In December of 1995, Astronaut Carl Meade retired from NASA. I had a meeting with Astronaut Mead in
shortly before retirement. This is my
recollection of the trip to visit with Astronaut Meade.
I have a friend from Connecticut
named Tom Celentano. He is also a space
enthusiast, so we shared a common interest. Carl
Meade was a favorite of Tom's since he and
Meade were both of
Italian decent. Through correspondence
with Meade, Tom was able to arrange for us a meeting with the astronaut. The meeting was set to occur on December 4, 1995 at Mead's
the Johnson Space
Center in Houston,
Tom, his brother Mike, and an acquaintance named Dave flew
DFW airport on December 2,
1995. The purpose of this trip
for Mike and Dave
was to satisfy a life long dream of watching a Dallas Cowboys football
person at Texas Stadium. To fully
experience the Cowboys, Mike, Dave, and Tom stayed at the game day
hotel for the Cowboys near DFW airport. This
was an upscale Marriott where the team gathered.
I drove over to the Marriott on Sunday morning to meet Tom. As I turned into the Marriott parking lot, I
was cut off by a very rude driver that appeared to be in an extreme
hurry. From his lack of driving courtesy,
this person was a real jerk. I looked
closer and noted that this was a Dallas Cowboys football player. It was defensive star Charles Haley.
He drove into a fenced in area reserved for the Cowboy
football players. I also noticed that
there were a lot of Cowboy football fans lined up at the fence. They were hoping for an autograph or some
contact with there heroes. Judging from
Haley's attitude while driving, I think their worship was misguided.
I parked the van and went into the hotel lobby.
This would be the first time that I ever met
Tom in person. Our only contact
that had been through email correspondence about the space program. I called Tom's room from a telephone in
lobby. Since neither of us knew what the
other one looked like, I told Tom that I would be the person wearing
the red Nebraska
football jersey with number 15 on it.
Tom came down to the lobby and recognized
me by my red
football jersey. He had said goodbye to
Mike and Dave. They would stay for the
Cowboys game while Tom and I went to Houston
for the astronaut meeting.
This was Tom's first visit to Dallas
and he was interested in touring the Texas School Book Depository and Dealy
President Kennedy had
been assassinated. We drove over to that
area and I showed Tom around downtown Dallas.
The drive down to Houston
was long as usual. On the way down there
we learned that the Dallas Cowboys had lost to the Washington Redskins
17. We knew it had to be disappointing
for Mike and Dave. It was late when we
got to the area near JSC. We checked
into the Days Inn on NASA Road 1. The
Days Inn at that point had seen its better days. It
was a stark contrast with the Cowboys’
Tom had set up other meetings with astronauts for us on
Monday beyond Meade. He contacted
Astronaut David Leestma and Leestma invited us to meet him at his
office. Ken Bowersox was another astronaut
had contacted. In fact Tom received a
call from Bowersox only a day or two after he returned from space on
STS-73. Bowersox told him to just drop
by when we were in the Astronaut Office visiting Meade.
On Monday, morning we went over to the security office at
JSC. We identified ourselves and
received our badges. The badges granted us access to Building 4S and
1. Our first appointment of the day
with David Leestma.
Leestma's office was at JSC in Building 1.
Tom and I took the elevator up to his floor
and introduced ourselves to Leestma's assistant. Leestma
came out of his office to meet us. He
noted that we were looking at the plaques with mission patches that
wall of the reception area. He told
that all of those patches had actually flown on their respective
Leestma was very cordial. Tom
mentioned that he had seen Leestma's STS-28
launch. He wished that he had brought a
for Leestma to sign. Leestma pulled
a fully signed crew photo from his desk and presented it to Tom. I must say that I was envious of that
Tom spoke with Leestma a little bit about the STS-28 mission. Since it was a DOD flight, there was not a
lot that Leestma could say about it. He
did say that not everything that was reported in the news was accurate.
The reception area for Leestma's office
was also shared by
the office of Astronaut Steve Hawley. Leestma introduced us to Hawley.
He also was a great guy to meet. They really seemed happy
to meet with
supporters of the space program. We had
our photo taken with Astronaut Hawley behind his desk. One
interesting item on Hawley's desk was a plastic
That woodpecker gag could be traced to the STS-70 mission
from June of 1995. Northern Flicker
Woodpeckers damaged the insulating foam on the shuttle's external tank. This damage occurred while the vehicle
being prepared for launch at Launch Pad 39B. The
woodpeckers had pecked nearly 200 holes in the
foam. Some of the
holes were up to four inches deep. The damage could not be repaired on
This required the stack was rolled back to the Vehicle
for repair. Somehow through all of that,
Hawley wound up receiving a plastic woodpecker.
Tom mentioned to Hawley that he had seen his launch on
STS-41D. He also had been there a month
before at the launch abort. I mentioned
to Hawley that I often drove through his home town of Salina,
Kansas. I told him that I always see the signs at the
edge of town proclaiming, “Hometown of Astronaut Steve Hawley.”
Leestma also arranged for us to meet with Bonnie
Dunbar. Her office was on the same floor
of Building 1 but it was on the other side of the floor.
Leestma escorted us over to Dunbar’s
office and introduced us.
As I had come to expect, Astronaut Dunbar was impeccably
dressed. She among all the astronauts
always seemed to me to be one of the sharpest dressers.
Dunbar had recently
returned from a trip to Russia
and we talked to her a little bit about her experiences. There
was an aerial photo of the Russian
launch complex on her table and she told us a little about it.
After meeting Dunbar we were
at Building 1. From Building 1 we walked
over to Building 4S. Building 4S is the
one where the Astronaut Office is located. We
took the elevator up to the Astronaut Office
We found the office of Astronaut Bowersox and introduced
ourselves. Bowersox gave Tom and me lapel
pins of STS-73. He also introduced us to
his STS-73 pilot Kent Rominger. They
signed a couple of autographs for us. Bowersox
himself was in a hurry. He said that he
was giving a tour to a woman that
was also a supporter
of the space program.
We went around the corner from Bowersox's office and ran
into Kevin Kregel. Tom introduced
himself to Kregel and mentioned that he had met him before. Kregel seemed to remember Tom.
Tom inquired if Astronaut Tom Henricks was in
the office but Kregel said that although he was around, he was
We continued on down the hallway and
around the corner. Several astronauts were around and one in
particular that we spotted Mario Runco.
Tom also wanted to meet Runco because of their common Italian heritage.
approached Runco and we introduced ourselves to him.
It was then that the ex-policeman of Runco came out. Tom didn't pick up on it, but I could tell
that Runco did not think we should be on the floor. We
explained that we had a meeting with Carl
Meade in his office. Runco firmly
suggested that we go directly to that meeting. It
was a very uncomfortable situation for me. I
would have to say that it was one of the
more uncomfortable situations that I've been in.
Tom and I complied with Runco's directive and went over to
Meade's office. I was somewhat deflated,
but that wouldn't last long. We
that Meade shared an office with one of the Japanese astronauts. I am not sure now if it was Takeo Doi or
Wakata. I think it was probably Doi.
Mead had us sit down by his desk. He
talked with us for a good while. We asked
Meade if he would mind signing some
photos for us. He was more than happy to
do so. I handed a couple of photos to
Meade, but he accidentally inscribed one of them to Tom.
I pointed the error out to Meade and he apologized. He said that he had some photos in his desk. He asked me what photo I would like to have
as a replacement. I told him that I would
really like a photo of him during EVA if he had such a photo. Meade did have an EVA photo, and I was
thrilled to get it inscribed to me.
Meade asked us if we had ever been in the building where
they do the EVA training. This facility was called
the WETF. It was in the
building where they used to have the centrifuge in the early days of
program. We told him that we had not
been there. He then said that
he would take us there to see it. This was great. We
were given a personal tour of JSC by an astronaut.
When we got to the building where the pool was for EVA
we saw that a flashing red light was displayed. This
indicated that there was an active EVA training
on. I assumed that meant that we would
not be able to enter. Meade told us to
wait there. He ducked under a rope and
went over to talk with the security person on duty.
Meade came back and told us that it was Okay for us to go
over by the pool. Wow, talk about
feeling like a VIP. We got to the edge
of the pool and there was a black board with different training
listed. I looked at the list and it
appeared that the astronauts in the pool who were training were Linda
and Rich Clifford. I inquired with Meade
if these were the two astronauts in the pool.
He looked at the board and concurred that
it was Godwin and
Clifford. I was thrilled. Linda was a friend of mine.
It was really exciting for me to be able to
watch her in real training for STS-76.
Seeing this was the neatest part of the whole trip for me. A television monitor gave us a better
of what the astronauts were doing underwater. I
still could not believe that I was there.
Astronaut Meade turned to us and told us that he had to run
to a meeting. He went on to say that we
could stay and watch the EVA training session as long as we wanted to. We thanked him for his hospitality and he
I was dumb founded. He left Tom and me alone at the WETF! I was shocked really that we
were allowed to stay there. I guess with
our conversations with Meade he knew that he could trust us to not
problems. It was an awesome feeling and
big responsibility to have that trust placed in us.
Tom and I watched for a few minutes longer. Then we decided
that we should be on our way. Before we left the JSC campus Tom wanted
in the Astronaut Office if Ellen Ochoa was around.
As much as I would have liked to join him, I
declined. For one thing, I didn't want
to run into Astronaut Runco again up on the 5th floor. The other thing was that I was content. Nothing would top our experience watching the
I waited down in the
Building 3 cafeteria while Tom went back to the Astronaut Office.
He did not have any luck in locating Astronaut Ochoa so he rejoined me
before long. We capped off our space adventure by going over to
Space Center Houston. This was Tom's first time to see it.
He was thrilled to have another opportunity to see the IMAX film "Hail