Jul 20, 2009

The Cardboard Astronaut

When I was a kid, I was an astronaut. 5,4,3,2,1--BLASTOFF! I went to the moon at least 100 times, which is 99 more times than Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins got there.

You should have seen my space ship. It was a custom built beauty of a space vehicle, complete with custom artwork on the outside. I can still see that artwork in my mind today. . "Chiquita Bananas". OK, so my space ship was a cardboard box. Just like many other kids in the 1960's, I was a cardboard astronaut.

I was and still am a space travel junkie. From the Mercury program to the current space shuttle flights, I am a super space travel fan. As a kid, I had models of all the spacecraft. I cut out magazine and newspaper articles for scrapbooks. I was glued to the TV during every space mission. During the Apollo 11 moon landing 40 years ago today, all my friends were at my house in front of our black and white TV. Along with my family, we watched the historic moonwalk on the floor in front of the TV with multiple models of the Apollo lunar module in front of us for handy reference along with books and maps of the moon.

Humans have dreamed of flying for 100,000 years. That's when the first Homo sapiens appeared in South Africa. Even our ancient ancestors must have looked at the birds in the sky and proclaimed "WOW"!

Samuel Langley, a professor of mathematics and astronomy in the early 20Th century, surely must have caught that “wow” urge to fly because he had a lifelong vision of achieving manned flight. With a government grant of $50,000 and after many years of experimentation and hard work, in November 1903 Langley's dream of manned flight seemed to be within his reach. With a test pilot at the controls, and with journalists and a large crowd watching, a catapult launched Langley's
new aircraft.
But part of the aircraft snagged on the catapult. The aircraft plunged into water only 50 yards from the catapult.

The New York Times ridiculed Langley the next day,"The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanics in from one to ten million years." Sadly, after years of hard work and a $50,000 government investment, Langley gave up on his dream of manned flight. Ironically, only a few days later on December 17,2003, two young high school dropouts with no university education, but with determination, a passion for experiment and scientific method, and an expenditure of less than $1,000, realized man's longtime dream of flight. Their names: Orville and Wilbur Wright

A little over fifty years later, we dreamed not of aircraft, but spacecraft. In his autobiography, NASA Manager and creator of Mission Control Christopher Kraft described what he saw when America's first man in space, Alan Shepard, approach the launch pad:

"It was dark when he came out. Searchlights litup the rocket. Shepard looked up at the rocket, shielding his eyes with a gloved hand. The light reflected off his silver suit. I felt a thrill pass
through me. HE LOOKS LIKE A SPACE MAN, I thought. The moment was more thrilling
than I expected."

A few years after that first American manned flight, January 1967, Kraft was in Mission
Control, monitoring radio communications during a ground test of the spacecraft Apollo 1 with Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee and aboard. Suddenly, Kraft heard "WE'RE ON FIRE" from the spacecraft. Pure oxygen and a spark in the spacecraft resulted in near instant death of
astronauts Gus Grissom Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Of the death of his good friend Gus Grissom and the other astronauts, Kraft wrote,

"My stomach lurched and I felt sick all
over, so weak and drained that I almost collapsed in my chair. . . We'd put
three astronauts into harms way and made their escape impossible. They were
dead and we knew that it was our fault."

But Kraft and his fellow visionaries at NASA didn't let the three astronauts die in vain. They didn't give up. They accepted the blame and the responsibility, and they fixed the problems in the Apollo
spacecraft. A little over two years later, Apollo 11 astronauts were preparing for their historic trip to the moon.

In his book "Carrying the Fire", Apollo astronaut Michael Collins described a letter from his wife that he read over and over the night before the famous moon flight. It was a poem:

"I could have sought by wit or wile

Your bright dream to dim. And yet

If I'd swayed you with a smile,

My reward would be regret.

So for once you shall not hear

Of the tears, unbidden, welling;

Or the nighttime stabs of fear.

These, this time, are not for telling.

Take my silence, though intended;

Fill it with the joy you feel.

Take my courage, now pretended-

You, my love, will make it real.

The dream of flight has existed since the dawn of humanity That dream became a reality because two brothers tried, failed, ultimately succeeded because they believed they could make it happen and didn't give up. Our nation was given the dream to go to the moon by John F. Kennedy. That dream turned into reality because the people at NASA believed it could be done, even though the technology and knowledge to accomplish the task didn't exist. And they did it by always focusing on ultimate success in spite of many setbacks, failures and the loss of human life.

We owe the pioneers of space travel a huge debt of gratitude because they showed us how the impossible CAN be turned into reality. As humans, we dream, we try, we fail. But we don't need wings or rockets to fly. All we need is a dream, the passion to persevere through adversity and failure, and the courage to ignore the people who tell us it can't be done. And
sometimes, a cardboard box to get us started.


Anonymous said...

The honor of being the first to step foot on the Moon was originally mean for Virgil "Gus" Grissom, the Masonic martyr with strange, semiotic connections to Barackobamun. But Gus fell victim to an allegedly accidental fire aboard Apollo...
Documentary video:Gus Grissom-video

JohnLloydScharf said...

I was in bootcamp 40 years ago. I thought we would continue to explore the moon. We have not even done a landing that I know of and our present technology could make an unmanned lander more useful than if we sent an astronaut.

That pioneering spirit seems to be gone...