Friday, June 5, 2009

Happy birthday, Dave Scott

Dave Scott, American astronaut, turns 77 on June 6.

Dave's first mission was the ill-fated Gemini VIII mission, which he flew alongside Neil Armstrong. After piloting the world's first on-orbit docking with an unmanned Agena rocket, the spacecraft began to tumble violently. The Gemini capsule undocked and then went into an even faster spin, exceeding one revolution per second. Almost at the point of blacking out, the crew regained control but was forced to make an emergency splashdown near Okinawa.

My family and I lived on Okinawa at the time. I was in 4th grade at an elementary school on the Air Force base in Naha, the port where the crew returned from their journey. Feigning illness, I stayed home from school so I could watch them on TV as they came into port. Unfortunately, the crew were whisked away immediately and I didn't get to see them.

Scott flew next as the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 9, the first test of the Lunar Module. It was as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of that flight that I got to meet Scott and the rest of the crew at Spacefest in San Diego this year.

Scott's finest hours were as Commander of Apollo 15, in July and August 1971. It was the first extended-stay lunar mission and the first to use the Lunar Rover. I followed that mission intensely, because it was a true adventure - landing in the middle of mountains and a deep valley, and exploring far from the safety of "home base." They broadcast some of the most spectacular TV images I have ever seen.

Just prior to Spacefest, I picked up an interesting "Apollo 15 Descent/Ascent Summary" chart, which detailed the ground track of the Lunar Module Falcon just prior to landing and after liftoff. It also included profiles of the flight, a map of the landing site, and a simulated view out of the Commander's (Scott's) window. I asked Scott to sign it at Spacefest, and he spent a good 5 minutes looking it over and remarking that he had never seen it before. Just above the view from the cockpit, he signed "Flight of the Falcon."

The next night, at the reception prior to the Spacefest banquet, Scott got into line behind me at the bar. I got a chance to buy a drink for one of my boyhood heroes. It doesn't get any better than that!

No comments: