Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beep Beep, My Ass!

Less than a year after the Apollo 13 near-disaster, NASA was sending another crew on its way to the Moon. Apollo 14 launched on January 31, 1971 and headed toward Fra Mauro, which was Apollo 13's intended target.

The official crew patch designates the NASA Astronaut Pin headed toward the Moon, and lists the name of its three crewmen. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, commanded the flight. He had been grounded for an inner-ear disease since the early 1960's, and following an operation that cured the problems, he demanded to be put back into the flight rotation. Some say that he stole command of Apollo 14 from Gordon Cooper, although the semi-official word was that NASA management pulled Cooper for his somewhat lackadaisical approach to training.

In any case, Shepard was at 47 the "old man" of the program, the oldest astronaut on flight status. The backup crew of Gene Cernan, Joe Engle, and Ron Evans, secretly had a patch made for themselves. They stowed the patches in every compartment of the Command Module, so that one would drift out every time someone opened a locker. The patch depicts an aged Wile E. Coyote heading toward the Moon, to which the Roadrunner 'B Team' has already beaten him.

Whenever Shepard encountered one of these patches on the flight, he is reported to have radioed to the ground, "Tell Cernan, 'Beep beep, my ass!'"

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