Apollo 11- the day before splashdown... rocket fever

As it headed through it its last full day in space before reentry, an unexpected side effect of the Apollo 11 mission was a form or rocket fever that turned out to be very contagious. I caught mine, and 35 years later would actually turn it into a business.

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.

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