This story is an excerpt from my book "Growing up with Spaceflight; Apollo Part One" if you enjoy it... try the book, you'll love it.  


The Apollo 8 patch I bought at the KSC visitor's center on my first trip to to Florida; Feb. 1973. I'm pretty sure they no longer sell for 75 cents.

Our little house at 3324 Lexington Drive in Sheridan Park was packed full of relatives and neighbors. It was Christmas eve 1968 and my folks were hosting a party for our closest family friends. All of the adults were laughing, talking, eating, drinking and smoking. Mostly smoking.

Being an asthmatic I always had a very low tolerance for smokers and smoking, but in 1968 most people smoked.

My parents had both just quit that foul habit primarily due to my new doctor, an allergy-specialist, and the first true no-nonsense person that I have ever met. Dr. Goodwin was said to have, “the bedside manner of a bull,” but he got his points across to me and my family. Upon my second visit, where he reviewed my medical tests with my parents and myself, he pointed his pen at me and said, “If you ever smoke you will die.” Then he turned to my Mom and Dad and said, “If you two want him to get any better and to grow up to have a normal life, you both have to quit smoking. Today!” So firm and deadly-serious was his manner that both of my parents gave up cigarettes on the spot— cold turkey. Dad later took up a pipe, but at least he gave up the coffin-nails. So it was that at our household Christmas party seven months later, at least my Mom and Dad were not a part of making the blue haze that hung heavy in our living-room.

Although the TV was on, you really could not hear it and there was no place for a kid to sit and watch it. Besides that the party “atmosphere” was akin to sitting in a smudge pot. In short order I disappeared into my parent’s room where the “old” family TV resided. Every network had the same lead story to broadcast. It was a historic adventure called “Apollo 8.”

Stuffing one of my Dad’s T-shirts under the door to keep out the local pollution, I turned on the old TV and let her tubes warm up. After a few seconds the familiar crackle of static electricity began as the cathode-ray picture tube slowly built up to its 30,000 volt, shadow-mask face potential. Soon the blue tinted black and white image began to fuzz into clarity. With haste I spun the channel selection dial to UHF and channel 25; CBS. That channel was where Walter Cronkite was hosting and it came in the best on the old TV- primarily because channel 25’s broadcast antenna was located about 1,202 feet from my parent’s bedroom. Of course the aluminum foil that my Dad had wrapped around the distorted, wire coat-hanger that served as the TV set’s UHF antenna may have helped too.

Cronkite was saying that they were expecting another live TV broadcast from the moon shortly. There was not a hint that he had been on the air almost continually since about four o’clock in the morning. Just the excitement in his voice told me that something historic was taking place and it had my total attention. I sat, alone, cross-legged, on the foot of my parents bed, in the darkness. The party commotion happening just up the hallway seemed so distant it was as if I was in the studio with Cronkite myself. Perhaps countless other viewers across America felt exactly the same way at that moment. Now, Cronkite told us, the crew was ready to do their final TV broadcast from the Moon. The CBS “simulation” showed a model of an Apollo CSM from the rear with the expanse of the slightly curved lunar surface just below. Soon the voices and cross-talk from Mission Control made it apparent that the TV show from the moon was about to begin.

NASA’s Public Affairs Officer (PAO) announced that we were one minute… and then two minutes into acquisition of signal with Apollo 8, and CAPCOM Ken Mattingly, who had recently changed shifts with Mike Collins, told the crew that all of their systems looked great. Then the PAO announced that they had a TV picture in Mission Control. Quickly the picture shifted from the simulation of the flight to the fuzzy, slow-scan TV images of the lunar surface. It actually looked like a fishbowl with the words “Live Transmission From Apollo 8” superimposed on it. After a few moments, CBS cut back to Cronkite as the crew moved the camera to another window. The picture turned to a view inside Mission Control as the crew started out by saying that this was Apollo 8 live from the Moon, as if we did not already know that. Next they all gave their final descriptions of the moon and their impressions of the place that no human had ever before visited.

"The moon is a different thing to each one of us." Borman led the narration, "I think that each one of… each one carries his own impressions of what… of what he's seen today. I know my own impression is that it's a vast, lonely, forbidding type of existence or expanse of nothing; it looks rather like clouds and clouds of pumice stone. And it certainly would not appear to be a very… inviting place to live or work. Jim, what have you thought about most?"

"Well, Frank," Lovell picked up the narration, "my thoughts are very similar; the vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe-inspiring, it makes you realize just what you have back there on earth. The earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space. Bill, what do you think?"

"I think," Anders continued, "the thing that impressed me the most was the lunar sunrises and sunsets. These, in particular, bring out the stark nature of the terrain, the long shadows really bring out the relief that is here (and) hard to see in this very bright surface that we’re going over right now. We are now coming onto Smyth's Sea, a small mare region covered with dark material. There's a fresh bright impact crater on the edge towards us. And mountain range on the other side. These mountains are the Pyrenees.”

About then the signals from the moon were disturbed and the crew’s show became abbreviated.

“Apollo 8,” CAPCOM interrupted quickly, “we’re not receiving picture now, over.”

Anders continued with his description as Houston repeated that they were not getting a picture. Suddenly the crew fixed the problem and I found myself looking through the rendezvous window, over the sill and out toward the Moon. All of my thoughts of presents and Christmas morning were suddenly muted. There were three guys up there circling the Moon, and I felt as if I were right there with them. Of course their view of the Moon was a great deal better than my blurred, washed-out black and white TV view. But still, it was THE Moon, and we were all there— all of us who were growing up with spaceflight.

From the din of the Christmas party voices out in my living room I heard a few quips of “Look at that!” as the same show that I was watching was playing on the TV out there. They, however, could not hear the words of the astronauts who were pointing out craters and evaluating the proposed site for the first lunar landing. Although, from my perspective, I was alone watching the event, it was later calculated that this broadcast was watched by more humans than any other single event in history to that date. Suddenly the crew stopped their lunar observations and said that they had a message to those of us on earth. They read from the Book of Genesis. It was a fantastic moment that added a shade of faith and humanity to the pure technology of the mission. It also got them sued by an atheist.

My parents ended their big Christmas party about an hour later with half-drunken and completely-drunken neighbors and relatives stumbling happily out into the bitter-cold mid-Michigan winter night. Fortunately, most of them lived nearby in our subdivision. The one who was the most intoxicated ended up face down in a snowdrift near our driveway and was able to be poured into the back seat of his car and driven home by his wife. Mom and Dad were left to clean up the house and prepare for Christmas morning. That, of course, meant putting us kids to bed. We all scrambled into our sleeping nests having been told that the sooner we went to sleep, the sooner Santa would come. That worked well on my younger sister and brother, but I found that my thoughts were centered more onto my 1/96 scale model Apollo CSM. I lay there in the dark holding it up as if passing over the lunar surface, or peeking into its small windows and looking at the little crewmen inside. I also studied the big Service Propulsion System engine bell. Cronkite had told us dozens of times that it had to fire in order for the crew to return to the Earth. Oddly, at the ripe old age of 11, unlike some adults, I had no doubt at all that it would work. 

I fell asleep with that level of innocent confidence.


A Little Secret About the ERAU Flight Team

Early in the fall of 84 I was, where I always seemed to be found, hanging out in the Avion office, when two AHPs, Mitch Williams and Nick Fasano, came in talking about re-starting the Flight Team. Sitting there just listening I could tell that these guys had zero knowing about National Inter-collegenet Flying Association, or "NIFA" events, but they had tons of motivation. President Hunt, who loathed the team and NIFA, had passed away the previous year. We had often debated over the existence of an ERAU flight team- I wanted it to be more than a club and he wanted it to be gone. I never won any debate with President Hunt- especially that one. I'd been on the flight team since 1978 when we were called "the flight team club." Now he was gone so I figured why not?” I began to explain to Mitch and Nick how each event went and my relationship to the old team.

Bang, I was back in the DAB Flight Team- which now had exactly
three members; Mitch, Nick and me.

The team grew, but struggled to be competitive. Pilots had to pay for their aircraft use and travel as well as hotels and food. Yet, still we pressed ahead under Mitch's leadership and Nick's management skills- which were quite cunning.

Early in the fall trimester of 1985 I was elected to be the team's Chief Pilot and replacing Mitch who had become an ERAU flight instructor and a team coach. One afternoon, about a week before the 1985 NIFA Regional Flight Meet, I got a call to come to University Provost EriDotens office and bring the teams assistant Chief Pilot, Dan Ferrichello, with me.
University Provost Eric Doten

We arrived on time and Doten asked us into his office. He sat down and reclined at his desk and said,

“President Tallman wants to wish your team the very best of good luck in the upcoming Regionals.”

Dan and I looked at each other and I said,

 Tell the President we said thanks.”

Then Doten pointed at the door and said,

 Close the door.

Dan dutifully went over and closed the door. Its funny, but I remember this like it was yesterday, but years later when I asked Dan he hardly remembered the meeting at all. Anyhow, Doten said,

“President Tallman wants to fully back and fund the Flight Team. Thats aircraft, practice time, uniforms, hotels- everything. There is just one catch, he cant get that all past the Board of Trustees unless you guys succeed. You must get into the Nationals, otherwise no deal. This whole thing must also remain a close secret, if one whiff of this gets out, the deal is off. So, you must get into the Nationals this year and no one outside of this room can know about this deal until after Tallman announces it after he gets it past the Board. That’s the deal.
After leaving Dotens office Dan and I walked over to UC and stood on that little balcony that then overlooked the campus. Standing there I looked at Dan and I swear he had turned pale- looked like he was about to spew. I asked him what was wrong and he said,

This is huge. Oh my God, what if we dont do it? What if we screw it up? How are
we gonna do this?”

I just looked across the campus smirked and said,
Shit, we own this fuckin’ place.

 I was that confident in our team.
Me supervising flight practice 1985 at Flagler Airport, FL

 As Chief Pilot, and a former hockey player, I knew the value of having a “deep bench” and I decided to restructure the team in that manner. In a deep bench your first line can play just as good as your third line and you spread the talent out so you are covered fully in any situation. So we went heavy on ground events and greatly expanded the overall team that fall. I also looked for pilots who could fly the air events just as well in the Cessna 172 as in the 150. That way if something happened and we could not use ERAU’s aircraft, we could rent 150s and still be competitive. I even went so far as assigning a team member to call FBOs near Murfreesboro, TN, where the Regionals would take place, and get prices and aircraft availability; just in case. If we got hung up without our school’s aircraft, the odds were good that we would have to rent and 150s would be what could get. We were working hard and things were looking good as the date for the Regionals approached.

On the eve of our departure for the Regional meet we had two ERAU stretch vans leaving to drive up to MTSU and two of our coaches were to follow in two ERAU chickenhawks. We also had tropical storm Kate coming up the Gulf of Mexico. As we were boarding the vans, I got called up to Director of Flight Ops. Paul McDuffee’s office. He told me and the coaches that he would not release the school’s aircraft for our use due to the storm. The storm itself was of no real threat, but McDuffee was being overly cautious.

I told our coaches that no one should tell the team until the next morning when we were at MTSU. That way, instead of it being a giant bummer for them to stew on all the way to MTSU, it would be seen more as an urgent problem for us to overcome.
Colin Askurn and Sheri Byrd watching flight events.

It worked- everyone pitched in when they got the news and soon I had four guys out renting and getting checked out in Cessna 150s. We juggled the pilots in the flight events and went hard on the ground events. I had two guys who could not seem to make friends with the 172 for landing events, but could put a 150 down in your backyard, switching places with my two
chickenhawk aces, both of whom had never flown a 150. Meanwhile our ground people were just super. 
Our guys doing the best they could with what we managed to rent.

We finished the meet having done beyond our best considering McDuffee's bogus decision. That night at the banquet a rumor was started by the MTSU team that since there were fewer teams than usual (as I recall it was something like 4 or 5) then only first place and second place would go to the Nationals. When the scores were announced, we got 3rd. After the banquet the Auburn team captain shook my hand and said,

“See ya’ at the Nationals.”

 “We were told that third doesn’t get to go,” I replied.

 “Bullshit!" he half shouted, "Third goes! Go ask the guy from NIFA.”

I asked and he said,

“Of course 3rd goes, third always goes. I’ll see ya’ in Texas next spring.”

That was it.

Of course by then, most of my team was back at the hotel and somewhat dejected. So I got the whole damned bunch into one hotel room and told them that we were in the Nationals! I’ll never forget walking from that room to go across the parking lot to a 7-11 to get a slurpie and hearing the sound of that celebration behind me. They had done one hell of a job. To this day I am really proud of those folks and what they did for our university. There were a lot of outstanding individuals on that team.

As soon as I got back to campus I gave Doten a full briefing. He agreed with me that McDuffee was acting like an old lady by not giving us our aircraft. The storm turned and died and we could easily have had our own aircraft. Still, it had been McDuffees call yet the Flight Team had gotten the result that General Tallman wanted anyhow. The next day Mr. VanBibber, (aka "Mr. Van," a veteran Vietnam F-4 pilot, who was our Flight Team faculty advisor) and I had a "how'd it go" meeting with McDuffee. Of course, me being the one student on campus with zero fear of administrators laid it on the line in that meeting. I told Mr. McDuffee that he had deliberately put my pilots at risk by forcing us to fly rented aircraft. Our ERAU aircraft were kept to the highest standards of maintenance in the general aviation world and my pilots had gained a high degree of skill and confidence in them, but because of his decision not to allow us the promised university airframes, we ended up flying aircraft that we had no idea how they had been maintained, and that such was not the environment that our university was about, especially when it came to the best pilots on campus.

I thought Mr. Van was gonna crawl up the back of his chair! He began to try and talk me back out of what I had just said, tellin' me that that's not really what I meant to say. I simply said that if I hadn't meant it, I wouldn't have said it. McDuffee knew me too well and just ducked and let it pass. What Mr. Van didn't know, is what I knew. The fix was in, and McDuffee could not do anything to derail the flight team- we had earned a place under General Tallman's wing, and we were safe.

About three weeks later I was in Mr. Vans turbine engines class and after class he said he needed to see me in his office Most ricky-ticky. Once there he told me that hed talked to Doten and gave me the big news” that the university was now sponsoring us. I did my best to act surprised, but Mr. Van only bought that for about a heartbeat. He said,

You shit, you knew that all along didnt ya?

"Mr. Van" the F-4 driver (R), Buck Wyndham (C) and coach John Stanton strategizing air events at the 1985 NIFA Southern Regional Meet  

I told him about the meeting with Doten and that we were ordered to keep it a secret. He just shook his head, pointed at me and said,

"That's leadership."

"In spite of McDuffee," I quipped.

We had a good laugh and at that evenings team meeting I told the gang. They were stunned and in total disbelief until Mr. Van told em that it was true. Everyone, except Dan and I, remained stunned for a long time; but at least we could finally talk about it.

In the years ahead Mr. McDuffee and I always got along and he worked his way up the administrative ladder at the university and did so many good things for the students and school that it makes that moment when we butted heads (among a few others) to be little more than a trivial footnote. In 1998 I flew a Falcon 20 into DAB and took my boss over to see the campus. He got to meet Mr. McDuffee who pointed to his own head and then to me and said,

"See these gray hairs? They're mostly from him!"

Today the Daytona ERAU flight team is exactly what we all wished it to become.