The traditional way for astronauts to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center was in a T-38, the world’s first supersonic trainer jet. It also tragically resulted in unexpected changes in astronaut rosters due to accidents, including one where the astronauts Elliot See and Charles Bassett were lost when their T-38 collided with the Vehicle Assembly Building in fog.
Alan Bean became the Apollo 12 Lunar Module pilot after astronaut Clifton C. Williams was killed in a T-38 accident. Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad had wanted Al to be the module pilot, but was such a prankster that Al did not believe him when he gave Al the news that he was going to the Moon. Curiously, Al saved Apollo 12 after it was struck by lightning during launch. An obscure, but persistent distress code threatened the abort of the mission. Engineers and astronauts on the ground tried to sort out the problem, but with seconds to spare, Alan Bean suddenly recalled the meaning and the solution to the issue and the flight was able to continue.
During the Space Shuttle program T-38’s were used as in flight simulators for the shuttle landing practice and during shuttle flights, they were used as chase planes to help guide the shuttle back to a safe landing. They remain an iconic symbol of the Space Age.