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Apollo 11

Apollo 11 Twentieth Anniversary

Homecoming at JSC
Photo Credits Mine




July 1989 was the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11.  A big celebration of that event was held in Houston, Texas at the Johnson Space Center.  My girlfriend Mary and I attended the celebration.  It would be our first out of town trip together.  This is the story of our trip.

July 1989 was the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11.  A big celebration of that event was held in Houston, Texas at the Johnson Space Center.  My girlfriend Mary and I decided to attend the event.  It would be our first out of town trip together.

It was a rather hectic weekend.  On Saturday, we had the 20th anniversary activities, on Sunday afternoon we had tickets for the musical Evita, and then Sunday night we had tickets to see Ringo Starr in concert.

With that type of scheduling, the only option was to fly to Houston.  We took a Southwest Airlines flight and arrived Friday evening at Houston’s Hobby Airport.  We picked up a rental car.  I don't remember what type of car it was but it was large and white.  It may have been a Buick.

We drove down to the Clear Lake area and checked into the hotel.  We were going to stay at the Clear Lake Hilton.  This was very close to the Johnson Space Center and was the premier hotel in the area.  I figured that any astronauts who had come in for the 20th anniversary would be staying there. My hope was that we might encounter some of them in the lobby.

I'm not sure where we ate dinner that night, but it may have been the Flying Dutchman in Keemah.  That was the best restaurant that I knew of in the area.  I had eaten there several years ago with some friends and I was very impressed.

After dinner Mary and I happened upon the Half Price Bookstore along NASA Road 1.  This was the first time that I ever heard of such a bookstore.  The bought and sold used books.  I went over to the natural science selection in the store and was enthralled by all of the space books that were available.  Many of those titles, I had never seen before.

I wanted to buy a lot of them, but I did not know how I would get them back home on the airline. Mary suggested that we just take to books to the concierge at the hotel and have them ship the books. After all this was a high class hotel.  She was confident that they would provide that service.  So, I bought a ton of books.  Actually it filled a box about two feet long and then some.

Mary and I also checked out a space souvenir shop along NASA Road 1.  I don't remember if I purchased anything there, but it is unlikely that I came away empty handed. It was getting late around 9:00 PM I think and we started driving back towards our hotel.  I noticed a mineral shop on the left side of the road.  Minerals have always been fascinating to me.  The shop was closed but there were still lights on.   I thought we could at least window shop.

While we were looking in the window, an older gentleman appeared in the shop and noticed us at the window.  He was the owner of the shop and he opened it up and invited us inside.  He was a really nice old man.   He had recently lost his wife and was happy to have some company.  We talked about various things and in the course of conversation; I found that he used to work at the Johnson Space Center.  I don't recall what his job title was, but I think he said that it involved something on the second stage of the Saturn V.

Mary and I noticed one selenite mineral that was truly an impressive specimen.  It had a crystal bridge that was amazing.  The color of the mineral was brown, which is my least favorite color, but that didn't distract from this piece.  I asked the gentlemen how much it cost.  He told me the price and I couldn't believe how low it was.  We bought that mineral and a couple of others.  I don't know how long we were in his shop but it must have been 30 or 40 minutes.  Mary and I felt happy that we were able to ease a little loneliness for the man missing his wife.

Mary and I got back to the hotel.  We talked to the concierge and gave him the box of books to mail back home for us.  He agreed that he would take care of them.   It was unfortunate, but we did not encounter any astronauts in the hotel.  I learned later that the entire Apollo 11 crew was there that night, but we did not see them.

The next morning, I wanted to be at the Johnson Space Center by 8:00 AM sharp.  The anniversary events did not start until 11:00 AM, but I wanted to have spot front and center in front of the stage.  The stage was set up on the grassy area around the JSC rocket park.

Mary wanted no part of getting to the Space Center at 8:00 O'clock.  That didn't bother me.  I told her that I would walk to the JSC entrance and she could bring the rental car later.  I got up around 7:00 AM, got dressed, and began my trek to the JSC entrance.

The sun was just coming up, and I got a sunrise lit photo of one of the NASA Road 1 signs along the way.  I probably looked kind of strange walking along the road with my camera.  There certainly wasn't anyone else out there walking.

I got to the Security Check Point at the JSC entrance.  The guard on duty asked me if he could help me.  I told him that I was there to attend the 20th anniversary celebration.  He looked at me quizzically and said, “You're too early!  We are not letting people in yet.”  I asked him when I could come in.  He said, “10:00 AM.’

There I was, without a car.  I really didn't want to walk the mile back to the hotel.  I asked the guard if there was somewhere that I could wait.  He told me “Well there is a Wendy’s across the street.  I guess you can wait there.”

I must have looked like the biggest space geek in the world to this security guard.  Who in their right mind would walk for a mile to JSC and show up at 8:00 O'clock in the morning for an 11:00 O'clock program?  Well I must confess I was guilty as charged.  I really can't say anything to dispute that charge.

So I trudged across the street to Wendy’s.  I grabbed a cup of coffee and something to eat.  It was pretty boring as I waited there for two hours.  I'm sure I must have read any newspapers or Wendy’s literature that was available.

It seemed like an eternity, but 10:00 finally rolled around.  I left my Wendy’s “lounge” and headed back across the street.  A few cars were rolling through the security check point at this time.  This time I was admitted to the space center.  I walked over to the area in front of the stage and sat down on the grass to reserve my spot front and center.   I was relieved to find that the spot had not already been taken by some other over zealous space enthusiast.

It wasn't too long before Mary arrived.   People started to fill in around us.  There was a stand selling soft drinks.  It was kind of a carnival atmosphere.  Mark Shelton was supposed to be at the event, but we did not get connected with him.

A short while later, my friend Andy Sheppard showed up with his wife Iris.  The Houston television station KHOU was selling T-shirts with the 20th anniversary logo on them.  I thought they looked really sharp with their baby blue trim.  The shirts were really cheap too.  They only cost $5.00.  I bought two shirts, one for Mary and one for me.  Andy saw the shirts and purchased two as well.  When Iris found out, she did not seem too happy.  I guess they had enough cheap T-shirts at their house.

The event started.  I don't know what the connection was, but there were some Native American dancers dancing of all things.  I still do not know how this was related to Apollo 11.  A very tall Uncle Sam was there.  Well at least a man dressed as Uncle Sam and walking on stilts was there.   Maybe this was a circus and the elephants would come out next?

No, it wasn't elephants, it was astronauts.  Astronaut Dan Brandenstein who was Chief of the Astronaut Office at the time took the stage.  He welcomed everybody to the event and began announcing the other astronauts as they took the stage.

A most amazing collection of Apollo astronauts began to assemble on the stage.  The climbed the stairs to the stage one by one. There was an astronaut from every Apollo mission.  Apollo 7 was represented by Walt Cunningham.  Apollo 8 was represented by Jim Lovell.  Rusty Schweikart was there for Apollo 9.  Tom Stafford was there for Apollo 10.

Apollo 11 was represented by Buzz Aldrin. I was disappointed that Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins weren't there.  Apollo 12’s representative was Alan Bean.  Fred Haise represented Apollo 13.  From Apollo 14 Astronaut Stu Roosa was there.  Apollo 15’s representative was Jim Irwin.  Charlie Duke was the representative for Apollo 16.  Apollo 17’s representative was Ron Evans. Even the Russians had a representative.  Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov represented Apollo Soyuz along with Vance Brand.

After the astronauts took their seats, Buzz Aldrin got up to speak.  He talked about the Apollo 11 mission and what his perspective was 20 years later.  A female vocalist got on stage and sang an original composition for the 20th anniversary.

Astronaut Brandenstein introduced Cheryl McNair.  Ms. McNair was the widow of Challenger Astronaut Ron McNair.   At some point a flight of NASA T-38s flew over and performed the missing man maneuver.

After the ceremony on the stage was concluded, there was supposed to be a homecoming parade along the streets of JSC.  If we were going to catch any of the astronauts we had to do it before they got whisked away in their cars.

I wanted to meet them all but there would not be time for that.  There were a couple of people that I really wanted to meet.  I wanted to say hello to Charlie Duke, since Andy and I had just met him in his office just a month before. I also wanted to meet Jim Irwin because he had been in frail health. I can't remember now, if I was able to speak with Duke at the 20th or not.  It was a rather chaotic scene.  People flocked around the astronauts as they moved towards the waiting vehicles.

I saw Jim Irwin sitting in the back of a convertible.  He was ready for the parade.  Just as I got up to Irwin’s car, the car drove off.  I was within four feet of him, but he was gone.  There was no opportunity to say hello or to shake his hand.

The targets in the area were dwindling.  Apollo 17 Command Module pilot was one of the last in the area.  Mary and I went over to Ron.  He was being filmed by a film crew that had something to do with Borden.  I was able to introduce myself to Astronaut Evans and I asked him for an autograph.  I had a silver paint pen and asked him to sign an earth rise photo. 

Sadly the pen malfunctioned.  Only the faintest trace of Evans autograph showed up on the photo.  I was bummed.  Mary had a book open with a photo of the liftoff of Apollo 17.  She had Evans sign that with a black pen.  Evens added Apollo 17 after his signature.  The backup plan worked, we secured one decent autograph.

That was it. All of the astronauts were gone.  There was no chance to meet many of them.  It would have been really neat to have met Alexi Leonov, the first man to walk in space.  He disappeared as quickly as the rest.

Looking back, of all the astronauts that I needed to meet that day, the one astronaut that I had to meet was Ron Evans.  Evans died the following April of a heart attack.  That meeting at JSC at the 20th anniversary was the one and only chance I had to meet him.

After the parking lot cleared, Andy, Iris, Mary, and I toured JSC.  There were several buildings there that were open which normally were not accessible to tours.  One of the things we toured was Mission Control.  Because of all of the people at JSC that day, you had to get a ticket that had a specific time for your tour.

Another thing that the four of us did was go over to the Lunar Planetary Institute.  That was where results from the lunar and planetary missions are studied and presented.  The main building is an old mansion.  It too is not normally open to the general public.  We made sure that we took advantage of this rare opportunity.

The day was drawing to a close.  We decided to go over to the Outpost Tavern.  That is a local bar near JSC.  We had read that dive was where many of the JSC personal hung out.  Ill save the description of this bar for separate story.  Follow the Outpost link for that description.

We said our good byes to the Sheppards and returned to our hotel.  Sunday morning was going to be a busy morning.  We had a flight back home out of Hobby Airport at about noon.  I wanted to go back to JSC in the morning to tour a couple of buildings that we missed on Saturday.

Mary and I arrived at JSC at around 10:00.  We directly went over to the two buildings that we missed.  The second building was the building were the have the anechoic chamber for the study of antennas.  We talked with one man about a space station model that they used for testing antenna patterns.  I thanked the man for his explanation and told him that we had to hurry because we had a flight to catch.

We were going through the rest of the exhibit and I spied a communication unit from the lunar rover. A man came up to us to tell us about the communication unit.  With my extensive reading on the Apollo program, I knew a few things about the rover communication unit.  I asked him a few intelligent questions about it.

His eyes lit up and his face glowed.  You could tell that this was his baby.  In his log career at NASA, this was the greatest thing he had ever been involved with and he was a very proud father.  He talked, and talked, and talked with us.  Finally I had to apologize.  I thanked him for his time, but I told him that I was sorry I had to run but we had a flight to catch.  He said that he knew that, he had overheard us mention it to the man describing the space station model.

We left the building and hustled to our car.  It was a really neat experience to talk with the engineer about the rover communication unit.  I hoped that it would make us miss our flight.  We got to the airport about 30 minutes before our scheduled departure.

We checked in the car and ran to the terminal.  In a small box I was carrying our precious selenite mineral that we purchased on Friday.  That would have to be hand carried.  It was too fragile to think of checking it.

We got to the security check point and of course my belt set off the metal detector.  I had to take my belt off.  Finally I got cleared.  There was not time to stop and put my belt on.  We ran through the airport to get to our gate before they closed the door.  We made it just in time.

Our flight back home was fine once we calmed down from running through the airport.  Once our flight arrived we had to hustle again.  It was not long until we had to be at the Evita musical.  I had obtained tickets to Evita through a friend at work.  Mary thought the reason that my friends invited us was just wanted to check her out since they had not met her yet.  She was probably right.

We were rushed, but we made it to the musical.  It was our first musical together and we enjoyed it quite a bit.  The day was not over. Now we had to rush across town to get to the venue for the Ringo Starr concert.

I've always been a fan of the Beatles and this would be my first chance to see one of them perform live in concert.  The concert venue was outdoors on the side of a hill.  Most of the seating was unreserved and it was first come first served to reserve your own spot on the grass.

There was also a reserved section of seats up front closer to the stage.  I wanted my first Beatles experience to be a great Beatles experience.  I paid extra for our tickets through a ticket agency so that we would have reserved seats close to the stage.

The concert did not disappoint me.  Ringo and his All Star band put on a great show.  You hear about whirlwind weekends, this one certainly fit into that category.  We had a lot of special experiences and I still cherish every one of them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fate of the books.  Time passed and they did not show up.  I called up the hotel and finally somebody at the hotel found a box with books in it.  They mailed me the box.  Sadly, the box was missing the best books that we had found.  I suspect one of the hotel workers took the good books back over to the Half Price Bookstore.  Dealing with the Hilton concierge was another one of life's lessons.


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UPDATED : February 23, 2007
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