovell, who is also 95 but eleven days younger.
His wife, Susan, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2021 so he is survived by his sons, Frederick and Edwin, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
- The Apollo 204 Fire Investigation Board, also known as the AS-204 Accident Review Board, was convened to investigate the tragic Apollo 1 accident that occurred on January 27, 1967. The accident resulted in the deaths of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee during a pre-launch test at Kennedy Space Center. The board, chaired by NASA’s Deputy Administrator Thomas O. Paine, thoroughly examined the circumstances surrounding the fire inside the command module. The investigation revealed that an electrical fault in the pure oxygen environment of the spacecraft, combined with flammable materials, had caused the fire. The findings of the Apollo 204 Fire Investigation Board led to extensive redesigns of the Apollo spacecraft and changes in safety protocols to prevent a similar tragedy in future missions. [Back]
- NASA’s Space Station Task Force was established in 1982 to study and develop plans for a future space station. Led by astronaut Sally Ride, the task force consisted of experts from various fields and was tasked with defining the objectives, requirements, and architecture of a space station that would serve as a platform for scientific research and international collaboration. The efforts of the Space Station Task Force contributed to the conceptualization and design of what would eventually become the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS, launched in 1998, has since served as a microgravity laboratory and a hub for international cooperation in space exploration. [Back]
- The Congressional Space Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery and extraordinary service presented by the United States Congress for achievements in space. Established in 1969, the medal is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional courage, skill, and dedication in the field of space exploration. Recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor include astronauts and individuals associated with space missions who have exhibited heroism and extraordinary contributions to the nation’s space program. The award is a symbol of the United States’ recognition of outstanding achievements and sacrifices in the pursuit of space exploration and scientific discovery. [Back]
- The Bell P-63 Kingcobra was an American fighter aircraft developed by the Bell Aircraft Corporation during World War II. Serving as an evolution of the P-39 Airacobra, the P-63 featured a more powerful engine, improved aerodynamics, and a distinctive, fully glazed nose. It was armed with various combinations of machine guns and cannons, making it a formidable fighter. While the P-63 did not see extensive service with the United States Army Air Forces, it found use by Allied nations through the lend-lease program. The aircraft served in roles such as fighter-bomber, reconnaissance, and training. Post-war, some P-63s were operated by foreign air forces. Today, a few examples remain in museums and private collections, showcasing the significance of the P-63 in aviation history. [Back]
- The Grand Champion Warbird award is a prestigious recognition given to the finest restored military aircraft at various aviation events and airshows. This award typically emphasizes the historical accuracy, craftsmanship, and overall quality of the restoration work performed on a warbird—vintage military aircraft that have been restored to their original condition. The criteria for judging often include the authenticity of markings, paint schemes, and technical details, as well as the aircraft’s historical significance. Winning the Grand Champion Warbird award is a testament to the dedication and skill of the individuals or organizations involved in the restoration process. Different airshows and aviation events may have their own specific criteria and processes for awarding the Grand Champion Warbird accolade. [Back]
- The Society of Antique Modelers (SAM) is an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of vintage model aviation. SAM focuses on the construction and flying of model aircraft designed before 1942, encouraging enthusiasts to recreate and fly models that reflect the early years of aviation. The organization hosts events, competitions, and gatherings where members can showcase their skills in building and piloting vintage model airplanes. SAM aims to preserve the history and craftsmanship of early model aviation while fostering a sense of camaraderie among modelers with a shared interest in antique and classic model aircraft. [Back]
- “Frank Borman, commander of first Apollo moon mission, dies aged 95” (Fri 10 Nov 2023) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/nov/10/frank-borman-commander-first-apollo-moon-mission-dies-aged-95
- “Former US astronaut Frank Borman dies at 95” (November 9, 2023) https://www.reuters.com/world/us/former-us-astronaut-frank-borman-dies-95-2023-11-09/
- “NASA Administrator Honors Life of Apollo Astronaut Frank Borman” (NOV 09, 2023) https://www.nasa.gov/news-release/nasa-administrator-honors-life-of-apollo-astronaut-frank-borman/
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- Chaikin, A. (2007). A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Penguin Books.
- Frank Borman Biography. (n.d.). NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/content/frank-borman-biography
- Frank Borman. (n.d.). Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. https://astronautscholarship.org/Astronauts/frank-borman/
- “Biographical Data” https://www.nasa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/borman_frank_0.pdf
- “Frank Borman obituary” (Fri 10 Nov 2023) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/nov/10/frank-borman-obituary
- “Frank Borman” https://www.nmspacemuseum.org/inductee/frank-borman/?doing_wp_cron=1699813609.4383280277252197265625
- Apollo 204 Accident. (n.d.). NASA History. https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Apollo204/
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (1984). Space Station Task Force Report, Volume 1. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19850007681
- Congressional Space Medal of Honor. (n.d.). NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/CSMOH/
- Bell P-63 Kingcobra. (n.d.). National Museum of the United States Air Force. https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/197854/bell-p-63a-10-kingcobra/
- Society of Antique Modelers. (n.d.). https://www.antiquemodeler.org/