That Time the New Nine Astronauts Created a Fake Member
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
When the New Nine, the second class of astronauts, were selected in 1962, little did anyone know just how far they'd go in the program. Six would fly to the moon- two would be the first to do so and three would walk on it- one would perform the first American EVA, one would fly the first lunar module, and one would become the longest-serving astronaut still to this day. Though at first they faced animosity from the Mercury Seven, one stunt in particular proved to the veterans that they belonged at NASA as well. But it wasn't flying or avoiding danger or even racing- it was the astronaut lifestyle of pulling pranks. Enter Jim Lovell and Pete Conrad, two Navy pilots who had gone through Mercury astronaut selection but were denied for two very different reasons. They were friends with Mercury astronaut and legendary jokester Wally Schirra, famous for his mongoose prank (but that's another story). These two, who would eventually command missions to the moon, invented a tenth member of the New Nine to mess with NASA press. His name was Walter Frisbee. According to them, Frisbee was being kept a secret by the agency for "mysterious reasons" and was always away training somewhere privately. It was said he was the son of a Romanian nobleman and was the best and most fearless test pilot to ever live (I wouldn't be surprised if they claimed that just to make Al Shepard mad). Soon enough, the other astronauts caught on and played along. Whenever a member of the press would ask about Frisbee, one of them would give him the same story that he was away doing exotic training at a secret location. Legend has it, the name Walter Frisbee eventually began to appear in newspapers. It was then that NASA drew the line and ordered the new guys to end their little gotcha, though it no doubt earned them brownie points with the Mercury guys.
The New Nine early on in their NASA careers (clockwise from top right: Borman, Young, Stafford, Conrad, McDivitt, Lovell, See, White, & Armstrong) (NASA)