NASA Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman, of Billings, dies at 95
(Daily Montanan) Retired former NASA astronaut Col. Frank Borman, who commanded the Apollo 8 mission that was the first to take humans around the Moon in 1968, died Tuesday at age 95 in Billings, which he had called home for the past 25 years.
NASA announced Borman’s death Thursday afternoon. The Wall Street Journal reported, citing Borman’s family spokesperson, that Borman had a stroke Tuesday morning at a retirement community and died at the Billings Clinic.
“Today we remember one of NASA’s best. Astronaut Frank Borman was a true American hero,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “…His lifelong love for aviation and exploration was only surpassed by his love for his wife, Susan.”
Born in Gary, Ind., in 1928, Borman grew up in Tucson, Ariz., where he learned to fly at age 15 after taking an interest in aviation while his parents worked at an aircraft factory.
He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after high school, then was commissioned as a U.S. Air Force officer in 1950. He would marry his wife, Susan Bugbee Borman, later that year.
After graduating from West Point with a bachelor of science degree, he would go on to get a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineer from Cal Tech and finish the Advanced Management Program at Harvard in 1970.
Borman was an Air Force fighter pilot, operational pilot and instructor, experimental test pilot, and an assistant professor at West Point before he was selected by NASA in 1962.
At NASA, he was part of the Gemini 7 mission in which the spacecraft rendezvoused with Gemini 6 in lower orbit, was part of a team that investigated the Apollo 204 Fire in 1967 that killed three astronauts, then was the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, the first piloted lunar orbital mission, in December 1968. That preceded the Apollo 11 mission that would take people to the moon for the first time in July 1969.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1970, he rose through the ranks of Eastern Airlines, eventually becoming the company’s CEO and board chairman. He retired form the company in 1986.
In addition to serving as a special presidential ambassador trying to get American prisoners of war released during the Vietnam war, Borman received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and numerous other honors and decorations.
He was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame along with his fellow Apollo 8 crew members in 1990 and then into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1993.
Borman bought a cattle ranch in the Bighorn Mountains in 1998 and also moved to Billings the same year. He also rebuilt a World War II-era fighter plane that he flew in airshows and in Montana, according to the Billings Gazette.
The Gazette reported Borman would sometimes visit a science class at Will James Middle School. He spent time caring for his wife, Susan, when she developed Alzheimer’s disease until she died in September 2021.
Nelson, the NASA administrator, called Borman a pilot with “exceptional experience and expertise” whom he said was extremely passionate about aviation.
“Frank knew the power exploration held in uniting humanity when he said, ‘Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit,’” Nelson said. “His service to NASA and our nation will undoubtedly fuel the Artemis Generation to reach new cosmic shores.”