Thursday, March 12, 2009

Happy birthday, Wally Schirra

Greetings from Pittsburgh, with a big "Happy Birthday" to Wally Schirra, who would have been 86 years young today.

Wally was the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. He was a larger-than-life presence in the nascent space program. His sense of humor was legendary and infectious. He played practical jokes on anybody and everybody. And was he a Turtle? You bet your sweet ass he was!

I got to meet Wally one time, at the National Air and Space Museum on November 3, 2006. Wally was there with Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan to talk about their missions together and what it was like to fly in the early days of the space program. By now, all of his jokes were old and familiar, but it was great to hear him talk about him. Jane had had a crush on him ever since her early childhood. When we met Wally after the talk and shook his hand, I told him that now that Jane had met him, I would never be man enough for her. Wally got a good laugh out of that. So that's my memory of Wally - him laughing at something I said! And I think that's how we all remember him - the man who could be incredibly serious in the spacecraft, but who loved to laugh whenever and wherever possible.