Produced and Hosted by Novaspace
Tucson, Arizona 23-27 May 2013
Having attended the very first amazing Spacefest in 2007, I was hoping to enjoy more than one! Work took me to live in Europe for a few years, and we just couldn't get away for Spacefests II through IV. Returning to this Space-Nerdvana after six years was practically spiritual for me. Producers Novaspace Galleries remain the premier global space artwork and astronaut collectible business and they treat the astronauts as part of the family. This years was really a global event, with many enthusiasts coming from places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Plus, this event was highly digitally enabled, being the first one I witnessed in the social media age. Like the first Spacefest, I offered to serve as volunteer crew with Kim and Sally Poor's team of Rob, Lisa, Linda, Randy and Alina. It's hard to express how much happiness it brings a space geek to help check in his heroes at the registration desk, assist with a fellow enthusiast's relic, fetch a space traveler a beverage, or introduce a guest at a kick-ass science presentation.
The venue, the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort, is a beautiful five star hotel and spa set in the hills overlooking the city.
(Top: Astronauts and controllers gather for an epic photo session; Center: Moon over JW Marriott Hotel; Right: Starr Pass Resort views)
The Lighter Side of Going to the Bathroom in Space: The Saga of the Space Potty Bag
I'm a space geek, and a space relic collector. Sometimes these items may be unique or unusual.
Around 1999 I came across another collector selling a piece of NASA gear called an Offal Waste System (OWS). This is the plastic bag astronauts had to use in place of a toilet in the early smaller spacecraft, which had no proper bathroom. It had been packed away for many years, but I found it and decided to take it to SpaceFest V to see the crews' reactions. None of the Apollo and Skylab veterans could recollect anyone asking them to sign this type of relic before! Frankly, it was delightful to bring them something they'd not seen in years. It made for quite the conversation starter.
The green crescent at the top (image: left) is the folded circular opening, which the astronaut had to place very accurately. To a person, they all laughed and had a story about using or "centering" the device for use, since we all know the "going to the bathroom in space" question is one they are constantly asked.
The NASA handling tag indicates the bag came from the contractor to the Cape in autumn 1973, suggesting it was a Skylab piece. It is apparently an inventory item, and there is no record it flew or was manifested for a specific mission. Skylab vets Jack Lousma, Ed Gibson and Al Bean examined the record tag, suggesting such a bag was a backup to the Skylab main waste management compartment, as theirs' was first US spacecraft to have a real toilet on board.
Apollo 12 astronaut Dick Gordon jokingly offered to demonstrate the procedure for use - on someone else!
The activated charcoal odor control element has dissolved into dark dust, leading Apollo 9 Commander Jim McDivitt to ask if the bag was a "virgin," or had been used?!
Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan noted he never did use one on the Moon, and refused to wear the alternate system, essentially a diaper/nappy, under his pressure suit.
(Signed by: Ed Mitchell, Ed Gibson, Walt Cunningham, Fred Haise, Dick Gordon, Jack Lousma, Al Bean, Bruce McCandless, Gene Cernan)
Mission Control and NASA Leadership
It was a true honor to meet Mr Glynn Lunney. Few people have played such an array of critical roles in the space program. I had the privilege of welcoming him and his wife Marilyn to Spacefest, and he was quick with a greeting and a friendly backslap every time we met at the symposium. He has held so many notable NASA operational and executive positions, it was hard to know what to talk about! His team came on duty in Mission Control just an hour after Apollo 13 experienced its inflight explosion. We discussed everything from the various flight control team colors to the challenge of NASA's evolution over his extensive career there. Like so many of his colleagues, he is very quick to emphasize team accomplishments, even though his leadership was paramount to such successes. Notably, there's a family legacy here: his son Bryan also served as "Onyx" Flight Director during Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions. (Flight Dynamics Officer, Gemini and Apollo Flight Director "Black Flight," Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Program Manager, Space Shuttle Program Manager)
I had the privilege of introducing Sy Liebergot, who served as EECOM (Electrical, Environmental and Communications - the spacecraft "plumbing"). He told his uniquely detailed Apollo 13 initial crisis story, demonstrating the difficulties of interpreting simple text readouts in the midst of data losses and confusing signals, and under extreme deadline pressure of course! (Apollo & Shuttle EECOM, Assistant Flight Director) (Image courtesy of Mark & Tom Usciak)
Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
While Spacefest offers a huge array of both scientific and artistic activities, meeting our astronaut heroes remains a cornerstone. It was especially rewarding to encounter several Apollo-era astronauts I hadn't met at previous space events.
(Note: Images taken with an older iPhone. Some are poor quality.)
Mr. Fred Haise, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was the first Apollo 13 crew member I had the privilege to meet. He fondly jokes that the portrayal of his role and this mission in the 1995 film was... "not bad, for Hollywood." We told him he's better looking than Bill Paxton. Sadly, he is the only person to have missed out on a Moon landing twice: the in-flight emergency of Apollo 13; and the canceled flight of Apollo 19, which he was likely to have commanded. He is an amazing aerospace engineer, recounting procedures and details of various complex aerospace systems with ease, forty years after many of the test flights occurred. He even told us about some old NASA research aircraft (R4D "Gooney Bird") de-icing procedures, some of which involved telling your co-pilot to stick his arm out the window! He went to work for Grumman Aerospace, who built the Lunar Module, after leaving NASA. He is very personable, and actually introduced me to his Shuttle-era astronaut colleague Jerry Ross, as we chatted in the hotel breezeway one balmy Tuscon morning. Can you imagine an heroic Apollo 13 astronaut introducing you to the spacewalker with the most missions ever flown by a U.S. astronaut? (I'm not worthy!!) From a collector's standpoint, his signature means I finally have a crewman from every lunar mission inscribed on my Saturn V rocket model. (Apollo 13 Lunar Module Pilot, and Commander Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests )
James McDivitt (Brig Gen, USAF, Ret.) is one of the amazing Group 2 Astronauts, the most successful and well-rounded team of overachievers NASA ever hired. He was the first astronaut named as Gemini mission commander with no previous spaceflight experience, and led the critical full-up test flight of the both Apollo spacecraft – being the first person to take the controls of a Lunar Module in space. Notably he moved to management, and became NASA Manager for the entire Apollo Program beginning with Apollo 12. His insight into NASA politics, federal funding, long range planning, and sustainment of complex lunar landings is amazing. Alternately, he was always very joking and light-hearted every time I encountered him. His Space Potty recollection was how much tougher it was to use the system in the much smaller Gemini spacecraft, versus the relative comfort of Apollo. As a retired Air Force officer, training taught me to address him by title until told otherwise. The exchange went thusly: "Don't call me General." "Yes, sir." "Don't call me sir, call me Jim." I can even say I made him laugh a couple of times, around the cocktail bar. He enjoys talking about hunting, golfing, and grandkids as much as spaceflight. Although, his assistant - a lovely Australian lady and friend of ours - had her hands full keeping him signing photos rather than shooting the bull about flying jets in the Korean War. (Gemini IV and Apollo 9 Commander)
It was an overwhelming and especially rewarding time with this gentleman. I briefly served as astronaut assistant to original Mercury astronaut M. Scott Carpenter (CDR, USN, Ret.) Enhancing this unreal feeling even more, it took place on the 51st anniversary of his Aurora 7 flight: 24 May! As of summer 2013, he is 88 years young, and facing some health challenges. Yet he maintains the same grandfatherly charm, brilliant recollection and sparkling manner, spending plenty of time chatting with admirers. Often asked of his unique combination of astronaut and aquanaut (U.S. Navy Sealab) roles, he always says they were both wonderful and challenging, and he can't choose one over the other. As long as I live, I'll remember helping this original astronaut don his NASA flight jacket as he departed. (Mercury-Atlas 7 Commander)
Eugene Cernan (CAPT, USN, Ret.) has turned "The Last Man on the Moon" into quite a successful brand. It's not just the title of his autobiography, but encompasses the whole space ambassadorship role he carries wherever he goes. He treated two high school girls, whom I met in line with their family, like student royalty. He asked them if they knew who the first man on the Moon was, and they of course answered Neil Armstrong. When asked if they knew the last man, they both smiled and pointed at him. A great moment. He was the only one of his colleagues who identified the Space Potty right away, and then launched into a funny story of how his backup crew had decorated his spacesuit's waste management devices, such as drawing little hearts on his urine collection system! He mentioned he still had this jockstrap contraption, but couldn't image anyone wanting that. I countered that he really should get that relic to an auction house. "But John, I've got no problem signing' a waste bag!" In the photo I am laughing at his remarks about the potty pranks. (Gemini IX Pilot, Apollo 10 Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17 Commander)
I've had the privilege of multiple chats with David R. Scott (Col, USAF, Ret.), and this visit we discussed something he didn't recall being addressed before: that his were the only good TV images of an Apollo commander setting foot on the lunar surface. Apollo 15 still had a separate TV camera inside the Lunar Module's toolbox (Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly/MESA, in NASA speak), as well as the one mounted on Lunar Roving Vehicle 1. He successor John Young on Apollo 16 had a MESA camera failure, and Gene Cernan on Apollo 17 had no second TV camera - to save payload weight. Sure enough, I checked the NASA Mission Reports, and his is the only high quality live TV of such a rare event! At the time, I bet an Australian friend a case of lager that the only good TV from the last two landing missions came from the movie camera aimed out the Lunar Module window. I guess we'll see if I can collect. Of course, Col Scott and I talked about the relic, and he politely reiterated his policy about no longer signing certain things like a Space Potty. But he graciously offered the alternative of posing with his signature on the Saturn V rocket stand. (Gemini XIII Pilot, Apollo 9 Command Module Pilot, Apollo 15 Commander)
Alan L. Bean (CAPT, USN, Ret.) the Fourth Man on the Moon and premier space artist, was prominently featured in the art show again this year. His Space Potty story was a factual one, helping me determine the dates and use of the relic in the Skylab program. Unlike previous encounters, he was much busier at this event, and I didn't want to hold up a lot of paying guests. Always the gentleman, who makes visitors feel like they have all the time in the world with him, he encouraged me to slow down, noting "Spacefest lasts four days!" (Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot; Skylab 2 Commander)
Richard F. Gordon (CAPT, USN, Ret.) is a really gregarious and fun-loving guy. He remains great at lightening the mood, and has that same brilliant recall whether the story is hard-engineering or a great prank played in 1969. of As I fetched his VIP badge at registration, his friends suggested they were late for the cocktail mixer. With a straight face he quipped: "Aw, parties are overrated." I smiled as I handed him his badge, and said "Sir, we have some evidence contradicting that statement." He grinned and headed for the bar. He wins the award for best sustained Space Potty joke series, going from questions about use to offering a demonstration, using someone else's backside... to the hazards of such use in the cramped Gemini spacecraft. (Gemini XI Pilot; Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot)
By happy coincidence, I had Sunday breakfast with R. Walter Cunningham (Col, USMCR, Ret.), just like at Spacefest I. He talked with us about his reactions to the "New Space" entrepreneurs, who were well represented at Spacefest V, and the needs for continued and enhanced international cooperation in spaceflight. I'd call him more optimistic than some of his colleagues when it comes to the future of manned spaceflight. In the Apollo Panel discussion, he did a great job characterizing the role of the early missions, including his own - NASA's first-ever Return to Flight mission, following the January 1967 Apollo 1 fire on the launch pad. I told him how I'd enjoyed the audio version of his autobiographical book "The All-American Boys" on my drive home to Texas. He thanked me, but wished the publishing residuals would pick up a bit! (Apollo 7 Lunar Module Pilot)
As I'd had the privilege of dinner and an extensive chat with Dr. Edgar Mitchell (CAPT, USN, Ret.) at the previous Spacefest, I only spoke with him briefly this year. He smiled at being the first to sign the unusual relic, but did not find it unusual to be asked. In the Apollo Panel discussion, he eloquently characterized the contributions of the lunar program, and his role in scientific exploration of another world. But given his unique post-mission explorations, following his cosmic awakening on the way home from the Moon, he always reminds us to put things in perspective. His insights on the "big picture" of humanity's place in the cosmos framed his follow-up observations. (Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot)
The Apollo Panel
After a breakfast with astronauts, it's even more enjoyable to hear them put their historic work in perspective. Lined up in mission order, from Apollo 7 to Apollo 14, with moderator Prof. Brian Cox, and Bruce McCandless representing the Apollo support roles, they described the five big steps from test flight to science on the Moon. As space enthusiasts, we live to hear the substantive and the silly, the realistic and the optimistic. This session was a mix of all of these elements, as the legendary crews shared their views.
This packed house Sunday morning event is posted here in its entirety, courtesy of Spacefest attendee Todd Green.
One of just three men to carry the title Science Pilot (SPT), Dr. Edward Gibson was a member of the very first 'hyphenated' group: the scientist-astronauts chosen in 1965. We talked about his unique situation in being chosen to fly for NASA, even though the Air Force turned him down! The flight docs determined a dormant bone condition posed no problem, and he became the first of his group to get a support crew assignment. He observed how all of his colleagues tried to become geologists, figuring that was the only real science with lunar flight assignment possibilities - but we all know professional geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt ended up being the only one to get that chance. We also talked about his work as a solar physicist using the Skylab's Apollo telescope Mount, and he later discussed this at the Spacefest comets panel; he and his crewmates were perhaps the only people to get a good look at "fizzled" Comet Kohoutek in 1973-74. My wife and I had the pleasure of joining him and his wife at the Saturday evening banquet, where we were joined by astronaut Charles Walker and his wife, and space journalist and CollectSPACE CEO Robert Pearlman. (Skylab 3 Science Pilot)
Jerry Ross (Col, USAF, Ret.) is the first of only two Shuttle astronauts to launch on 7 flights! Just look at all the mission patches behind us. He is a grand marshal of spacewalking, and "Spacewalker" is the appropriate title of his autobiography, which we are holding in the photo. He played a major role in training for, rehearsing, and then building the International Space Station (ISS). We discussed the evolution of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) - the Shuttle Spacesuit - and the extensive training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), the giant swimming pool. He also talked about developing the procedures for everything from capturing tens of screws and bolts, to EVA rescue, using the SAFER system - an outgrowth of the earlier Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) rocket pack developed during Skylab and early Shuttle flight. Notably, being seated next to Bruce McCandless resulted in some interesting crosstalk about the rocket pack programs. (Mission Specialist/Payload Commander STS-61B, STS-27, STS-37, STS-55, STS-88, STS-74, STS-110)
Bruce McCandless II
(CAPT, USN, Ret.) was an Apollo era astronaut who served as support
crew, CAPCOM, and Skylab Backup Commander, among other roles, before
getting chosen for the first critical flight of the Manned Maneuvering
Unit (MMU) - the Shuttle rocket pack. When asked how this system
evolved, he noted how after all the development work, the system did
not survive the recertification process after the Challenger disaster.
It was replaced with the simpler system noted above by Jerry
Ross. CAPT McCandless signed the Space Potty as Skylab Backup
Commander! (STS-41B Mission Specialist, STS-31 Mission Specialist)
Astronautical engineer Charles D. Walker flew as Payload Specialist (PS) while a McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) employee. We talked about the New Space initiatives such as NASA's Commercial Crew Program, and I asked if he'd been approached to consult on this issue, given his unique commercial astronaut background. He suggested the doctrine, practices, legalities and post-accident Return-to-Flight guidelines have likely changed things too much, compared to his flights. I mentioned I had written a graduate paper on commercial spaceflight for an engineering economics course, and he said he'd like to read it... I'd be too embarrassed at my amateur effort! His wife was also a McDonnell Douglas executive, and their insights at the banquet, where the topic was asteroid mining, made for a very stimulating and insightful dinner. (Payload Specialist STS 41-D, STS-51D, STS-61B)
I first met Dr. Phil Plait at Spacefest I, and he was introduced then as "The Bad Astronomer." This is odd, as there's considerable evidence indicating he's a very good astronomer. It's actually the title of one of his first books, and helped begin his career as a notable de-bunker and skeptic. He now carries the title of "Science Evangelist," doing an amazing number of conferences and appearances around the world, carrying the message of "go with facts, not myths." His insightful and hilarious blog provides daily explorations of popular and obscure science events and observations. In his introduction, I described him as a "media personality," but he joked he was not actually a Kardashian. His talk on the many ongoing Mars discoveries, especially the first results from the Curiousity Rover mission, was spirited and enjoyable. (Astronomer, author, science outreach)
Spacefest remains unique as a gathering for many International Association of Astronomical Artists
space art show, offering everything from nebulae to astronaut portraits, is a beautiful, often overwhelming series of interpretations, styles, and media. The artists, without exception, are a pleasant and enjoyable bunch, whether talking about their work, or the spaceflight history that inspired them. My wife Mary had the pleasure of assembling the Bean gallery, and is hanging the single Alan Bean original at the show. The beautiful lunar boot and tool textures are strong and distinctive in the work titled "Moonrunning on the Ocean of Storms," an impression of joyful lunar mobility. (If you were wondering, the 2013 art show price on this work was US $39,999.00)
Spacefest V was a an exceptionally wonderful experience, being the first I enjoyed with my wife accompanying, and the first in four years! The planning for Spacefest VI puts us in California next spring!