Posts Tagged ‘NASA’


Apr 23

There are times in life when you go looking for some sort of delicious food. Sometimes, what you find instead is the place where Neil Armstrong hangs out. Lebanon, Ohio is a perfect example. And yes, knowing how reclusive Neil Armstrong is, I am aware that Lebanon, Ohio is the only example.

We started out looking to consume sugar-cream pie and sauerkraut balls at the wrong restaurant. This is what happens when human memory combines with an outdated GPS. Grumbling stomachs cannot be ignored. So, after a nice stroll in historic downtown Lebanon, we decided to eat at a place called The Village Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant.

I am someone who believes that the longer the name of your establishment, the better it’s bound to be. The VICP&A did not disappoint. One incredible milk shake, another fully-loaded chili dog (because I am an addict), and a green mint chip ice cream cone to go. The best part, however, was discovered at the entrance. Sure, presidents and governors have enjoyed a bite or two here over the years. But none of them have ever stepped foot on the Moon.

Neil Armstrong lives on a farm just outside of Lebanon, and has been known, on an occasion or two, to pop into town for a hair cut, dinner, or a good old fashioned diner experience. I may never follow his footsteps on the Moon, but it still felt good to follow in them in Lebanon.

National Museum of the United States Air Force

Apr 21

I was at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, when news came from NASA about the locations sites chosen for the shuttle exhibits. When the cities were announced, and Dayton excluded, the disappointment in the air was palpable. From volunteers to veterans, the only talk heard was about this great snub, and how hard it was to believe this facility could be ignored. It’s hard to argue against them.

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina may be First in Flight, but Dayton, Ohio is in rightfully the Birthplace of Aviation. Only by necessity of wind and sand (for gentle flight, and soft crashes) did Dayton natives Orville and Wilbur Wright choose Kitty Hawk over their hometown. But it was in this town where they first envisioned taking to the skies, from inside the walls of their bicycle shop, marrying the ideas of balance and patience; the very things that would be needed for the first ever machine to lift off the ground in extended flight.

Huffman Prairie, where the Wright brothers perfected flight, is situated adjacent to the facilities. The Air Force Museum itself is on the Air Force base that is named after them. It is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. Their collection boasts hundreds of aircraft and historical military memorabilia, spanning the years of the brother’s work, to the moon landing, and beyond. Among the collection for display: one of the first planes developed by the brothers; the Air Force One used by President Kennedy to fly to Dallas in November, 1963; and the Apollo 15 moon capsule. From flight’s humble beginnings to its ultimate triumphs, this museum is a comprehensive study of man’s journey in the sky, and into space.

One volunteer, clearly a veteran who had been at the museum since his retirement from service, could barely hold back his tears as he stuttered, trying to comprehend how this location, and its importance in history, could have been overlooked.

At over a million and a half visitors a year, he imagined that the shuttle would have increased interest by at least another million, and all this for a museum to which admission is absolutely free.

Over the course of two days, I spent 6 hours slowly making my way around the seemingly endless array of aircraft, missiles, and history. I still feel as though I did not see enough.

New York and Los Angeles may be more glamorous venues for tourists looking for a quick passing glance at a piece of aviation hardware. But Dayton, Ohio and its Air Force museum is the history behind that hardware. And still it is so much more. It is the culmination of man’s determination and will to succeed.

Deke Slayton Memorial Bike & Space Museum

Aug 30

The only thing more exciting than learning more about one of the original astronauts, is stumbling upon a museum that is dedicated to one. In this case, it is of course, our good friend and previous post subject, Deke Slayton.  His hometown of Sparta, Wisconsin, hosts the museum that bears his name; and, for good measure, throws in the history of the bicycle, mankind’s other form of transportation that isn’t car or boat… or airplane.  Wisconsinites are not only good people, but efficient as well.

Though the museum was closed by the time we arrived, as luck would have it, one of the members of the Board of Directors – which had just concluded a meeting – noticed our out of country license plates.  He exuberantly made his way over to our car, directed us to park, and then insisted upon allowing us to tour the facilities.  As the rest of the Board was filtering out into the street, greeting us eagerly on their way, one woman agreed to stay behind and give us a personal tour.  Her first order of business: handing us a push-pin, and directing us to the map they had at the entrance, where all those who previously visited marked where they were from.  Approaching the map, we now fully understood their response to our arrival: we were the first Canadians to visit their museum.

The exhibits themselves were a treasure-trove of both the early history of Astronaut Slayton and NASA itself.  On display were photos of Slayton as a child, letters to him and from him,  and artwork made by and given to him by a Cosmonaut he had befriended on a joint space mission with the Soviet Union. Deke Slayton’s story did have a happy ending after all: He was finally given medical clearance and went aboard the Apollo Spacecraft in 1972.

Along our tour, we also learned our tour guide, a lovely woman named Joan, was a life-long Democrat who voted for McGovern, had a son attending school in the state capital Madison, knew Slayton’s sister-in-law (who was also a board member), and knew one other Canadian who was on her son’s baseball team (although he clearly was one of those lazy Canadians who never bothered to make it into the museum because we were there first!)

The original Mercury Seven space suit Deke Slayton wore was on display.  This was an impressive coup for the small-town museum, as it is only one of five original NASA suits remaining in the world. The Smithsonian has asked for it many times.  The answer is always no.

There was a moon rock, a scale which tells you what you weigh on the moon (I’m 20 pounds!* Sign me up for the next mission!), and Joan wanting to know if we had already made arrangement for accommodations because if not, she could help us. As the tour came to a close, we were handed postcards and other souvenirs of our visit. Our entrance fee was waived, but the experience would have been worth far more than the $3.00 usually required.  We made an appropriate donation instead.

This first encounter with the people of Wisconsin certainly left an indelible impression on us.  Not only would we enthusiastically recommend the museum to all who wished to broaden their knowledge of space (and bicycles), but Wisconsin is worth the trip just for the hospitality of the Wisconsinites themselves.

*Oh Mr. Obama. Why not continue exploration of the Moon?  Since matter weighs far less there, can’t we both satisfy our lust for discovery and exploration, while at the same time, eliminating our problem with obesity?  It’s this kind of connective thinking Obama’s administration needs.  I will be handing in my resume  – and strapping on my svelte space suit – post-haste.  Blasting off…

Deke Slayton

Aug 29

Deke Slayton was one of NASA’s original Mercury Seven Astronauts. The Mercury program(me) was designed to develop viable means for manned space travel. The ultimate goal? Landing on the Moon. We all know by now (or at least, we should know) that this goal* was achieved.  Yea!  Sadly for Deke Slayton, his goal was not realized.  The discovery of a heart murmur early on kept him grounded.

Not being one to feel sorry for himself for too long, Slayton went on to be an administrator at NASA, becoming Director of Flight Crew Operations.  He was the one responsible for choosing which astronauts were chosen for each of the proposed missions.  And, from reports, he was a hell of a nice guy.

Which leads me to my point: of course he was a nice guy!  He was from Wisconsin!

*The moon landing really happened.


Apr 16

Imagine taking 118 German rocket scientists fresh from surrendering at the end of WWII and plunking them in the middle of Huntsville Alabama. A recipe for great comedy, and success. How successful? Well, when we say, ‘reach for the moon’, we don’t actually mean it literally. These men; they did mean it literally. They meant it so literally, that they actually got us there.

After the arrival of the invading hoards of German geniuses, Huntsville, being a child of the South, welcomed them with open arms. They also took the opportunity to rename their fine city, Rocket City. Take a trip to The NASA Marshall Flight Space Cent(r)er and you’ll see why they did.

First of all: Space Camp! There is actually a Space Camp for kids! Really. I always believed that it was a construct of situation comedies to mock the geeky children. Evidently, no. It’s real and it’s there and I saw it and kids go there and learn things. Exceptional when art imitates life.

Secondly, when we were touring the facilities (see pics below), we came across a moon rock. I really never get tired of them. Who would? HUMAN BEINGS WENT TO THE MOON!!! WE LEFT THE EARTH AND WENT SOMEWHERE ELSE!!! Even if it was just to play a round of golf, we did it. I know this moon-walking ‘theory’ has its detractors.  I like to call them, crazies.  While we were admiring the moon rock, a man who worked* there came up to us. “You know last week,” he said, ” a guy came in here and said that the moon landing was fake.  He’s crazy.  I know we went to the moon.  I just don’t think that rock is 3 billion years old.”  Oy vey.  Moon landing happened.  Creationism did, too.  Sigh.  One myth at a time, Lisa.  Winning is busting  one myth at a time.

The Cent(r)er was full of rockets and science. Ironically, it was also filled with hope and promise. Most of the exhibits were designed before the wise Obama decided in his Infinite Wisdom that science and exploration, and I paraphrase here again, suck. Because imagination doesn’t lead to progress. Because inspiration doesn’t spring from example and success. Because innovation just doesn’t get you votes.

Despite my being preachy and a bit down, I was heartened by watching all of the children there; learning, hoping, dreaming, striving. After all, they are the ones who are going to bring us back, aren’t they?

*The gentleman who worked at the Space Cent(r)er wore a full NASA jumpsuit, which, clearly, gave us the impression and him the authority that he worked there.  Later on that same day, Rob and I discoverd that those same jumpsuits were available for purchase inthe gift shop.  I smell my first conspiracy…