| On March 29th, 1990 the Challenger Center held a Gala Banquet as a fund
raiser. This event was black tie only. Mark Shelton was
able to secure invitations for himself, Andy Sheppard and me.
This is my recollection of that event.
Andy and I rode down to Houston together.
took Andy's car. Mark drove separately
because he had his family with him even though they would not be
We drove up to the hotel and could see that
it was a very historic looking building. The
only parking near the hotel that we saw was
valet parking. Andy turned over the keys
to his blue IROC-Z
to the valet. We had visions of Andy's
IROC flying through the air like the scene from the movie “Ferris
Andy and I checked into the hotel and took
our bags to the room. In a little while
Mark called to say that he was at the hotel. Mark
came up to the room to drop off his books and
I was surprised when I saw Mark. He
had an enormous full beard. That was a new
addition. Mark explained that he was going
portraying Jesus in an Easter pageant at his Church.
He certainly had the beard for the part.
The three of us went down to the hotel
and found the bar. It was in view of the
check in desk for the hotel. Because of
that view it was a strategic location to hang out. We ordered
drinks and swapped stories while
keeping an eye on the comings and goings at the hotel desk.
In a little while, Andy noticed that Apollo
11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin was in the line to check in to the hotel. The line was probably five or six people deep
at this point. The check in process
looked very chaotic. We finished our
drinks and walked over near the check in desk.
Buzz had finally gotten to the front of the
line. The clerk fumbled around. Finally,
the hotel clerk asked Aldrin, “What was the name on that room?” Incredulous, Aldrin responded, “That's
Aldrin!!!” Aldrin was very irritated at
the ineptitude of the hotel staff.
It was an amazing scene. Here
was the second man to walk on the Moon
and he couldn't even get his room at a hotel in Houston,
After Aldrin received
his keys, we introduced ourselves and received a couple of
autographs. I had Aldrin sign a photo of his famous pose on the
Moon. I was going to give this to my girlfriend's son because he
was unable to attend the gala with me. I knew he would be
thrilled to get the autograph of the second man to walk on the moon.
told Aldrin that we had copies of his book "Return To Earth" upstairs
and asked him if he would mind signing them.
He was Okay with that although, he was
running late. He told us that we should
leave the books at the hotel desk for them and he would sign them after
settled in. That was fine with us. We took the elevator
back up to our room to
retrieve the books to leave for Aldrin.
It was just a short time before the
was supposed to start. Andy, Mark, and I
donned our tuxedos. We all chuckled that
none of our friends would believe it was us if they saw us. Mark
actually owned his own tuxedo. Andy and I rented ours.
The reception was nice and had an added
attraction. There was a charity auction
to benefit the Challenger Center. A
couple of items in that auction really caught my eye.
One was a Challenger
that had flown on STS-26, the return
to flight. The second lot that intrigued
me was a ride for 2 on a Goodyear blimp. I
debated on spending money on those things but
finally gave in and
placed bids on them.
The astronauts that we noticed in attendance
were Buzz Aldrin, Walt Cunningham, and Charlie Bolden.
Bolden was assigned to the upcoming STS-31
shuttle mission that was to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. During the reception there really wasn't an
opportunity to approach the astronauts.
After dinner the astronauts were
approachable. I took a copy of the book Astronaut Photography over
to Walt Cunningham and asked him if he would sign
the book in his section. He was friendly
and signed a great signature right over the rising sun on a photograph
took on Apollo 7. It turned out really
I approached Buzz and asked him to sign a
photograph of him standing on the Moon for my girlfriend's son Toby. Toby couldn't be with us at this banquet, but
I knew he would be excited about a Buzz Aldrin autograph.
Aldrin accommodated my request.
The last astronaut at the banquet for me
approach was Charlie Bolden. He was
there talking with some friends and drinking a Heineken beer!
First of all I was amazed that he was at this
banquet since his targeted STS-31 launch was only a couple of weeks
away. Secondly I couldn't believe that he was
drinking a beer that close to the launch. Astronauts are
just people, but you could not
have convinced me of that in March of 1990.
I still revered them as heroes and not mortals.
I introduced myself to Bolden and asked him
if he would mind signing a lithograph of the shuttle for me. His friends that were talking to him stopped
and chuckled. Bolden acted embarrassed. He told me, “You want my autograph???” He was so humble. He
inscribed the photo, “To Jerry, Peace and
Joy. Best Wishes, Charlie Bolden.”
Mark and I
checked at the auction desk to see
if we had one any of the items that we had bid on.
Sadly none of our bids were successful.
In hindsight I should have placed stronger
bids. I was new to the charity auction
circuit, so I really didn't know how the system worked.
The banquet was wrapping up and I thought our
evening was coming to a close. Mark came
over and told Andy and I that he had gotten all three of us invited a
dinner private soiree at the top of the hotel. This
soiree was only available to high rollers who
had donated $10,000 or
more. We did not meet that criteria, but
that didn't stop Mark. He made friends
with the Challenger Center
gala organizers and they extended the
invitations. For that night, we would be virtual high
Mark, Andy, and I got into the elevator to
take it to the private party. In the
elevator, some of the women were there who worked for the Challenger
woman closed in on Mark. All of them
pleaded to touch his beard. Mark was
but of course acquiesced.
The room on the top floor where the private
party was had a view to behold. There
were huge glass windows that overlooked the city of Houston.
The only astronaut who came of for the
was Buzz Aldrin. He and his wife Lois
were alone in the center of the room.
Nobody and I mean nobody was bothering them. They were having a
private and casual
conversation. Also at this party were several family members of the
The bar tender was serving Irish
coffees. They looked very delectable so
of course we could not turn them down. Also
there were tables with every desert imaginable.
We sat down at a table with Dick Scobee’s
daughter Kathy Scobee Krause. Mark is a
master at conversation and this time was no exception.
We mentioned that we had driven over four
hours just to attend the gala.
This got back to Dick Scobee’s widow
June. She was really impressed and came
over to talk with us. We talked about
the Challenger Center
and what good work it did educating children. June
told us that we needed a Challenger
Center in our
city. The Challenger Center Organization
was looking for
some individuals to
drive the project. She encouraged us to
be those individuals.
Wow, in the short span of a few hours we went
from people on the outside looking in to movers and shakers on the
circle. It was an overwhelming feeling.
We must have talked to June for nearly an hour.
I wasn't counting but if I had to hazard a
guess, I think I had 3 Irish coffees that night. I
don't think they were decaf either. After
we got back to our hotel room after the party,
we were wired. It was late but the
excitement and Irish
coffees wouldn't allow us to sleep.
The next day Mark and his family were to
receive a special tour of the Johnson
Space Center. His
family had sent flowers to mission control for every mission since
Challenger. To thank the Sheltons, NASA
extended an invitation to them for the special tour.
Andy and I also drove down to JSC. We had an interesting
encounter with Astronaut Dick Covey. For my recollection of that
encounter follow the Dick Covey link.