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Fun Ed
Carl Meade

Carl Meade

  Photo Credits: Mine
Carl Meade at the JSC WETF
Bonnie Dunbar in her office at JSC
David Leestma in his office at JSC
Carl Meade at the JSC WETF
Bonnie Dunbar in her office
David Leestma in his office
Steve Hawley with me in his office at JSC
Steve Hawley with me in his office at JSC (note the woodpecker on the desk)

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 office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Tom, his brother Mike, and an acquaintance named Dave flew into 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 game in person at Texas Stadium.  To fully experience the Cowboys, Mike, Dave, and Tom stayed at the game day headquarters 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, I thought 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 before that had been through email correspondence about the space program.   I called Tom's room from a telephone in the 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 Plaza where 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 24 to 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’ Marriott.

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 that Tom 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 Building 1.   Our first appointment of the day was 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 adorned the wall of the reception area.   He told us that all of those patches had actually flown on their respective missions.

Leestma was very cordial.  Tom mentioned that he had seen Leestma's STS-28 launch.  He wished that he had brought a crew photo for Leestma to sign.   Leestma pulled out a fully signed crew photo from his desk and presented it to Tom.   I must say that I was envious of that gift.

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 woodpecker.

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 was 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 the pad. This required the stack was rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building 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 finished 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 floor.

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 currently out. 

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. Tom 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 noticed that Meade shared an office with one of the Japanese astronauts.  I am not sure now if it was Takeo Doi or Koichi 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 the space 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 training, we saw that a flashing red light was displayed.  This indicated that there was an active EVA training session going 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 sessions listed.  I looked at the list and it appeared that the astronauts in the pool who were training were Linda Godwin 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 view 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 left.

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 cause any 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 to check 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 EVA training.

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 Columbia."

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UPDATED : February 20, 2007
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