8 February 2009

A Weekend To Remember

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I love Science and History. So a weekend to do both is not something I would pass up easily.

Living here in Huntsville, in North Alabama, means that I am surrounded by some of the top Earth Scientists in the World. The International Space Station was  at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. My next door neighbor was one of the German rocket scientists brought over by Werner Von Braun. He was trapped in rubble at Peenemunde during the Allied bombing in WW2. He has passed away now, but there are still a few of the Von Braun team living here.

Huntsville is probably best known for Space Camp and having the preserved Saturn 5 Moon Rocket. We have the only vertical mock up of a Saturn 5 in existence.

So, when I got a call inviting me to a media version of Space Camp. I immediately said yes.

I grew up as a space fanatic.  When I did weather in Florida, I had the chance to cover at least 9 Shuttle launches. Being at the press site, right across from the firing room, is a unique experience. One that most people will never get. You should see the book that details the shuttle launch weather rules. Let’s just say it is very thick! It’s not nearly as simple as one might think.

It was the space program in the 1960’s that led me into a career in Science. Something I have never regretted. Doing science on TV can be a real pain, but it does give me an opportunity to inject a little of my enthusiasm for scientific discovery into the vast waste land. (Google Newton Minnow if that line does not make sense!)

Every time there is  a launch, my wife asks me what the meaning of the things said on the air to ground communications are. I usually know it, and if not, I make it a point to find out.

So for two busy days, I got to crawl around a Shuttle mock up, and do a simulated launch and EVA. I strapped into a 1/6th G trainer, and a trainer that spins one in all possible directions at once. (You don’t get dizzy-really!). Riding a neutral buoyancy chair on the EVA simulation was a real eye opener to the difficulty faced by space walkers. Even though you are weightless, you still have the same mass! Saying it, and experiencing it are two totally separate things!

Saturn 5 Moon Rocket in Huntsville Alabama

Saturn 5 Moon Rocket in Huntsville Alabama

I remember clearly, sitting in my 5th grade class in the Fall of 1969 as Apollo 12 blasted off to the moon. The Saturn 5 rocket was hit by lightning just after launch and there were some scary moments. At the graduation lunch on Saturday, I sat by Dick Gordon. One of the Astronauts, riding at the top of that very Saturn 5 when the lightning bolt struck. At the next table was Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter and Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham.

What an honor to meet one of the few people on the planet who rode a Saturn 5 moon rocket to the moon!

At graduation, I was doubly shocked when I was awarded the “Right Stuff” award. (Given to the space camper who exemplified the qualities of the original 7.)



In another decade or two, these people, who wrote a page in History that will be talked about for a thousand years, will be gone. It was a real pleasure to rub shoulders with it for a couple of days!