That's not because I don't like the EAA's annual aviation extravaganza, in fact, I love goin' to Oshkosh! I love seeing the terrific aircraft collections, meeting old friends, meeting Klyde Morris readers and doing all sorts of "Oshkosh" aviation stuff. The reason why I will not pay to go back and "do" Oshkosh ever again, is because I have been told, clearly, by the hag who sits upon high at Mt. AirIndenture, and who rules at her whim all that takes place among the building, the fly market and the poor souls who venture into that place each summer as vendors, that... my money is no good there.
Here is how my little air adventure into Oshkosh hell went... The year was 2003 and after several visits to AirIndenture for other people, I elected to have a Klyde Morris booth at the venture of '03. Of course I knew that there was a long-time pecking order in how things worked there, with one old crow who held all of the strings like a female Don Corleone of booths and buildings, and thus I expected to have to earn my way up over time. Yet when one pays good money for a place at an event, one expects that those running the show will at least be civil- hell, even the Godfather gave ya' kiss before he had ya' taken out and strangled with piano wire... not so at EAA and Oshkosh.
My disaster of 2003 began shortly after I arrived in the unpleasant village of Fon du Lac and the dumpster hotel disguised as an Econo Lodge. There we were told that they had no record of our reservation that we had made four months earlier. Additionally, the confirmation number that was on the printed copy of the reservation that we'd gotten from Travelocity was not even a number that Econo Lodge used. A few phone calls showed that our paperwork was indeed valid and a call to another Econo Lodge showed that the type of number we had was indeed one used by that chain. Still- we were seen as non-persons by the guy running the joint in the middle of that night- and this was especially so when he saw the rate that we'd gotten our room for... no, no... they never have that rate during Oshkosh. But... there was good news, he did have one uncleaned room open tonight and for about double our reservation rate, he's grudgingly give us that one. He was also kind enough to give us some semi-clean sheets to put on the bed ourselves. So, there we went, me and my 7 months pregnant wife, up to our not-clean room at twice the rate that we'd been confirmed for... we were loving it already. The following morning I raised a stink with the day management and they said they'd look into it... they did... that evening they dumped the story on me that several months ago, they had called my phone number to confirm the reservation, but the person who answered said that... I was dead. Great story... I'll bet it works every time they use it.
Yet- greater screw jobs were ahead as we were about to fall into the pit of human excrement known as being a vendor at Oshkosh.
We'd been granted a space in what is generally known as the "Fly Market" and is pretty much the ghetto you are placed into when you are new to the event. Of course I thought that I knew well the "market" area as I'd walked through it many times hunting for odds and ends and generally cool stuff. To me it was an absolutely acceptable place to start, however, I'd never been all the way out in the boondocks part of the market- I'd only walked through the parts of it where normal people stroll until they get tired or run out of water and die- our 2003 spot would be way beyond that point. We were, however, lucky enough to be within smelling distance of a huge bank of porta-potties and real close to parking for the other vendors- we were just not in a location where you can make any money. We were so far from civilization, that long-time Oshkosh attendees who knew me, and came looking for me could not find me.
No sooner did we get all set up with shirts, hats, CDs, glasses, Klyde dolls and all sorts of other cool stuff that no one would likely get to see, than our neighbor across the street fired up. It was the Westbend Cookwear Show! Yep- complete with loud speakers and free cold slaw, they boomed the show at us eight times a day for seven throbbing days. The people helping me had migraines, the few customers that we did see were sent packing, in fear that these hucksters were going to brainwash them into a skillet- everyone was tortured continuously by the cookin' show- everyone that is except me... I was already dead according to the Fon du Loc Econo Lodge, so it really didn't matter to me.
"And the Lord said: There is now Oshkosh and I shall let open the sky and the lightening will flash and the rains and thunder will come in the night and a great flood will be upon the market and all will be vanquished by the waters so as to pay for their sin of going to that place... except of course... for the Westbend Cookin' Show."
So it was that when we arrived at the tent the next morning, following one of those Oshkosh late night thunder storms, we found a lot of stuff soaked, and muddy. A whole display of iced tea glasses and coffee mugs, although located well inside the tent had somehow blown over and smashed. The worst thing was that a puddle the size of one of the local lakes had formed directly in front of our tent. So even if we did get any customers that day- they could not get to us! After contacting the AirIndenture people who were supposed to help us, we were told that they would come around "sometime" to dump wood chips on the puddle and restore access to our location. By that day's 7th showing of the Westbend Cookin' Show- we had our wood chips.
Perhaps just to forget how much money I was losing on this Air mis-Adventure, I took a walk through the buildings. We were three days into the event and I quickly took note that a lot of the booths in the buildings were left unoccupied. I counted more than a dozen empty spaces. When I returned to the ghetto I was talking to one of the other vendors and he informed me that if I went to the office and paid extra, I could get one of those empty spaces. I grabbed my credit card and sprinted to the office- there to learn the cold hard truth of how AirIndenture is really run.
Upon reaching the window through which all communication with the vendors takes place, I first encountered a sweet young lady. I asked if it was true that I could "buy-up" into a vacant indoor booth? She replied "Oh yes, you can do that." I passed my credit card through the slot and told here to charge me "Whatever it takes" to get me out of the Fly Market. She went into the back and was gone for a long, long time. When she returned she apologised and told me "Well, you can do that... but you can't." I asked for an explanation, but she could offer none. I asked who else I could talk to and she told me the decision had been made by the lady who oversaw the vendors- she gave me her phone number and half warned that if I really was sure wanted to call her that was the number. At that point I REALLY wanted to call her- but had no idea that doing so would be considered a sin so great.
You see... if, when dumb enough to actually pay to be a vendor at Oshkosh, you dare to speak with the wicked witch of the great white north, you will have angered her- because she is so high and mighty that in the act of speaking with a low life such as a vendor, she feels soiled. In our very brief conversation I was told that the reason why I could not get into a building was because "You're not a true aviation company- and we already have our quota of not true aviation companies in the buildings." When I pointed out that my cartoon strip only deals in aviation and aerospace subjects and that I have several million readers- nearly all of whom are in the aviation and aerospace industry, she replied "...well, then you are borderline- and we already have our quota of borderlines in the buildings." I asked if she was actually going to not take my money and leave those more than a dozen spots empty just based on that reasoning? She replied "Yes." and then followed up by saying that as far as she could see, it was unlikely that my company would "ever get into a building." In other words- just by asking the question, I'd pissed her off so she was now using her powers (which on a whim up-graded me from Not True to Borderline and could just as easily have reclassified me as True Aviation) to black-list me. Then she snidely asked if there was anything else she could do for me? I replied that I'd like to have her broomstick to take to the wizard so he could give me a brain.
When the week of hell finally expired, we broke our tent down along with everyone else who was in the ghetto. In all, my final calculation showed me some $3,000 in the hole due to my moronic decision to attend AirIndenture 2003. I am now forever marked as "Borderline" in the wicked witch of the great white north's big thick book of spells. You see, some people such as that have no real power or authority in the lives until that tiny space on the calendar that is the event over which they have always ruled. Then they become something beyond what they are the rest of the time- then they finally have their power once again... until the event is over. Thus I knew as I sailed upon the ferry BADGER on the way back across Lake Michigan that wiked witch of AirIndenture was deflating rapidly up there in the office "...what a world, what a world..." she'd hiss as she shrunk into the carpet in billow of green smoke. Oh, she'd be back- in fact she's probably there right now. The funniest part of this story took place six months later. The cruds at EAA's Oshkosh vendor's office had the nerve to actually call me and ask why I had not signed up for 2004! They were lucky that my wife took the call and not me. In 2006 I wrote the series of cartoons seen following this text- people thought it was original humor, but in fact it is based on actual events.
I was told recently that some big changes may soon take place at Air Indenture- I doubt that they'll be anything that could root out the wicked witch or her ilk. People like that are there until they die and then return just to haunt the place. Additionally, I will always carry the moniker of Borderline and the knowledge that I'll never get into a building and that my money is not good enough for the wicked witch, EAA or the Oshkosh event... if only I could have gotten her damned broomstick.
Self-important blow-hard: "Well then, I guess you really don't wanna be a professional pilot, do ya'?"
My reply: "Oh yes, I really do... but I want to be a good one, not a hack like you."
The seeds of my spaceflight inspiration were actually planted long before Apollo 11. In fact, the circumstances that led me in the spaceflight direction began even before early Gemini missions- these circumstanced, however, began of a troubling note. I was in the second grade in the fall of 1964 when my parents were called in to meet with my teacher and were given some stunning news... "Wes can't read." My stunned parents were informed by my teacher that I was unable to read aloud, those captivating adventures of Dick and Jane and their fascinating dog Spot. My folks were told that they had to take me downtown to the Board of Education building to meet with a "Reading Specialist." In 1964, such a visit to such a person was a real embarrassment- something to be done quietly and in the shadows- because it meant your kid was defective.
Thus my parents meekly took their defective son downtown. We entered the big, dark, building with its echoing hallways and met the lady who was "The Specialist." She was very nice and led us to a doorway that opened to a big room. She directed me to go inside and wait while she had a few words with my parents. The room had living room styled furniture and was filled... FILLED... with books. The books were seemingly tossed around everyplace and were of all sorts of subjects. There was also one, almost unnoticeable feature in that room- a very large mirror on one wall. I walked around for about 90 seconds and then found a book on the Boeing 707. I sat down with it and started reading. Behind the mirror was the amazingly savvy "specialist" and my worried parents- watching my every move. "See..." she told my folks, "he can read- he's just bored with Dick and Jane." She also informed them that the book I had was on the 6th grade level. My mom asked about my teacher's concern that I could not read aloud. In the following discussion my folks were informed of the difference between "Can't" and "Won't" (interestingly, I'm currently working on my 14th book for publication... and I still do not read aloud to the public... ever.) My folks were given marching orders to get me anything... ANYTHING... to read that I was interested in- comic books, Mad Magazine, science books, sports books... anything that I was interested in. Mom and especially dad were then spring loaded to respond to what sparked interest in me. Some of the material that my folks fed to me included spaceflight and I had shown interest in that subject. Later- along came Apollo 11 and my folks knew they'd hit the jackpot.
Several weeks after the splashdown, my dad stopped into a Gulf station for gas again. Once again, he came back from paying and he handed me something. This time it was far better than that infernal paper LEM kit, this was... a book. When I opened that book- titled "We Came In Peace" it was as if someone had thrown LH2 into the sparks of my new found spaceflight passion. Even looking at the publication today, it is likely one of the finest illustrated and composed presentations of the nuts and bolts of the effort to get to the moon that has ever been produced. I lived in that book to the point where my 6th grade teacher told me never to bring it to school again... today I own two copies.
Thanks to Project Apollo, and Apollo 11 specifically, my parents found the key to the one thing that would alter the path on which their son would travel for the rest of his life. Along that path other sparks of inspiration would show their effects, but the foundation would be firmly constructed in that summer of 1969. I'm sure there are others who say the same thing, and who have stories similar to mine. NASA, on the other hand, saw their decline begin at that same moment. Caught in the bluster of ill political winds, NASA had its single weakness exploited- NASA did not have tooting their own horn in their job description.
Spaceflight is as much about Inspiration as it is about Exploration. I was inspired by Apollo- inspired to the point where, in a social strata where the norm was that you grew up, maybe you graduated from High School, you went to work in the "shop," you got married and your kids did the same... I directed my life toward technology and toward a technical education. There's nothing wrong with workin' in the shop, or in industrial related jobs- hell, my dad was 37 years on the railroad and I was always proud of him. That said- Apollo showed me a different direction, and instilled an attitude in me that I could do anything, especially when people told me that I could not. Inspiration is the greatest benefit of human spaceflight. When people quack about the "cost" they need to be asked what value does changing a kid's life for the better have?
As the Apollo 11 CM bobbed in the pacific and its crew huddled behind the window of the MQF while Nixon stood outside pretending to be enthused yet all the while actually planning to cancel the entire Apollo program, I was busy creating. Using a common matchbox, some balsa wood odds and ends and a jar of Testor's silver paint, I was making my own little MQF. When it was finished I went out onto the patio and caught three medium sized ants. Naming them Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins I locked their little helpless butts into quarantine- just like the Apollo 11 astronauts... minus the aircraft carrier and Nixon... of course. It was a good way for a 12 year old to mimic what held my imagination at that moment. The next morning I opened my matchbox MQF and found all three ant-stronauts stone cold dead. "Gee..." I thought to myself, "I hope the real astronauts do better."
In the afterglow of the first lunar landing, people sought out ways to satisfy their newly kindled interest in spaceflight and rockets. Some, who would otherwise never give a hoot about rockets, went out and bought rocket related items. One of those was a kid on my block by the name of Dennis. I was outside playing with my pals when the word came around that "Dennis is gonna launch a rocket!" Although given a stern warning "Don't you go near that thing!" by my mom, I hurried with the rest of the kids, down the block and stood across the street from Dennis' house. Dennis, who was about 4 grades older than me, came outside and was busy preparing a really cool looking, good sized rocket in his side yard. I had never seen such a thing- it was over a foot tall and pained in bright colors. Apparently inspired by the Apollo 11 mania, he had purchased and constructed this rocket. Of course these were the days when you had to actually "build" a flying model rocket as opposed to today when you can just go and buy one already built and in a blister pack- ready to fly and made in communist China. In the summer of 1969 all they made in communist China was... well... communists.
Dennis messed around for a protracted period as we all watched. Then he stuck a long metal rod into the grass, slid the rocket down it and lit the fuse. The sky over our subdivision of Sheridan Park was split with a loud "Wooooosh!" as the rocket raced into the heavens. Our necks snapped back and our mouths opened as we let out a chorus of "WHOA!" As the rocket arced over in its coast, I was expecting fireworks to burst out- instead there was a "pop" a puff of smoke and a parachute! Nothing ignites interest in a 12 year old like a parachute! Slowly the rocket swung on it's parachute as it drifted out over the corn field behind our block and vanished among the tall corn stalks. Dennis and every kid in the neighborhood, except me, charged into the corn after the rocket. I stood back- like I'd been told... ya' never knew if mom was watching and if I went in there and got blown up, after she'd told me not to, I'd really be in for it.
Sheridan Park had never seen anything like that rocket before. In fact I seriously believe that was the first model rocket ever launched in our subdivision. A long time passed, but eventually kids began to come out of the corn. At length, even Dennis came out and walked dejectedly, and empty-handed into his house. After several hours, I was sure that everyone else was out of the corn, and that was when I went in. Oddly, it took me just a few minutes to find the wayward rocket. There it sat, draped among the stalks, waiting to be recovered. I nabbed it and headed toward the edge of the corn. I took a minute to stash the rocket and then went home. My dad was sitting in the living room reading the paper and I went up and asked him if I found that lost rocket, could I keep it? Mom went into a tizzy right out of "A Christmas Story" saying everything other than I'd shoot my eye out. Dad, on the other hand, was far more in tune to his 12 year old son. He simply said that if I found it and I knew who it belonged to, I had to return it. With that I went directly to the spot where I'd stashed the rocket and took it to Dennis' house. I knocked on the door and when he answered I handed him his rocket and told him I'd found it. He just gave a "whatever" shrug and simply said "Thanks."
A few days after the flight of the Dennis rocket, my dad came home and handed me a box- it contained an MPC Flair Patriot flying model rocket! "Think ya' can build it?" he asked. I guess I drooled a "yeah." reply and he added, "Don't worry about your mother- it's okay." By mid August I had the rocket built and dad and I had gotten a briefing from the guy at the hobby store on how to set it up and fly it. Soon it was me who was punching holes in the sky over Sheridan Park- and a lot of holes at that and with all sorts of different rockets- usually of my won weird design. I never saw Dennis launch another rocket, but with my dad's help, our yard seemed like Cape Canaveral in 1960- the neighbors never knew what was going to come flying out of it or where it would be headed. From August 1969 to August 1973 when the neighborhood kids heard that "wooosh" sound they knew where go.
I ripped a few holes in the sky over Freeland, Michigan from 1974 to 1977, but gave up model rocketry in the fall of 77 so I could focus on real flying and a college education in Aeronautical Science. many years passed and I found myself no longer flying real airplanes and decided to take up model rockets again just for fun. The one time "for guy dweebs only" activity had, however, now turned into a family activity and females were not only participating in it, but often dominating. Today I sell my own line of model rockets from Sputniks to Saturns and even the Ares vehicles- business is good... and I am officially an Apollo spin-off... partly thanks to Dennis.
My dad, however, came to my rescue. Dad always worked nights and dad always worked days- lord knows when the man ever slept. Back in 1969 he was working midnights as a railroad engineer and days as an auto mechanic at the Montgomery Wards Auto Center. Following the Apollo 11 lunar landing, dad came back from work and handed me a box containing a 1:200 AMT Apollo Spacecraft model- the kind with the LEM legs permanently in the stowed position. It fit in the palm of your hand and was easy to build- indeed it was way easier than the paper LEM. I had it built and was playing with it by bedtime.
In an attempt to satisfy my newborn thirst for learning about Apollo, I spent most of the morning gathering studying every shred of spaceflight material that I had accumulated prior to the Apollo 11 flight. The result was meager at best. There I sat on my bedroom floor with a copy of "Life" from Apollo 10 featuring the LEM, two books from the Science Service- one on Man In Space and the other just titled "The Moon" plus a 1:144 LEM/CSM combination model that I'd gotten as a bonus for subscribing to the Science Service publications and, of course, that paper LEM that no one could assemble. It was clear... even to a 12 year old... that my reference collection needed to be beefed up a bit.
Every form of media carried triumphant images and stories of the previous evening's lunar EVA. The faces of the Apollo 11 crew were everywhere along with seriously outdated illustrations of the Lunar Module- often with the round, docking port, forward hatch that had been out of the equation for a half dozen years. In fact, you did not have to look hard to find the lunar event illustrated with the helicopter-style ascent stage lunar module from 1962. Clearly, I was not the only person who had been caught with a meager reference library- most of the news media had similar problems.
It had been made clear that morning, to anyone with a brain, that the engine on the Apollo 11 LEM's ascent stage had to function today in order for the "...two astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin..." to get off of the surface of the moon. Every form of media had stated that fact over and over again through the night and into the morning. I spent a lot of time pondering the APS engine on my model... it was just a nub!... there had to be more to it than that?
After the previous day's landing, one of my uncles, who was a true know-it-all and life long BS'er, apparently sensed my newly sparked interest in the space program and did his best to show me he knew more than anyone else about the LEM. He went into a dramatic description about bolts and dies that held the two stages of the LEM together and how the ascent engine had to build up enough power to sheer those bolts through those dies in order for the two stages to separate and the astronauts to get off of the moon. Of course it was all BS, but I believed it for a while... that is... until the day that I concluded that if you wanted to learn about how a space vehicle works- you had to read about it rather than listen to what a grown up tells you. In later life, however, I was guilty of the same thing- when I told my nephew, who was here visiting Washington DC that we won the War of 1812 because the British got stuck in traffic on I-95 as they tried to get to Baltimore.
I sat and staged my model LEM hundreds of times that morning... didn't seem to be an issue with bolts and dies, but the ascent engine was still just a nub. As the TV coverage got close to launch, for the first time I sensed the element of real risk that is involved in spaceflight. You could hear it in the tone of Cronkite's voice and in the silence of Schirra. The countdown clock on the TV ticked away as we heard Buzz's voice, "...Abort Stage... Engine Arm to Ascent... Proceed..." Over the airwaves we heard a hollow "pop" of static followed by an unusual hiss. Somehow, that equated to me and I knew they'd lifted off. The chatter from Buzz confirmed this, but most assuring was the banter of relief from Cronkite and Schirra. As the animation showed the LEM's ascent stage climbing higher and higher with the APS blasting out a plume of white animated fire that was actually not visible at all, I pretend flew my plastic model, and looked at the nub of the engine. It had worked and the astronauts were on their way to LOR with the CSM... "not bad for a nub," I thought to myself.
Our family gathering that day had nothing to do with Apollo 11. The fact is that my younger brother and my cousin both shared close birth dates on the July calendar and it was decided to have a big cookout at my cousin's house in Freeland to celebrate them together. The trip there was considerable by the standards of a 12 year old- all the way across town and out to farm country. I had no way of knowing that four years later my own family would move from Saginaw out to Freeland and I would eventually graduate from Freeland High School- on that July sunday in 1969, it was a respectable road trip to me.
On the way out of town, dad stopped for gas at a Gulf station. He pumped in a few dollars worth, went inside to pay and upon returning handed me a large piece of card-stock paper. It had black and gold shapes printed all over it in a series of odd patterns. For a second or two I studied the sheet, then I recognized the two triangular windows of the LEM in among the patterns! Dad told me that they were giving these away at Gulf and you had to pop the pieces out and then you could fold it into a LEM model! GREAT! He also warned me not to start until we got to the party, so I wouldn't lose any of the pieces. All the way to Freeland I studied the sheet of paper as I sat in the back seat of dad's 66' metal flake navy blue, Buick Special. I was sure that making that paper LEM was far beyond any skills and abilities I possessed... and I was right about that.
By the time we got to the party the TV was already locked onto CBS and Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra were earning their pay. Unlike the launch, this time I sat on the floor in front of the TV, transfixed at everything that was happening. Here was the kid, well known as the one who rarely paid attention in the classroom, who was instantly bored by any reading assignment, who could not sit still long enough to focus on more than three arithmetic problems, who was always "out the window" rather than in the lesson, sitting there in full "learning mode." My parents and relatives were amazed. I watched each simulation of what was to come and soaked it in as the paper LEM model sat nearby waiting for someone... anyone... to start working on it.
Amid my new found focus on the technology of spaceflight, I became so engrossed in what was going on in the TV that I forgot to eat. The result was a nasty stomach pain, yet it was not enough to distract me from the mission broadcast. My mom eventually delivered a plate to me containing a hotdog and some beans... I don't recall eating it, but I'd sure I did... probably under threat that mom would turn off the TV if I didn't eat. Several folks, including my dad, an uncle and a few of my older cousins, came and sat with me- all of whom took a stab at assembling that accursed paper LEM... no one got very far.
As the Eagle went into PDI and began to arc toward the landing I was totally focused on that TV set. Odds are that there were people around me... lots of them... but I don't recall a single one. I do recall, however, every "GO" call relayed by Charlie Duke to the crew. I knew enough to recognize that "go" was good in the vernacular of spaceflight. The communications were peppered with static and break-ups and the series of computer alarms clearly did not seem right. Since the alarms did not seem to bother the crew, I wasn't worried either. I figured that NASA had planned and rehearsed every second of this operation- since that was what the newsmen on the TV had always told us that NASA did... of course I was wrong in that assumption... but hey, I was 12.
As the CBS simulation showed the LEM touching down, however, the air-to-ground voice did not match the simulation. Indeed the LEM was shown on the moon for quite a while before the video tape of the simulation was suddenly wound back to showing the LEM still in flight. I knew that was wrong, but reasoned that it was a CBS error and not a problem with the landing... I was wrong again... hey... I was 12... remember?
It has often been said by the engineers and crews that the landing of Apollo 11 was more significant than was the EVA. So it was for me- as I heard Charlie Duke say "...we copy ya' on the ground, ya' got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we're breathin' again, thanks a lot." I knew that they had indeed landed on the moon. Around me my relatives clapped and cheered a bit, then went back to the party. My cousins who were near my age went back to running and playing. I simply sat there... thunderstruck... watching, listening, soaking it up like a sponge. I wanted to know more- for the first time in my whole life, I wanted to learn more- more about these vehicles, more about this program, more about that moon, more about space and how it all works. But- there was a problem... you see, no one who was not on that TV, no one who was at that family gathering with me, no one in my entire neighborhood... could teach it to me. In retrospect, at that moment in time, I already knew more about the space program than anyone else near me. If I was going to satisfy my new urge to learn more about the space program, I would have to teach myself.
The party broke up a few hours after the landing and I gathered up the parts of my paper LEM and we headed home. Just before we left they announced on the TV that the EVA would be moved up to around 10 pm that evening. It had originally been scheduled for the following morning, in fact President Nixon had already given all federal workers Monday off as a "Day of Participation" now they'd just have a nice day off. When we got home, my dad asked me to break out my little 50 power refractor telescope. We took it out into the backyard and set it up on the deck of our 4 foot deep above-ground pool, and pointed the lens toward the crescent moon.
When the EVA began, no one really knew what that grainy black and white image was of. In fact, it was upside down at first- but soon the folks at NASA flipped it over and before long we saw a boot followed by Neil Armstrong's shadow. I heard his words as he stepped onto the lunar surface and then I ran outside to look through the telescope... as if I was going to see something. While the EVA went on everyone gathered at our house... and we did have a sort of secondary family gathering going on, since most of my aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a block of my house... took turns running out to that stupid little telescope and looking up at the moon. Interestingly, four decades later I find that this same pointless exercise was going on all over the hemisphere at that same time.
I didn't make it through the entire EVA. I pretty much ran out of steam toward midnight and don't recall how I got to my bed. Odds are I fell asleep in the living room during Nixon's call or shortly there after... Nixon had that sort of influence on a space buff.
When I awoke, however, I would be a different kid than I was that morning- many others would as well. That damned paper LEM, however, never would get put together... 40 years later, it's probably still beyond my skills and abilities .
Saturday found Apollo 11 seeming to have ever annoying high gain antenna problems as they approached the moon and prepared for LOI. Communications were filled with static as the morning went on. Here on earth, the antenna on our family TV was set just right to catch the most important communication that a kid could receive on a Saturday morning- cartoons.
My Saturday's usually started at dawn with a non-cartoon- the Army's morning rerun of "The Big Picture." These were all outdated and often in black and white, but they had tanks and explosions- so what kid could resist? Then Saturdays really kicked in with Go-Go Gophers cartoon on channel 25 (UHF) at 8:00 followed by the Buggs Bunny and Road Runner Hour, which I tried never to miss. At 9:30 the cartoons went into "blah" mode with channel 25 airing Wacky Racers, channel 12 showing the Adventures of Gulliver and channel 5 playing Top Cat. Yet on a summer Saturday this mattered little as normally mom booted me out of the house to "Go outside and play" during the first 15 minutes of Road Runner anyhow.
On this Saturday we all knew that Apollo 11 was up there as the networks were broadcasting "Special Reports" on the LOI and any other activity they could break in for. As I recall, I was still in amazement of the previous day's video showing the inside of the LEM and the crew floating around. Outside, in on kid turff, one of the kids in the neighborhood had a sort of spaceship toy and kept buzzing it around. There was a real scarcity of "realistic" Apollo toys at this moment in history. Most were simply cheap plastic rockets that resembled 50s sci-fi special effects yet had the label "Apollo" hastily pasted on them to spike sales. In retrospect, I don't think any of the toy manufacturers really saw coming the wave "Apollo fever" that was currently sweeping the nation. We kids talked about tomorrow's moon landing, we pretended as best we could to be a part of that upcoming event, and yet we knew very little about what was actually happening. Still, some of us were beginning to deeply sense the importance of this moment and instinctively know that the next moment would be even more important. Perhaps it would be even more important than today's episode of "The Archies" cartoon... perhaps.
Of course the real classic season of 60s Saturday morning entertainment would not begin until the Fall of 69 when the three networks would release shows like "Hot Wheels" "Scooby Doo" "Banana Splits" and my personal favorite "The Pink Panther" which I liked because it was the sickest. There would also be the return of "The Monkees" to Saturday morning just to expand our horizons. All of these shows, however, would be a side bar to Apollo 12 rather than Apollo 11 but, by that time, Project Apollo would be well on its way to cancellation.
You could not, however, escape the event as it crept into every aspect of life- even into the play priority of the 12 year old. When we rode our bikes the distance between the traffic island (we called it the "Big D") at one end of our block and the other island at the far end of the block that distance was the space between the earth and the moon. Our bikes were all Apollo 11 as we made the trip between the two Ds over and over always, stopping to take that step on the distant one. Likewise when we went swimming our pool was space and we floated as if in zero G. Just one day after the launch and we were already inspired.
Newspapers of the day were filled with launch images. Newsprint photos of the Saturn V that could never do justice to the actual launch were accompanied by pen and ink drawings of the three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins- new names to us kids that would be forever remembered. One of the stories covered a flap by Vice President Agnew who, while speaking to the launch team at KSC, stated that he thought we should go to Mars by the year 2000. Nixon, who an Apollo hater at his roots even though he publicly covered it quite well, went nuts over that remark. Immediately the Whitehouse released a retraction of the remark saying that domestic issues had a higher priority than did Mars. I often wonder what things would be like if Agnew had not been a crook and if he had been able to take power when Nixon resigned. Would Mars have been closer?
That evening every newscast on the TV showed every tid-bit of Apollo 11 that NASA saw fit to release. I went to bed that night with a CSM and LEM combination streaking toward the moon more on my mind than the next day's playing schedule.
Although documentaries of the era would have you believe that every place you looked there were hippies on acid with flower face paint ambling around blowing bubbles and angry black people marching down every street and burning buildings as F-4s dropped napalm on hills nearby, but that is as far from the truth as those events were from our neighborhoods. For most of the nation this was a time when most of us were living a much more near Leave It To Beaver existence than the one depicted in the documentaries. Sure- moms didn't wear a dress to do housework and dad was only seen in a suit when going to a funeral, but other than that we were happy and safe. My friends and I played outside totally unsupervised from the time we got out of bed in the morning until the streetlights came on in the evening. We made good use of every second of summer weather. It was an era of plain white T-shirts, Red Ball Jets sneakers, skinned knees and grass stains.
There was no escaping the TV coverage of the Apollo 11 mission as all of the networks had been on the air live since since before dawn. Bergman did some of his best space savvy droning on ABC in contrast to the outward disdain for the space program presented by Chet Huntley and his otherwise indifferent partner David Brinkley on NBC. Over on CBS they had pulled out all of the plugs for this mission. Cronkite had been teamed up for the first time with astronaut Wally Schirra in pairing that would become nearly as legendary as the flights they would cover. All three networks ran the standard clips of the astronauts, eating, suiting and walking out... although a close look at the suit-up would have revealed that the event shown was actually taped during the Countdown Demonstration Test back during the first week of June, (The tell-tale clue to that is that in the "suit-up" footage, the astronaut's suits are missing the Apollo 11 mission patch.) Of course the fine producers at NBC could not resist the urge to temper what excite may be generated and go out and "ask" the "public" what they thought of the mission. So they went out and found that well known Apollo Cheerleader, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy who, of course went on camera to moan about all of those poor and hunnngry people in America, who you'd think were dropping dead in our streets by in bunches, and he then acted as if the cancellation of this mission, at this point would somehow instantly cure all of that. Less than a year later, the producers at NBC and Rev. Ralph would get their wish. The Apollo program would be cancelled and an estimated total of less than $300 million dollars out of the $24 billion invested in Apollo would be returned to the federal coffers and rapidly turned into bureaucratic cellulite. No ghettos would be cured, no extra programs to feed those herds of "The hungry" would appear and thousands of aerospace workers would lose their jobs.
My mom called me to the TV less than two minutes before Apollo 11 lifted off. At the time I was only marginally interested in the space program. I'd watched with a kid's interest, all of the previous flights and now stood by the TV and watched as Apollo 11 counted down to zero. The images of the Saturn V roaring to life were familiar as were the images of the ascent and staging. I recall that as Apollo 11 cleared the tower, my mom said "Oh God... they're taking such an awful chance." I remember looking at her and saying to myself "What chance?" NASA had this all planned out... I thought... so completely that every detail was covered. I recall feeling that my mom's concern just showed that she didn't understand how good NASA was at doing this. When the coverage switched to animation, I went back outside to play.
Things in my world were immediately different from that moment, however. It was like a space program infection had suddenly spread to everyone everywhere. No matter where you looked or who you spoke to the subject of Apollo and spaceflight seemed to pop up. The other kids in my neighborhood played space and space toys of ever sort seemed to come into their possession out of the blue. I went back to my room that evening and got out my model CSM and LM that I'd build with remedial modeling skills. I practiced some docking and undocking and did a lunar landing on my bedroom floor. For the first time in my 12 years of life, I recall having the strong desire to find out more about this and I wanted to do so before the astronauts, now headed toward the moon, arrived there.
Most people who have never had to crew a trip to one of these events tend to believe that the pilots and cabin crews get "the best" hotels and food- but nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the front office normally does not know that the trip is coming until just before the big event when the customer's people contact them and say "...we need a jet to go to the All-Star game on Monday, stay and wait for our people who will probably want to come back as late as Wednesday." Then "screw scheduling" gets the fun task of scrambling to find rooms and every other accommodations for the crew somewhere near the the host city which by then has been totally sold out for the last six months.
Normally, the passengers want to be dropped as close to the event as possible at an airport that normally has zero places to overnight the aircraft. This leads to a drop and hop, where you deplane the cattle and zap out to some other airport where you can actually tie-down. That's normally followed by getting a car from a rental outfit that is also totally sold out of cars. The crew gets the choice of "whatever you can get" crams everyone in and then drives 50 to 100 miles to a motel off of an Interstate freeway exit ramp whose only restaurant promotes its dining excellence with a large sign that simply reads "EATS."
If, however, your front office is lucky enough to actually get a room for you "in town" you're not much better off than staying at the off-ramp inn. In town accommodations are amid a jumble of traffic jams, over crowded restaurants, over filled parking areas and packed bars busy making their customers too happy. The worst part being the fact that the flight crews have a very different sleep schedule from the happy people. In general, crews are asked to awaken at some rude hour of the morning (and I use that term "morning" lightly). Of course, the happy people will always pick your room to either have a huge party next door to, or your door to stand outside of and shout and laugh. Yet- on occasion- the pilot can get even with the happy drunks. My best example of this was back in 1998 during the Daytona 500. I needed to be up at 05:30 to be ready to go and we were roomed at what, when I worked there in the early 80s, was the Daytona Plaza Hotel. Of course it was a dump then, and when I stayed there as a pilot it was... better painted. My room had an adjoining room door, which I made sure was well secured, and a phone that had the old-style bell that can make your spine crawl with its shrill ring. At 02:20 in the "morning" the drunken race fan next door came back from getting too happy. The paper thin walls were enough to hear every bump, groan, cough and laugh as he stumbled around his room. Of course, this wasted idiot decided he needed to get into MY room and he opened his side of the adjoining door and began to beat on my side of the door. I knew well that my door's deadbolt would hold, because I once had helped the Daytona Police try and kick through one of them during Spring Break 1983. Still, the idiot beat, kicked and screamed at the door calling for someone named "Billy." Finally he groaned, stumbled and passed out somewhere in his room. A couple of hours later, when my alarm went off, the first thing I did was pick up the phone... and dial his room. Again, through the walls, I could hear every detail as the shrill ring began. Ring, ring, ring,... groan... loud groan, ring, ring, ring... stumble, crash, bump... "Hello?" I hung up. More groaning came from the room followed by a loud thump as the fan dumped himself back onto his bed. I called again. Ring, ring, ring... loud groan, loud shin busting thump, curse words... "HELLO!" I hung up. As the screams from next door echoed, I went and took my shower. Coming out of the shower I called again. More hung-over mayhem emanated from next door. While dressing, I called again. When I was ready to leave the room I called again. As we were checking out at the front desk, I excused myself and used the house phone to call two more times. Revenge was mine.
The worst gig of all, however, is the one where your customer wants to arrive just before the game and depart early the following morning... that sucks. Frankly, you're best off to sleep in the aircraft. No matter what FBO you're at, they simply cannot cope with the type of traffic that these events bring. Often crew tents are set up with food and drinks... for the people who got there early. Late arrivals are better off eating cheesy crackers out of the aircraft snack drawer. If screw scheduling has ordered boxed meals for you, the orders will either be lost, given to the wrong crew or otherwise screwed up. The toilets at the FBO will always exceed their maximum capacity and begin to overflow. Most FBO's have their bathrooms serviced by the line crew and they are, by this time, in no mood to handle mass toilet overflows. The FBO vending machines are either busted or empty as are the ATM machines and pan-handling on a nearby corner seems a good option at times. Local restaurants will be so jammed that telling you it is "A four hour wait for a table" is not uncommon- of course, you have to sit in a wooden bench and wait or you'll lose your place in line. All of that matters little, because eventually, everyone ends up crammed into the crew "lounge" looking at one another with that envy the dead gaze as an old copy of Water World plays on the VCR.
Then again... that's why we got into this business in the first place- it's all the glamour.
Standing nearly as tall as a Saturn V, the Ares I-X will be the first vehicle in nearly 3 and a half decades to cause the massive doors of the VAB to actually open all the way. It consists of a standard Space Shuttle SRB with a fifth segment simulator attached plus a dummy second stage which is topped by a mock-up Orion spacecraft and escape tower. Its mission is to be stacked, launched, flow through Max-Q and booster burn-out. Then be staged and have it's booster recovered. The target data to be gained is in the areas of vehicle and roll control, staging and separation, vehicle assembly, vehicle integration, launch operations, aerodynamic loads, thermal loads, vehicle structural loads, reentry dynamics of the five segment SRB and... in my opinion... how much can you piss off the arm-chair critics of the Ares I program.
When you do a bit of surfing or if you've followed the assorted forum-styled web sites, you'll find the critics freely tossing out the notion that the Ares I-X will teach us NOTHING and no data or useful lessons will be learned... zero, zip, na-da. They like to spew the fiction that the I-X is nothing like the Ares I and so it is a useless effort that equates to the launching of a model rocket.
Often I've countered by saying that the volumes of information gained in ground handling and pre-launch procedures alone are worth the effort. We're seeing much of that now. The truth is that you just don't slip a huge machine like this onto a launch wire in a school yard and light a fuse- which is the image that the Ares I haters want to depict. Indeed you may see some of them post here in retort to my point with the same old clap-trap that they always use.
I'd just say that instead you should listen to the folks who actually have hands-on this project, rather than the arm-chair critics who can do little more than vomit up the same tired and twisted slams against this project. The Ares I-X is growing- like a single middle finger directed toward the critics.... come to think of it, that'd make a cool T-shirt to wear to the launch... maybe I'll work on that one.
On the 4th of July, 1982 Ken Mattingly and Hank Hartsfield landed the Space Shuttle orbiter Columbia at Edwards. There to see the landing and meet the crew was President Ronald Reagan. With the orbiter Enterprise as a backdrop the President spoke of America, Freedom, Liberty and our bright future as a people. Following the series of speeches, the President stood with the Astronauts and watched as the SCA did a flyby with the orbiter Challenger headed for KSC and the Challenger's first flight.
As the Challenger and SCA went past the band struck up "God Bless America" and President Reagan spontaniously began to sing the song and a moment later was joined by the crowd. The President, being a trained actor, was right on key and in tune as he sung "God Bless America" clearly from the heart-(i.e. no teleprompter.)
After watching this video, can any of you out there honestly, seriously, picture this happening today?
Happy 4th of July.
One event, however went totally overlooked by the 24 hour servers of sound bites. Down at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the STS-127 stack was tank-tested. Over a period of more tha three hours, tons of LOX and LH2 were pumped into the stack in an effort to test repairs to the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) whose leaking condition scrubbed the STS-127 mission twice. Hundreds of highly skilled and highly educated engineers and technicians participated in the extremely hazardous test of the most complex machine on earth. It demanded that humanity put forward the best of the people we have- all working together as a huge team. Every move that they made was pre-planned and critical as at best the External Tank (ET) would fill and act normally, but at worst it could explode like a small atomic bomb. At length, when tanking was complete, the Ice Team went out and personally inspected the vehicle. Following their inspection the ET was drained of its fuel and oxidizer and the preparations were begun for another launch. It was a high-risk day at KSC and it was an important event in our technical history. It was where, once again, we proved that if humans are smart enough and careful enough, and innovative enough we can actually do anything. It is a lesson that has been demonstrated countless times at KSC and Cape Canaveral. Yet, until hours after the event it was completely ignored in the media, that is enamored with a dead self-mutilated "king of pop" and a cheating lying politician who cannot even find the courage to keep his pants zipped.
Although it is bright day for everyone at KSC, it is a dark time for anyone who happens to be exposed to the news media. The network's nose for news is on a par with the one on Michael Jackson's face.