Friday, July 20, 2007

38 years ago today

I've always been heavily into The Space Program. I was born in 1955 when the only thing orbiting the earth was the moon.

Growing up watching macho test pilots like Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper put on Buck-Rodgers-Silver-Popular-Science space suits, strap themselves into a modified-life-support-warhead on top of a Cold War Nuclear Missle and blast themselves into space not knowing what would happen...Good God.

That is some legendary shit!

It was like American Idol. Seven Astronauts! Who would be the first? Who would be chosen for the sub-orbital flights? Who would be chosen to match Yuri Gagarin and be the first American to orbit the earth?

We didn't know until NASA announced it on Launch Day! And it all took place live, on TV within a matter of a few minutes or a few hours. Live or die. Success or defeat. We'll know in 15 minutes. I watched Alan Shepard blast off into space at home on my black and white TV. Then I had to walk to school and wait to find out if he lived or died. Heavy drama!

So fast forward to 1981. The shuttle program is gearing up and I am looking for inside information. I call NASA HQ in Washington and get put in touch with this Media Liason guy. He starts sending me all of this really cool, insider NASA stuff that is normally reserved for actual Network Reporters. Press Kits, Mission Patches, Mission Reports, Technical Briefings, Video tapes...lots and lots of video tapes. This is SO COOL! I'm a 26 year old space cadet and I have an inside contact at NASA!

Fast forward again to 1989. I married my first wife in 1987 and in 1988, she gets promoted and we move to NJ. Sucks to be me on both counts. I'm miserable.

But, it is 1989. The 20th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.

My buddy at NASA finagles me an invitation to the 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as his guest. FUCKING AWESOME! This is the dream of a lifetime.

This is a lavishly catered affair. I have no idea what most of the dishes are, but I plate them graciously and taste them discreetly.

I'm rubbing elbows with some of history's heavyweights! I remember munching an appetizer and sipping a drink and realizing that I was just 2 feet away from Alexei Leonov!

The Soviet Cosmonaut who was the first human being to venture outside his spacecraft. The first spacewalker. MY GOD!

I was really trying to be all cool and nonchalant. Didn't want to burst into fan-geek mode and embarass everybody. Wanted to conduct myself as if I actually belonged there (NOT!).

So, the evening went fairly well. I got to see and meet a lot of space program pioneers from many the U.S. and The Soviet Union without making a total ass of myself.

The evening was winding down and I was standing outside the main entrance of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, having a smoke and a chat with a security guard.

The door opens and out walks Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Buzz is surrounded by an enterouge and they all head towards a fleet of limos at the curb.

Neil Armstrong quietly, with no one in tow, walks to the corner, waits alone for the light to turn green, and then heads back to his hotel a few blocks away.

Being an incredible space-nerd, I want to sieze this opportunity to chase him down and get his autograph! It's perfect! He's alone and I have actually come prepared with writing utensils and memorabilgia.

But as I watched him walk away, I'm thinking; 'There goes the first man to set foot on the moon. He's leaving the party (in his honor, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) early. Twenty years ago tonight, he became the first human being to set foot on someplace other than the earth. Maybe he would like to spend some time alone."

So I let him go. I've never regretted that decision.

In searching for pictures for this post, I tried to find ones that you may have not seen before.

Here is an informal crew photo:

Relaxing around the spacecraft:

The Saturn V launch vehicle on the crawler as seen from ground level:

The Saturn V launch vehicle as seen from the top of the gantry:

Climbing towards orbit:

I wanna take you HIGHER!

The First Step


KC Sponge said...

XO - I have never been more jealous of someone's brush with fame . . . more, brush with greatness. No matter how known anyone else is, no matter what they've accomplished - these people have been in space - they have orbited the entire Earth - they have walked on the moon! It's one thing that truly amazes me . . . shuttle launches are what I miss the most about living in Florida (my earliest memory of school was in 2nd grade going outside to watch the Challenger launch and how amazed I was and how I thought that the clouds formed by the shuttle were the closest thing to man creating something cooler than God - before I realized the tragedy that was taking place . . .) It's the closest thing to fantasizing about being a superhero when you grow up - I want to be an astronaut. . . and these guys were the ones who made it a realizable dream.
I went to space camp two summers in a row and swore I would go back every year . . . but life gets in the way - boys get in the way - the price tag of such an amazing experience gets in the way. Thanks for this post reminding me how small as people we are - but just how big we can be!

satyavati said...

Man, I love you, so I'm gonna keep all my thoughts on the space program to myself.

Xavier Onassis said...

sponge - I wanted to be an astronaut too. Until I learned that (at the time) you had to go to college, get great grades, be REALLY good at math or engineering, join the military, be a test pilot and basically work really, really hard and have a lot of drive and self discipline.

Ah, fuck that, I says to myself. I just want to float around in space and look out the window.

Thankfully, that was the sixties and there were other means available to accomplish my meager goal.

satyavati - thank you. This is, after all, my Holiest of Holy Days. I'll have no heresy or blasphemy.

crse said...

This is totally going under the "if i were filthy rich" file as track down XO and pay him to fan-geek out at any gala affair involving the space program. I remember the challenger launch too. With all due respect to the holy day my friend, the neurotic in me just detached completely from the space program. No ill thoughts, just the terrible memory of that day after we had just studied about the first civilian in space.

Nightmare said...

Yuri, wasn't the first Russian in space, he was the first Russian in space to come back alive.

Xavier Onassis said...

Here now nightmare! What's this Unholy Blasphemy ye be a spewin', eh?

Links! URLs! I need proof man!

Because if it ain't here it ain't true!