The First 'Spacefest'
Hosted by Novaspace Galleries
Mesa, Arizona 17-19 August 2007
Novaspace Galleries, the premier U.S. space artwork and astronaut autograph business, headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, hosted their first ever Spacefest in the summer of 2007. This convention offered something new and thus far, unique, for the space enthusiast: a 'triple treat' of meeting aerospace pioneers, a space-themed art show, and a series of spaceflight-related presentations from scientists and adventurers. Of course, there were many space-themed vendors and clubs too. I've been a very happy Novaspace customer since 1999, and have visited them on several trips to Tucson. When I first heard of this event in late 2006, I knew something special and exciting was in store, owing to Novaspace's longstanding professional relationship with many astronauts. Plus, as an award-winning space artist himself, owner Kim Poor could certainly pull together that entire community. Combine the talks by a dozen 'science celebrities' on everything from space health to colonizing Mars, and you've got space geek nirvana! Being in the company of hundreds of fellow space enthusiasts from around the world (Scotland, England, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany to name a few) was as good as it gets.
(L to R: Skylab row showing astronaut signing booths; featured artist Paul Calle's works; vendor floor; Space Models' exhibit)
Perhaps the best part of this experience was offering to serve on Novaspace's volunteer crew. They certainly had top notch help from enthusiasts all over the globe. Serving in roles such as art gallery builder, photo seller, astronaut & test pilot 'go-fer,' and guest speaker 'introducer' made this an incredibly delightful experience. Thank you to Kim, Sally, Rob, Lisa (image right: center), Linda, Alina and Randy of Novaspace, for the most fun I've ever had at a space-themed event in my life. To my two closest volunteer colleagues Peter and Brad: cheers, mates!
Bottom line up front: this was a unique and wonderful event. Here are just a few reasons that made Spacefest amazing: images of pioneering space explorers standing together... The shot below has Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, including six Moonwalkers!
(Image:left) L to R, Back Row: David Scott, Jack Lousma, Charles Walker, Scott Carpenter, Russell Schweickart, Edgar Mitchell, Buzz Aldrin, Eugene Cernan. L to R, Front Row: Bruce McCandless, Alan Bean, Charles Duke, Walter Cunningham
(Image: right) Mitchell, Cunnningham, Aldrin (looking down), Carpenter, Scott, Bean, Cernan)
"The Wonder of It All"
We attended a special screening of this superb new documentary film from Producer/Director Jeffrey Roth and his team. Jeff has given us something truly fresh and unique, that finally answers that most-asked question of "what was it really like?" After a couple of decades of reflection, most of the Moonwalkers have had the time to look deeper within themselves when describing their experiences. Jeff spoke with Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Ed Mitchell, John Young, Charlie Duke, Gene Cernan, and Jack Schmitt. Their words and insights say so much more in this film than any of the many docu-videos I've seen. At the Spacefest banquet I jokingly told Ed Mitchell this was the most I'd heard some of this colleagues say... ever! He laughed, explaining that was the whole idea, to sort of draw them out a little more. A nice surprise was, by coincidence, sitting just behind Buzz Aldrin and NASA artist Paul Calle during this screening. Though prominently featured in the film, and known to be a very animated speaker, when asked if he had any comments afterward, Dr. Aldrin succinctly quipped: "Nice story, Jeff!"
Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
Charles M. Duke, (Brig Gen, USAF, Ret.) was the first Moonwalker I ever saw in person, when I was an Air Force officer trainee in 1985. But this was the first time I had a chance to spend a little time getting to know him. I met him at the reception desk of the hotel, and several times on the convention floor. You cannot imagine a more pleasant true southern gentleman. He exercises his celebrity with great courtesy, and everyone at the show remarked what a nice man he is, no matter how many items signed, or how many stories retold. He took time to talk about what was going on in the wonderful Moonpan shot he signed, and spontaneously captioned the Lunar Rover training picture (image: right). Plus, we chatted a little about that day way back in '85, and the unfortunate fates of the wing commander who accompanied him on that visit. As a collector, his signature meant my Moon globe now has half the Moonwalkers, and each landing mission represented. As an Air Force guy, I am very proud to have served under and alongside gentlemen like him. (Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot)
M. Scott Carpenter (CDR, USN, Ret.) represented the Mercury Seven at Spacefest. He remains a huge hit with the younger space fans, with his grandfatherly appearance and delightful manner. His status as one of just two now (his colleague Wally Schirra departed this world in May 2007) means he now carries the title of inspirational first astronaut with even greater care. This year we spoke about his deep sea 'aquanaut' service in the U.S Navy's Project Sealab, when he was detailed back to the fleet after his space flight. We talked about his relationship with CAPT George "Poppa Topside" Bond, the father of Sealab program, as well as the great promise of the early sea floor habitat efforts such as Captain Jacque Cousteau's Conshelf project. And soberly, we noted the accident that struck Sealab III, unfortunately ending the Navy effort. Commander Carpenter holds two unique titles, and it was wonderful to hear him share something of each realm he's experienced. (Mercury-Atlas 7 "Aurora 7" Commander)
Dr.Buzz Aldrin (Col, USAF, Ret.) was in a very positive, almost light-hearted mood at Spacefest. He arrived sporting a very different look than summer 2006 in San Antonio: he'd grown a beard. With his NASA baseball cap and casual look, a few folks didn't recognize him at first. (And yes, he was still attending to some grooming matters as he arrived through the back door.) Our chat was enjoyable as I got a couple pictures signed for some young friends: Cassi, a Space Camp graduate I helped sponsor, and Jason, who I'd served with as a docent at NASA Langley. He smiled at his photos being given as gifts, and not for my own collection. Being bearded myself, I told him the new look suited him, and he laughed, advising me to tell this to his somewhat more skeptical daughter-in-law/business manager Lisa. He asked if I was familar with the expression "greybeard" - the military/government term for a sage aerospace guru - which is sort of a senior super-consultant. I said I thought so, and he claimed he's now truly official in that capacity! And we talked a little Air Force, since we both served the Big Blue. Yep, just two guys with beards... except one is quite famous. (Gemini XII Pilot, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot)
The "Most Recent' Man on the Moon is one tireless space ambassador. I don't think I ever saw Eugene Cernan (CAPT, USN, Ret.) pause from smiling at his fans, telling a youngster to reach for the stars, or signing some prized artifact from a collector. He graciously still signed his 1999 book for free, and I think Novaspace sold every copy they shipped to the show. Other than making sure he was well supplied with cold beverages, I only had a brief chance to chat with him at this event. But that's OK, he's a great friend of Novaspace... and Spacefest will be back! (Gemini IX Pilot, Apollo 10 Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17 Commander)
David R. Scott (Col, USAF, Ret.) and his lovely wife Mag remembered me from dinner in San Antonio/UACC 2006, which is pretty doggoned wonderful given how many thousands of people they meet, and scores of dinners they attend. The first and only Air Force officer to fly a lunar landing will always hold a special spot in the astronaut corps. Because they were unable to attend Friday, Saturday was 'their day' - with fans lined up very early to meet them. And true to form, Col Scott smiled and posed, signed and inscribed, practically nonstop the entire day. Mrs. Scott smiled and said "We're alway up to the challenge!" We chatted about the wonderful Air Force heritage/recruitment piece he and crewmate Al Worden signed, and my wife and I presented, which now hangs in the wing commander's office at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas (image: right). This West Pointer and Air Force leader smiled and quite sincerely told me: "Anything for the troops!' And I couldn't help but smile that he still remembered my little Sony digital camera - I told his wife he might like one as a Christmas stocking-stuffer! (Gemini XIII Pilot, Apollo 9 Command Module Pilot, Apollo 15 Commander)
Alan L. Bean (CAPT, USN, Ret.) will always be known as 'the nicest astronaut.' His kind, open manner and humor are matched only by his tireless patience with space enthusiasts of all ages. He never missed a pleasant "howdy" in the morning. At the breakfast buffett on the second day I asked his pardon as I opened the sharp-edged lid of the bread cabinet. We both laughed as I warned him of the tragic potential news headline "Famous Artist Injured by Bagel !" I couldn't believe I touched so many of his works, having helped hang several pieces in his gallery section. He and his good friend/astronaut classmate Walt Cunningham took a reflective stroll through the gallery before the show began (image: left). His delightful wife Leslie, assisting at his signing table, even remembered me from a meeting in Tampa years ago. One surprise was finding out he'd taped the CBS Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson the night before arriving at Spacefest. I'm glad I recorded this enjoyable exchange - Ferguson seemed to be a closet space geek, and was quite taken by the Fourth Man on the Moon. (Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot and Skylab 2 Commander)
R. Walter Cunningham (Col, USMCR, Ret.) was a great guest at breakfast the first morning. As before, he kidded this "poor Air Force guy," but told us some great stories about being a young Marine aviator in Japan. He laughed as he recalled himself and his manly squadron mates scaling Mount Fuji, and being 'dusted' on the trail by a little old Japanese couple. Walt was only the second NASA civilian astronaut, but despite his scientific credentials from RAND Corp., he is a fighter pilot through and through. We're posing with the autographed audiobook copy of his very impressive book, the "The All-American Boys." He reads it himself. Everyone always asks "what were the astronauts really like?" and "How do you live & work with thirty other space-travelling overachievers?" His is an honest and straightforward account of every bit of the astronaut business, from the fiercely patriotic to the mildly salacious. He provides blunt, politically incorrect appraisals of himself, NASA, and his space colleagues. He doesn't ruin the astronaut myth, rather he builds upon it, and then let's you in on what's behind the curtain. Walt's spoken style is engaging, well-punctuated with the right bits of humor and drama (I laughed out loud). The unabridged length is perfect for extended enjoyment on a longer drive. (Apollo 7 Lunar Module Pilot)
Russell L. Schweickart (former USAF), did multiple duties, signing Saturn rocket models and photos, and posing for pictures as all his colleagues did. But he also gave a very motivating and scientificially impressive talk on the hazards of near Earth asteroids (NEA). Yes, we all joke about the movie versions of this threat: "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," but he and planetary scientist Dr. Dan Durda explained why we need to take a hard look at a real problem. I'd never seen Rusty give a presentation before, and was floored by his excellent and engaging style. I bet he's honed his skills with high level government and academic audiences, because he certainly can turn a complex physical problem set into something normal folks and executives can easily understand. Hearing workable spacecraft solutions always sounds far more convincing from someone who's flown them. Though his colleagues sometimes kidded him abouting hanging around with the scientists, it's obvious he's combined both skill sets quite well. (Apollo 9 Lunar Module Pilot)
NASA's most experienced astronaut was a hard man to catch. John W. Young (CAPT, USN, Ret.) was a keynote speaker, but because he chose not to sign autographs, he was a little less visible around the event. That said, his address on flying to the Moon, both then and now, was very well received. His characteristic dry wit, and use of every astronaut cliche' in his lexicon, meant he really slayed our captive space enthusiast crowd. When asked about being the only man to ride the Gemini-Titan (twice), Apollo-Saturn (twice), and STS Shuttle (twice), and which one rode the roughest he replied: "Dunno, my knees were shakin' during all of 'em." It seems a little unusual that a man with 42 years of public service remains a little shy, but he certainly did way more than his fair share for his country, and I was glad to see him live - even if a handshake was tough to get. (Gemini III Pilot, Gemini X Commander, Apollo 10 Command Module Pilot, Apollo 16 Commander, STS-1 Commander, STS-9 Commander)
I said hello to Dr. Edgar Mitchell (CAPT, USN, Ret.) as he arrived early on Friday. He noted the art gallery, and I mentioned we had Al Bean's and Mike Collins' work already on display. I was pleased to introduce that to him: he hadn't yet heard his former colleague Mike was now painting. As I showed him the Collins section, he noted the many south Florida themes, and Collins' amusing work called "Snook 1 Launch," showing a fish with a rocket plume, rising from the old Gemini launch complex.
At our Saturday night banquet, I had the great privilege of having dinner at Dr. Mitchell's table. As the last member of Apollo 14 (Al Shepard and Stu Roosa departed the earthly realm in 1998 and 1994, respectively), his are unique first person insights on this mission. We asked him for a 'flying with Al story' suitable for a family audience. He told us that Al was the top-of-the-heap professional astronaut and aviator we've all heard much about, but that despite being mission commander, he was OK in the role of student pilot. Now that seemed surprising! But, as Ed was the Lunar Module expert, and far more experienced in that cockpit, he became Al's LM instructor pilot. Dr. Mitchell spoke of the first time in the simulator when he took his hands off the translation controllers, and let Al take over... and Shepard did beautifully. We also joked about the competitive sports craze started when he threw the 'javelin,' and Al hit the famous golf shots, these being the first - and so far only - Lunar Olympics. He still laughs out loud at Shepard's bragging rights. He also talked about the tough calls in Apollo crew assignments. Deke Slayton gave him a 'package deal,' in that he would fly 14, but would have to come right home and back up 16, because few astros were keen on 'dead end' assignments near the lunar landing program's ending. He knuckled down, got back into the tough training grind, and did his duty even though he knew one moonwalk was all you get.
He also shared his encounter with Moon hoax nut job Bart Sibrel, who entered Mitchell's home under false pretenses and began his well-documented harassment. This phony journalist, famous for getting punched by Buzz Aldrin, literally got his ass kicked by Dr. Mitchell. Needless to say, we cheered him for that splendid and appropriate action. (Check 'You Tube' for "Astronauts Gone Wild.")
And what about this bonus: scientist Curt Parkin, who was seated next to me, was an Apollo 14 ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package) member! He was a principle researcher on the Lunar Portable Magnetometer experiment, and finally got to thank Dr. Mitchell personally for running his experiment on the lunar surface. He said he got years of good data from it. Ed complimented Curt on having one of those science packages that didn't take up too much of the crew's time to operate! It was fun talkin' a little Moon science at dinner.
Our group was really looking forward to hearing more about Dr. Mitchell's unique work since Apollo. His explorations of psychic phenomena and several parasciences are well known. I've read his book "The Way of the Explorer," and listened as he gave a primer on the study of conciousness and perception. I admit that certain concepts were very tough for me to grasp, but his insights and brilliance are obvious. To hear him frame a vision of this world as a whole, rather than a place plagued by mankind's dangerous petty tribalisms, was inspiring. He really has seen what so few others have: this planet from afar, in it's true context in the universe. He didn't sound utopian, but like someone who truly experienced something profound. All that said, he's still a top naval aviator with a great sense of humor. (Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot)
This was the first autograph show for Dr. Joseph Kerwin, MD (CAPT, USN, Ret.). He was the first man to carry the title "Science Pilot (SPT)." He was a graduate of a Navy program that trained flight surgeons as full up aviators, giving him some serious 'street cred' with the pilots, even though he was recruited in the first 'hyphenated' group of scientist-astronauts in 1965. He patiently waited 7 years to get a mission, and flew with with fellow Navy officers Charles "Pete" Conrad and P.J. Weitz. These guys were the "fix-it crew" that rescued Skylab, undertaking bold and risky spacewalk repairs that saved the whole program. We talked about what a blast he had flying with Pete - he practically shot Conrad like an arrow as they strained a cable to open Skylab's stuck solar wing. We also noted how the space world still seems shocked at Conrad's untimely loss in 1999. Though I'm obviously no doctor, we also shared observations on military survival training, including both the physiology and psychology of that niche business. Dr. Kerwin was very pleasant and engaging, and had the bonus of Jayme Flowers Coplin's able assistance (see below). (Skylab I Science Pilot)
(Image left: 'Skylab Reunion,' L to R, Alan Bean, Jack Lousma, Paul Weitz, Joe Kerwin) This is another reason we had so much fun: astros representing a whole NASA program just kind of falling in together for a reunion shot. These space station pioneers represent 2/3rds of the first two crews, Kerwin & Weitz from Skylab I; Bean & Lousma from Skylab II.
I had the privilege of previous meetings with these gentlemen, so had shorter chats with them this year. Col Lousma and I talked about the joys of living in the Texas Hill Country, where he's building a ranch. CAPT Weitz asked me if I'm kin to National Football League coach Ken Whisenhunt - unfortunately, no - and had to sadly advise him I can't get anyone season tickets! And of course, you've likely already read above about talking with smilin' Al Bean.
Charles D. Walker, an astronautical engineer, occupies a unique niche in the spaceflight record book. He is that rarer brand of astronaut called Payload Specialist (PS), and is the most flown PS in history, with three Shuttle flights. PS's were recuited for very mission specific tasks, and often worked under government contract rather than being actual NASA or military employees. Charlie worked for McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) as lead for the EOS (Electrophoresis Operations in Space), a series of medical manufacturing experiments on orbit. He has continued to serve the space industry in a number of corporate and non-profit leadership roles. I found him very outgoing, and he enjoyed representing the early group of commercial space pioneers. (STS 41-D, STS-51D, STS-61B Payload Specialist )
These military and corporate aerospace pioneers joined the already amazing group of fliers at Spacefest - another unique plus in this event. These men constantly hung themselves and their aircraft out over the line in pursuit of "highest and fastest." But as an opening line in the film "The Right Stuff" notes: "they were called test pilots... and no one knew their names." Based on their reactions, I think the test pilots were a bit surpised they had fans - or at least so many folks seeking autographs, photos and "war stories." Of course, the first two groups of astronauts had notable test pilot backgrounds, and to this day a test pilot school certificate remains a big plus for someone wishing to to become a commander or pilot astronaut.
Bob Smyth worked for Grumman Aircraft Corporation (now Northrop Grumman). A former Naval Avaitor, he went to work as a corporate test pilot flying many of the Navy's hottest "Cat" series fighters: the F9F Cougar, F11F Tiger, and famous F-14A Tomcat. He was also the first astronaut/pilot liaison for the Apollo Lunar Module, before he moved to the commercial business jet side. What surprised me was that he also served as an evaluator for pressure suits, and some other unique ground-based Grumman proposals such as the Mo-Lab (Mobile Laboratory) - a super Moon rover that never got past the prototype or "Mobility Test Article" stage (image: left). The tall spiral spring wheels were designed to drive right over craters, rather than rolling into them.
Ray McPherson flew some of the most famous Boeing aircraft: the B-47, B-52, the 747 "Flying Command Post," and the unique YC-14 Short Take off and Landing (STOL) expermental airlifter (image: right). The design, sponsored by the Air Force under the Advanced Medium STOL Transport program, was meant to replace existing short field transports like the famous C-130 Hercules. It featured an extemely efficient lift system, Upper Surface Blowing (USB), based on the high-mounted engines exhausting over the upper wing, with the airflow then turned downward by the flaps. Eventually, the Air Force stuck with the C-130, but super-experienced fliers like Ray kept pushing the envelope on cutting-edge designs.
Ken Chilstrom (Col, USAF, Ret.) is a decorated combat veteran, and truly legendary in the test piloting business. Following World War II, he graduated from the very first test pilot class, along with famous ace Dick Bong, Bob Cardenas, and Glen Edwards (Edward AFB is named for him). In 1946, Col Chilstrom became chief pilot, Fighter Test Division at Wright Field supervising some of the most famous US test pilots in history: Pete Everest, Dick Johnson, Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover. He also flew captured German aircrfat such as the ME-109, FW-190 & ME-262. In a bit of early Cold War capability demonstration, he flew the very first "jet mail" - a fast postal service demonstration (image: left), in the P-80 Shooting Star: the U.S.'s very first operational jet fighter.
Jayme Flowers Coplin began her NASA career as an administrative assistant, as secretary to Mercury Astronaut L. Gordon "Gordo" Cooper. She is famous for this Apollo 10 photo, in which she surprises the flight crew with a giant stuffed Snoopy doll (image: left) as they walk through the ops building on the way to the Astro Van. Snoopy was of course the call sign for the Apollo 10 Lunar Module, and was a safety mascot for the space program as a whole. Jayme is just as gorgeous now as in this picture, and as gracious as you can imagine. She served as Dr. Joe Kerwin's support team at the autograph booth, and seemed a little surprised at getting so many autograph requests herself. (Astronaut Secretary)
These are just a few representatives of the exceptional science and entertainment talents who addressed Spacefest.
This gentleman had huge rooms full of fans everywhere he went, and the astronauts treated him like the close friend he became... all for for very notable reasons. He did something truly remarkable and inspiring: over the course of several years of interviewing and talented authoring, he brought the stories of the Moon Voyagers to life. "A Man on the Moon," first published in 1994 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, is the most important living history of Apollo ever written. If you only read one book on the people who flew to the Moon - this is the one! A later Time-Life illustrated edition adds even more to the experience with rare pictures. He was the first to publish the real answers to "What did it feel like to fly to, or walk on, the Moon?" We have all the technical and crew debriefing material from NASA, so the astro's words about their flights are well preserved. What we missed prior to Andy's work is the human side of their experiences. Most importantly, he reignited the spirit of Apollo for new generations. And of course, brought us the basis for the award-winning "From the Earth to the Moon" HBO TV miniseries, produced by space enthusiast Tom Hanks. Andy has a cameo role in Episode 1 as a TV news program moderator. (Author, "A Man on the Moon")
Dr. Phil Plait is a well known space scientist, author, and webmaster. His book and website "Bad Astronomy" cover a range of space science and related topics. But much of his notoriety comes from the powerful tools he offers in the fight against moon-hoaxers - those who think the Apollo program was faked. Can you imagine such a huge government conspiracy to fool the world? His straightforward scientific analysis, complete with images and explainations, makes it easy to debunk those who think Apollo enthusiasts are a big bunch of dupes! Many of us use his guidance in public science outreach programs, and in our web pages. I had the pleasure of introducing this gentleman's presentation, as well as witnessing his skillfull correction of so-called "experts." His professional insight, sense of humor, and entertaining style made for an enjoyably packed house. (Author, "Bad Astronomy")
Jerry Doyle is a modern renaissance man. He has been a businessman, a corporate jet pilot, a successful actor as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi in "Babylon 5," and is currently a nationally-syndicated radio talk show host. Despite his celebrity, Jerry is a very down-to-earth guy (even being from Brooklyn). His address to the Saturday night banquet crowd was brief and funny - we later found out he was still suffering from a flu virus, and barely made it to the event. In a room surrounded by seven men who had walked on the Moon, a Mercury astronaut, and scores of space program notables, he sincerely noted he felt ill-equipped to tell them much of anything. He jokingly added "well, I did live on Mars." (Host, "The Jerry Doyle Show")
Astronauts Reunite, Talk with Fans
L to R: Dave Scott and Charlie Duke catch up on the latest; fans chat with Rusty Schweickart and Buzz Aldrin; autograph seekers meet Charlie Duke and Al Bean; Dave Scott and Ed Mitchell talk business; Bruce McCandless and Scott Carpenter meet with space enthusiasts.