What an incredible event the
40th Anniversary of Apollo 7 was at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in
Dallas, Texas. I have to thank Farris Rookstool, III and the Frontiers
of Flight Museum for my invitation. It was a first class event and I
felt privileged to be one of the select few that were invited.
up to the event, I had no idea who was going to attend. I assumed Walt
Cunningham would be there since it was his flight. I also heard that
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin might be there. Beyond that anyone
else was a surprise for me.
left work at about 10 AM to go home and change into my suit for the
event. When I got in my car I happened to have the radio on WBAP. I was
surprised to hear that Mark Davis was broadcasting live from the
Frontiers of Flight Museum.
was introducing the people that would be on the panel discussion. The
first name that I heard announced was Fort Worth's native son, Alan
Bean. Bean is a wonderful man and an extremely talented artist, so it
is always neat to see him. Then the second announcement made my jaw
drop. Davis introduced General Bill Anders. Wow, I've been at a lot of
astronaut related events over the years, but only two times previously
had General Anders attended one of those events. This added a great
deal of excitement as I drove home.
next two people introduced were Administrator Michael Griffin and Gene
Kranz. It just kept getting better. I had seen Dan Goldin a couple of
times when he was administrator but never had an opportunity to see nor
hear Griffin. Kranz of course is a wonderful man, whom I have a great
deal of respect for.
got home, parked the car and rushed back to the bedroom. I turned on
the clock radio and twiddled the dial to get to WBAP. My wife Mary must
have thought I had lost it, when I rushed to the radio before greeting
her. When I found the station, I heard a man talking. Wait a minute; I
know that voice; that is none other than Neil Armstrong! Zowee,
jackpot! Having Anders attend was enough, but to have Armstrong there
hopped in the car and headed over to the museum. I was as excited as a
child on Christmas morning. I've been to a lot of events and in the
beginning I always felt this way when I went to one. However over the
years as you get more experience the excitement level subsides even
though you may enjoy the event just as much.
and I got to the museum while the panel discussion was still going on
in the auditorium. We milled around by the banquet tables waiting for
the luncheon to start. While we were standing there we saw the Director
of the museum, Bruce Bleakley. We introduced ourselves and he was
genuinely happy to see us there.
then took us over to see the museum's latest space acquisition. It was
an SPS engine and bell from the service module. It was hanging from the
ceiling and was displayed with a light in the nozzle, so that you could
see where it had been test fired. It is a really a nice artifact.
and I also saw Dot Cunningham by herself in the midst of the banquet
tables. Dot has always been the warmest and most friendly person that
we've ever met. We went over to greet her and offer our congratulations
on the anniversary celebration. She gave Mary and me a big hug, and
complimented us, "You guys are so dependable."
banquet tables with the Saturn 1B's look absolutely stunning. My first
thought was I hope they offer to sell these after the event. At 1/70
scale, they were huge and had amazing detail.
the floodgates opened and people started coming into the banquet area
upon completion of the panel discussion. I noticed General Anders come
in. I saw the first man to set foot on the Moon, Neil Armstrong walking
in to the banquet area.
Armstrong was being escorted by Farris. I had hoped to tell Farris
hello and thank him for the invitation, but I could see that Farris as
on a mission. He was focused on getting Armstrong where he needed to be.
and I went and found seats at a table. The format of the luncheon was
buffet style and soon it was announced that the buffet line was open.
Mary and I beat the rush and were about the 4th or 5th people in line.
That way we would have our meal over with by the time the speakers
program started. The food was donated to the museum by Maggiano's
restaurant. I don't think the buffet line, did their food justice. It's
fantastic in the restaurant, but serving conditions at a buffet really
make it hard for them to put out their best.
Davis, a talk show host at WBAP was master of ceremonies for the
banquet. Like the rest of us on this message board, Mark is a dyed in
the wool, self avowed space geek. He has a tremendous amount of
enthusiasm when it comes to space exploration.
Kay Bailey Hutchison was introduced and gave the opening remarks for
the celebration. She is on the museum's board of directors and has been
a great help in getting this Air & Space museum off the ground.
NASA 50th anniversary video was shown. It was fun to revisit the early
launches leading to the Moon. Then the subject of the Apollo 1 fire
came up. The feeling of fun turned to sadness. It happened over 41
years ago, but when I saw Gus, Ed, and Roger on the screen, I felt an
empty place in my heart.
video continued through the Apollo triumph and forward to the shuttle
program. I knew that after the Apollo 1 spot on the video, STS-51L
would soon be mentioned. It was again sad to relive those memories. The
return to flight brought happiness again.
there was one more tragedy left to recognize, it was the breakup of
Columbia on STS-107. This one nearly brought tears to my eyes. I
personally witnessed Columbia's flaming destruction from my front yard
on that ill-fated day in 2003 and it was painful to reflect upon it.
The video was over and I was glad. Let's get back to celebrating what
we were here for.
Administrator Michael Griffin was announced. Much to my surprise and
delight announced that he was going to present to the Apollo 7 crew
with the NASA Distinguished Service medal. Apollo 7 was the only Apollo
crew to not have received this NASA recognition.
understand the reasons why this was not done back in 1969. When you
reflect from a historical perspective though, this 11 day test flight
of a never been flown manned space vehicle had an integral and valuable
place in our success of orbiting and then landing on the Moon.
the embattled crew the award was 39 years too late. Griffin said that
he consulted with the NASA old guard and that the conclusion was
reached that it was time to honor the Apollo 7 crew. It was time to
honor them with the same honor that the rest of the Apollo
contemporaries received. I felt really happy for Walt.
Anders accepted the award on behalf of the Schirra family. Donn
Eisele's wife accepted the award on behalf of the Eisele family. She
commented that she was glad that NASA finally got around to recognizing
the Apollo 7 crew. Even if the crew wasn't always heroes to NASA, they
were always heroes to the families. Walt of course accepted his own
Lois Aldrin showed up after the program had started. They weren't sure
if they could make it and had just gotten in from College Station, TX.
So now we had the first two men to land on the Moon, present at this
and Bean gave personal tributes to Walt. Bean's was really interesting.
He said that being a painter, he doesn't have time to focus on learning
about world events. He said that when he needs to know about how he
should feel about something like global warming he asks Walt. He said
that he has always respected Walt and his opinions and if it is good
enough for Walt, it is good enough for him.
a while I didn't think Neil was going to say anything. But he was
announced after Bean and got up to talk. He seemed a little awkward
behind the podium at first and started out by saying, he remembers what
he learned in speech class years ago, "you decide what to say, you say
it, then you say it again." He said that he was the "say it again" part
because everything about Walt had already been said by the people
before him. The awkwardness passed and Neil actually gave a really nice
tribute and it turned out the longest one. Really cool hearing the
first man to have set foot on the Moon speak at an event in person.
video tribute was played that was comprised of personal messages to
Walt from people who could not be there. Former President George Bush
congratulated Walt. The mayor of Houston, Texas Governor Rick Perry and
several others that I do not recall gave tributes. Ed Mitchell gave a
greeting from what appeared to be his home and said that he was really
enjoying the anniversary celebration.
Chris Kraft was
on the video and his words seemed to have an odd tone
to me. To me it seemed like Kraft had decided that it was time to bury
the hatchet. I felt good about that.
President Bush came on the video. Wow. Just a video greeting, but still
very powerful message to hear from a sitting President no matter what
your political inclination is.
Walt's grand-kids and great grand-kids gave a tribute to Grand Poppa.
It was very touching. The toddler at the end just blew Walt a big kiss.
It was probably the audiences' favorite tribute on the video.
program was long but thoroughly enjoyable. Dot Cunningham was
instrumental in putting the whole thing together. She told us that she
had been working on it since July without Walt even knowing about it.
were goody bags on the chairs which had a neat video, a couple of space
related magazines, an Apollo 7 tribute medallion, eye glass cleaner, a
space pen and for some lucky people a red ticket for an autographed
copy of Walt's audio version of "All American Boys".
and I went over to talk with Lois Aldrin. At first I didn't think she
would remember us from Cabo San Lucas but she did. She and Buzz were
flying to Paris right afterward to attend the premier of the "Flying to
the Moon" 3D movie in France.
didn't approach Neil, because I had met him before and there were
plenty of people who wanted to meet him. Plus he was busy enough just
talking with the other astronauts.
rest of the astronauts hung around for quite a while after the event. I
was amazed that Anders was still there. Finally Mary and I approached
him to ask for a photo with him. He was happy to oblige. The director
of the museum took the photo for us.
reached out to shake Anders' hand to thank him. He was holding a video
in one hand and something else in the other though so he only stuck out
his index finger. So I shook his finger. I had to chuckle about that.
That was probably the very same finger that took the spectacular
earth rise photo from lunar orbit on Apollo 8.
They were selling
the Saturn 1B centerpieces to raise money the "Be An Angel" Foundation
which benefits children with disabilities. Mary and I bought one of the
centerpieces. Not only was the construction of the models outstanding,
they had a nice Plexiglas stand that was etched with the date of the
anniversary celebration as well as the dates of the mission.
most people had left and things were winding down, we arranged to have
Walt sign our Saturn 1B model. It is truly an impressive piece and
looks simply marvelous in my library. It is a nice remembrance from an
out of this world event.
was sitting at the next table with a couple of his great grand-kids. He
looked over at me at told me hello. I got up to congratulate him and
shake his hand. He told me, "I see you more than I see anybody else." I
hope that was a compliment, ;-) and I think it was.
Cunningham's are outstanding people. They have done a tremendous amount
for the Frontiers of Flight Museum and I felt honored to witness them
receive the recognition that they so justly deserve.