Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Have you ever met an astronaut?

Have you ever met an astronaut?  I've met a few in my career, mostly from the Shuttle.  But one encounter was more interesting and gave me some insight into the early, glory days of the Mercury astronauts.

I really did not like "The Right Stuff" movie for a lot of reasons, not the least the treatment it gave Gus Grissom.  It portrayed his as a coward, and a bit of a dolt.  He was neither, and he was slated to be the first man to pilot a moon landing by Deke Slayton before he was killed in the awful Apollo 1 fire, that killed the whole crew during a test on the launching pad.

I did have the opportunity to meet Gordon Cooper on a plane flight about 10 years.  He and his wife were sitting across the isle from me on a flight I was lucky enough to get bumped up to first class.  I recognized him, but he looked old and frail and his wife helped him to his seat.  I was hesitant to approach, because I'm not an in your face type of guy first of all, and didn't want to get kicked back to the back of the plane between 2 fat ass women in row 36E, so I quietly sad hello.   He smiled, said hello back, and then I got up the courage to ask him if he was Gordon Cooper.  Well, he got this big shit eating grin on his face and told me that I was addressing the one and only.  The old ego never went away, and he still liked to talk.

He told me that he really didn't like all these dramatizations and documentaries that really don't get what was happening in the space program, all the politics, internal and external to NASA, and how he got railroaded out of the program because of personality conflicts with Deke Slayton.

Cooper may have been old, but he had a good mind, and wasn't shy about giving me a piece of it.  After we had a few drinks together, and his wife scowling at both of us, he went to the restroom, and I asked Mrs. Cooper if I was causing a problem or a distraction.  Her answer was basically, no but don't get him too excited.  He likes to talk, but he had a weak heart.

I tried to tone things down when when Col. Cooper returned, but he wanted to talk.  Apparently not many people recognized him, and he liked talking about his experiences, and we talked for another hour.  He was an interesting guy, was a real pioneer, both as a hot shit test pilot and a gutsy astronaut who flew a not too well tested spacecraft and lived to tell of it.  Guys like this advanced American technology and allowed us to get to the moon, before the deadline that JFK gave them.

We can no longer put people in space, and have to rely on the Russians, who are not our friends, to get to the space station.  We no longer have a space program that has goals, deadlines and objectives to either go back to the moon and establish something bigger, or do an interplanetary mission.  NASA is now more about Muslim outreach, and just maintaining what we have up there.  Gordon Cooper is turning over in his grave.

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