Adventures In Space

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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I was 15 when Alan B. Shepard became the first American to fly in space. I remember being a bit disappointed that his flight was intended to only last 15 minutes and not to actually go into orbit like the Russian cosmonaut had already done.  We had to wait until John Glenn’s mission in February of 1962 for that.
It didn’t take long, though, for the United States to surpass those godless commies in every aspect of the space race and I was glued to the television watching network coverage of each major milestone.  I suppose, like most young guys, I thought about the thrills and challenges of becoming an astronaut but it didn’t take long to dismiss such fancies once I realized there were a lot of physical requirements to meet and I’d probably have to do better than "D’s in math and in Mr. Prendergast’s chemistry class.
We’ve been reminded many times, since Alan Shepard first sat atop that Redstone rocket in 1961, of how hazardous space travel can be. I recall one such incident, 39 years ago today, that brought people of the world together like never before.
Even though landing a man on the moon in 1969 was one of the most incredible achievements in history.. by the Spring of 1970, most Americans weren’t all that excited about our third trip to the lunar surface.“Been there, done that.”  Not me. I couldn’t wait for the crew of Apollo 13 to arrive and start sending back live images..in color! Up to then, the only live pictures we’d seen were those fuzzy ones from the first mission, Apollo 11.  Well, I shouldn’t say that because when Apollo 12  landed, people on earth were treated to a couple minutes of amazingly clear (for the time) color TV signals..which suddenly disappeared.In a bonehead move that he never did live down, astronaut Alan Bean pointed the lens directly into the sun which burned out the camera’s video tube leaving everyone on earth in the dark and groaning with disappointment. Apollo 13 would make up for that and give us our first really good live look from the moon. It wasn’t to be, of course. Apollo 13 astronauts, (l-r) Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred HaiseOn the way there, the service module blew up and over the next several days, people all around the globe watched and worried and prayed as NASA engineers came up with one unbelievably complicated life-sustaining idea after another in an effort to get our guys back home. After several days surviving in the unused lunar module and sling-shoting around the moon to gain trajectory and speed, the astronauts were nearing the earth once again preparing for re-entry. There were so many unanswered questions; would the command module still function? Had the explosion damaged the heat shield? The date was April 17th.  I’d taken an early lunch from Johnson Shoes and walked down the street to Shrivers and ordered my usual “Denver sandwich.” ( I don’t remember the last time I had a Denver Sandwich..or seeing one on a menu for that matter but the ones at Shriver’s café were really good.) Then, over the store’s p.a. system came the announcement that the astronauts were about to attempt re-entry and communications with the ground would be lost for a few minutes.There were dozens of us gathered around one small TV at Shrivers hardly breathing as the time came and past for the astronauts to call-in. We looked at each other. This isn’t good.  Finally, after what seemed like hours, their voices came crackling over the radio and we could hear the rescue ship reporting it had the capsule parachutes in sight.Strangers began to cheer..shaking hands and hugging one another right there in Shrivers Department Store. No atheists or agnostics that day, I can tell you.
 Apollo 13 astronauts safely aboard USS Iwo Jima after splashdown April 17,1970.
 
 

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