Tag Archives: Apollo

Innocence, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, I was in second grade. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last year at the elementary school that I attended and  lots of change would be coming over the next several years for me. Thirty years ago, I was young and didn’t believe that bad things could happen to me, to anyone I knew, or to my country. Thirty years ago, I had my innocence and it was a great state to be in.

On January 28, 1986, I was playing on the playground during morning recess and a friend came up to me and said, “the space shuttle exploded.” My first response was sheer incredulity, that he was testing me, to see if I would react… I said, “No, it didn’t, the Space Shuttle CAN’T explode.” I didn’t believe that such a thing could even happen. Space travel was routine, with the first shuttle launch just after my third birthday and the 25th scheduled for that morning. My friend replied, “yes it did, as it was launching this morning.” I still didn’t believe him. I couldn’t grasp that an event such as this was even possible.

From there, in my memory, that day becomes a big blur. The next thing I remember is being at a different friend’s house in the evening working on homework. The adults were in a different room, doing adult things. The room we were in had a TV, which was tuned to the news. They were showing Challenger’s 73 second flight over and over and over again. I’m sure that there were talking heads interspersed between the replays, but all I remember are the replays, over and over again. Looking back now, that was the beginning of the end of my innocence. The end of the belief that bad things couldn’t happen.

Every year, in mid-January, I post four pictures on my office door. The first is the Apollo 1 Crew, the second is the STS 51-L (Challenger) Crew, the third is the STS-107 (Columbia) Crew, and the final is a Red and Rover cartoon by Brian Bassett commemorating the aforementioned crews that all lost their lives in service of exploration.  I picked these pictures of the three crews because I think they represent the potential of the missions. Each crew is in their space suits, seemingly ready for launch, ready to being their exploration. I post these cartoons no later than January 16th, my birthday, which is the day that Columbia and her crew launched on their final mission in 2003. It’s also the day that the damage that caused Columbia’s demise occurred, though it would not happen for another fifteen days.

Last night I watched a wonderful documentary about the Challenger accident. The documentary focused not on the technical details of the accident, but on the reactions that people had to it. I was particularly taken by the audio of a reporter from Concord, New Hampshire, who was at KSC reporting on the flight because of its most famous crew member Christa McAuliffe. His station played several minutes of his spontaneous reactions to the incident, and at one point, he basically says, “I can’t talk any more. I’m in shock, I need to process this…” at which point I can imagine his dropping the phone he’s been talking in to and walking away. This struck me because it’s how I’ve been feeling since I posted those four photos on my office door.

Today, in 2016, my son is in second grade. He attends the same school that I did on that fateful day in January 1986, and though it’s been rebuilt, he plays on the same playground that I was playing on thirty years ago when I learned the news of the Challenger disaster. For some reason, this parallel, this coincidence that came about because he was born in my thirtieth year and started kindergarten when he did, has been bothering me this week. Ever since I put up those photos a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about my experience on the playground thirty years ago. I’ve been thinking about the beginning of the loss of my innocence and the changes that would occur in my life. I feel like spaceflight, to most people is again routine and the fact that there have been astronauts in space for nearly twice my son’s lifetime is taken for granted (if it’s even known) by most people. I feel like so much of the technology that we use on a daily basis, most of which was developed directly or indirectly as a part of the space program, is taken for granted.

My son is fully ensconced in his innocence and I work hard to protect that for him. I wonder what he will look back upon some day as the beginning of the end of his innocence. I hope that it will not be for a long time. I hope that I won’t be a cause of the beginning of this change in him. This year and ever year, I choose to remember the crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L, and STS-107 in their flight suits, looking like they’re headed to the pad to launch into space and explore our universe.

I choose to look at them with the innocence of a child, knowing that it is not possible for anything to go wrong. I know that this is not true, I know that complacency and apathy will create problems for my country and my world. I just hope that my son won’t realize this for a long, long, time. I want to remember him like this, full of promise, full of innocence, and full of potential. I want all kids to have a look like on their face like my friend Shannon Moore‘s daughter Sara does in this picture.

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The Space Station Museum

Until I got an email from my friend Heather Archuletta asking me if I wanted to tour The Space Station Museum in Novato, I must say that I didn’t know that it existed. I’m so glad that I was able join this morning’s tour because it’s clear that we have a gem in the Bay Area. It’s also clear that this museum has a different way of doing things that most space museums that I’ve visited.

The Space Station Museum is located in a storefront in Novato, California. On one side is a coffee shop and on the other is a pizzeria. This is not your typical location for a museum that has a large number of spaceflight artifacts. The other thing different about the museum is that visitors are allowed, in fact encouraged, to touch most of the artifacts there. Have you ever wanted to touch a meteor? If so, head to Novato when the museum is open and you can do it!

Walking into the first room of the museum, the first thing that I noticed were the pictures on the walls. After a closer look, I noticed that many of them had autographs of the astronauts who took or were in the pictures. There are crew photos, pictures taken on the moon, and in the space shuttle. My favorite is a photo from Apollo 16, labeled and autographed by LMP Charlie Duke. It’s a panoramic image and Gen. Duke has labeled some of the major features in the photo, including himself. There’s a photo of Bruce McCandless flying the MMU, a photo of  John Young scooping lunar soil  at North Ray Crater, and a photo of Harrison Schmidt standing in from of a lunar bolder larger than he is with the lunar rover in the foreground, among many others. On the back wall is a large photo of the Space Shuttle Columbia, apparently in orbit, against the blue of the earth and the black of space. More on this photo later.

Our guide to this room was Ken Winans, President of the museum and the man who has amassed much of this space memorabilia. Ken is quick to point out that the museum holds only a small portion of the collection and, as such, the content is rotated on a regular basis. Ken deftly walks us around the room, showing us Soyuz and Mir control panel pieces, space flown pieces and engineering prototypes, Mercury capsule pumps and Soviet and Russian suits. He shows us a Russian Sokol space suit while explaining its mechanics and those of its sister suit, called Orlan, to us. To our sheer delight, he invited us to try on gloves for both types of suit (neither of which fit my hand). He shows us two meteorites, one of iron and the other of rock, and encourages us to touch them! It was just awesome. Ken’s enthusiasm for the museum, the artifacts, and his concept of bring space to the people is contagious.

After spending time with Ken in the first room, we move on to the second room, which among other things, contains two amazing pieces, a 85% size lunar module and a lunar rover trainer. Our guide in this second room is Don Shields, an Apollo program veteran. Mr. Sheilds spent his time in the Apollo program working on the lunar module, so it’s quite fitting that he’s our guide in this room. He regales us with stories of working in the Apollo program and putting astronauts on the moon is amazing! The artifacts in this room are just as amazing, including more Russian control panels, rocket nozzles and a training flag that the Apollo astronauts used to practice putting up a flag on the moon! (Yes, it took practice, remember they were wearing pressurized space suits with limited mobility.

Besides being able to touch artifacts, Mr. Winans has a vision for museums. He don’t believe that they need to be big stodgy affairs. Rather, he puts his artifacts where the people are. As I mentioned above, the Space Station Museum is located in a shopping center in Novato, near a coffee shop, a grocery store, and a yoga studio. He wants people to see the collection and learn from it. Another wonderful feature of the museum is that there is no admission charge. When they’re open, you can walk in, view and touch the artifacts, and learn more about our adventures in space.

I am tremendously thankful to Heather for inviting me to join a group of fellow space enthusiasts on this tour. It amazes me that space can bring a group like this together. We had an aircraft electronics engineer, a lab technician, a City Clerk, a planetary scientist, and an Apollo program hypergolics engineer in the group. It was a lot of fun to talk with and learn from Amy McKinney, Grant McKinney, James Sharkey, Stephanie Evans, Natalie Batalha, Jeffrey Holton, and Robyn Villavecchia.

See the full photo set!


OK, with regard to the Columbia picture mentioned above, Mr. Winans says that he believes the photo is original and not photoshopped. I want to find out if this photo is indeed non-photoshopped. It’s odd because the cargo bay doors are closed, which means that the orbiter is either in the ascent or entry phase. If that’s the case, what would have been with the shuttle to take the photo. Any thoughts? – I’ve found out that it’s a composite photo of one of Columbia’s early landings over a shot from orbit. Lots of them were sold in the 80’s.


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A Tough Week in NASA History

Today begins a tough week in the history of NASA. All three of NASA’s major accidents have happened between January 27th and February 1st:

January 27, 1967 – Apollo 1 Fire

January 28, 1986 – Challenger (STS-51L) Disaster

February 1, 2003 – Columbia (STS-107) Disaster

Each of these events happened at a different stage of the mission, each of them had their own technical causes, but in my opinion, each was caused by ignoring or accepting some of the risks of spaceflight. After each accident, the people of NASA got together to solve the problem and make human space flight possible again.

As you go about your week today, remember the Apollo 1 Crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee;

Apollo 1 Crew


the STS-51L Crew: Francis R. Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe;

STS-51L (Challenger) Crew


as well as the STS-107 Crew: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon

STS-107 Crew

and the sacrifices they made for knowledge, understanding, and their country. Be proud of the work they have done and be hopeful for the future of spaceflight and of humanity.

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Dinner with Karen – Remembering Neil Armstrong

Today, the world lost a hero. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, passed away from complications from a heart procedure that took place several weeks ago. He was an example of what it means to be a hero, what it means to be humble, and what it means to be an American.

There have been some tweets today about President Kennedy now being able to meet the man who fulfilled his challenge to the nation. I’m sure that meeting will indeed take place, but if even half of what I’ve read about Mr. Armstrong is true, I think I know who the first person he will want to meet. It will be his daughter Karen, born in 1959, who died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1962. As the first man to walk on the moon, I imagine, there are plenty of people in heaven who want to meet him, and he will probably have his pick, but I’m confident that he would probably put his daughter first.

That’s just the kind of person Mr. Armstrong was. A truly international celebrity, he shunned the spotlight. A man whose name could have probably ensured the success of any product, he stayed away from endorsements. A voice that was considered an authority on many topics, he rarely made his position known and when he did it was respected.

The Apollo 11 mission was a historic one in many ways. It was the first time in human history that a person walked on another heavenly body. It was the first time television brought the nation and the world together to witness a historic event. Its success was a triumph of American and technology. It highlighted the skill not only of the astronauts who landed the LM on the moon, but the literally hundreds of thousands of engineers, technicians, and other workers without whose work the mission could never have happened. I mention the historic nature of the mission because it hinged on Mr. Armstrong’s actions. He was cool as a cucumber and landed  the LM with less than 17 seconds of fuel remaining.

I’ve seen and read interviews with many of Mr. Armstrong’s fellow astronauts. Each of them indicated in their own way that Mr. Armstrong was the right man to command the first lunar landing mission. History has proven, in many different ways, that he was indeed the right man for the job.

Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong. I hope you enjoy your dinner with Karen.


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The Space Shuttle Discovery is Now Part of the National Collection

I came across a video this morning, posted by the Smithsonian Institution on YouTube entitled, “Space Shuttle Discovery Delivered to the Smithsonian.” It’s a wonderful video highlighting Discovery’s flyover of Washington, D.C., removal from the SCA, and the ceremony in which it was inducted into the National Air and Space Museum.

The video includes excerpts from several of the speeches that day, including one from the speech of France A. Cordova, Chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Once the transfer document is officially signed, she remarks, “The Space Shuttle Discovery is now part of the national collection.” I’ve watched this video a couple of times this morning, and I tear up at that line. As I’ve said before, the Space Shuttle Program is the only space program I’ve ever known. I’ve grown up with it and lived through its triumphs and tragedies. Through the use of the internet and social media, I’ve been privileged to join a community of people interested in space travel. I was lucky enough to witness the launch of STS-131 in person in April of 2010.

I know the history of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. I cherish the fact that humans have walked on the moon. I know how and why the space race occurred and I believe that it was a good thing for humanity. With that said, the only space program that I’ve experienced is the Space Shuttle. Whether on TV or the internet, I’ve followed missions and watched launches and landings. I remember exactly where I was both when I heard of the Challenger disaster and seventeen years later when I heard of the Columbia disaster. The Space Shuttle has been my space program and I truly treasure it. The end of the program has been coming for a while now, but the reality of it has just hit me.

Dr. Cordova’s remark that Discovery is now part of the national collection is true. She’s been retired and is no longer operational, but will be forever inspirational. I hope that Discovery will inspire others as much as she and the entire Space Shuttle program have inspired me. It makes me think back to the Brian Bassett cartoon from last year, What A Ride It’s Been.

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Brunch with a Rubber Chicken

Today, an amazing thing happened. Two separate groups of space tweeps gathered together to share a meal, each other’s company, and a love of space. In Houston, the gathering happened to celebrate the fact that NASA’s own Tweetup mistress Stephanie @Schierholz was in town working the STS-134 mission. I imagine Stephanie’s presence was more of a catalyst than a requirement for this gathering, but nonetheless, space tweeps gathered to celebrate space and each other.

Just about 2000 miles away and a couple of hours later, I attended a gathering in Sausalito, CA. This was an informal gathering to celebrate the success of the BTS-1 Mission and the successful recovery of Camilla_SDO, Astro Fuzz, and Skyebleu from the Louisiana Bayou they landed in. We were also celebrating the successful recovery of the Inspiration Capsule from the land of FedEx, where it had disappeared. The group that gathered for this celebration was truly astounding. Each of the 10 of us who were there shared a love of space, a great sense of humor and a desire to share the wonders of space travel with all who are willing to listen.

It was amazing couple of hours to spend with fellow space tweeps. We talked about many things and Camilla, Fuzz, and Skye regaled us with stories of their flights to 78,000+ feet and their unplanned journey through the Louisiana Bayou. Fizzviic brought us both away from and back to reality with her seriously “off the wall sense of humor.” Pillownaut preached the gospel of social media and how NASA and its contractors could more effectively use it to spread the word about what space travel has done for the general population. Danny.Skarka opined on how NASA TV could more effectively spread the message of NASA and space exploration. NatachaC told us about the NASA Flight Surgeon corps and had a bit of bacon before the food arrived. AstroIvy told us about working at NASA Ames and writing software for Mission Control using Java. RomeoCh told of being on the recovery team for BTS-1 and the over 250 mosquito bites he received while searching for the Inspiration Capsule in the Bayou. Also there were Herrea, k0leslaw, and Jayjum, but in my sleep deprived state, I can’t recall their stories (My apologies for that).

All told, it was a great event and a chance to meet people who I have followed and talked with on the interwebs. It was a great morning! I’ve posted some photos on my Flickr page.

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