When I was a kid, people would ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Most kids wanted to be a Fireman, a Police Officer, stuff like that.
I wanted to be Superman or an Astronaut.
Now I actually tried my hand at being Superman and that failure is well documented.
David King & I became local celebrities (of one sort or another) for our attempts to fly off tall buildings, leap over rushing dams, and the like. Spectacular as they were, those failures seemed minor when compared to our efforts to become astronauts.
We figured that we could never afford all the steel and windows and such that the astronauts used in their cute little space capsules, so we sat down one evening to think this thing over and come up with a plan.
We didn’t really know a whole lot about space, or the moon, which was where we figured we’d go to if we got off earth, so some of our calculations were off a tad due to this lack of information. We DID, however, try.
We listened to this guy on the CBS news Walter Cronkite. We only got the one station out where we lived, at the end of an old dirt road just before you walked across the town line and into oblivion. In fact, we had to use a little astronaut technology to get the tv to work, even in black and white. We put aluminum foil on the antennas of the little tv to broaden the bandwidth of the whatchamacallit on the whateveritis.
Leave it to us to come up with those techy terms well ahead of everyone else.
After listening closely to the whole capsule thing, it seemed like the most important thing was that there had to be seats that were really “nailed down” good and strong, and you had to have these things called seat belts to hold you into said seat.
Now this along about the early 60’s, maybe 1964 or so, and frankly, none of us had ever even heard of a seat belt let alone seen one. All we knew is, that the best place to ride in the car was on the ledge of the back window because that way Dad couldn’t reach us to swat us for making too much noise and stuff.
Unfortunately, Dad was a whole bunch smarter than we were, if he wanted to swat us, he’d just spike the breaks and suddenly we were within reach again.
I think that’s why they invented seat belts, to protect kids from getting too close to the whole swatting thing.
Now given the fact that the only “space” movies or TV shows at the time, were kinda like Mr. Rogers and Arnold the pig from Green Acres go to Mars in an old shoe held in place by shoe laces, we figured surely to heck we could improve on THAT. I mean, who in the WORLD wanted to take a smelly old pig into space with them?
So we talked to Dad about our problem, and he was very helpful.
Next thing we knew, there was a truck from the mill loaded with wood and they dropped the whole load, along with nails and such, right at the tippy top of our driveway. Now THERE was some good news!
Uncle Joe had a couple of old wrecked Volkswagen bugs and he donated a couple of old seats to the project and we were off.
We scouted the situation out and figured the best place to build this spaceship was behind Dad’s barn, not too far from where all the wood was anyway. So we began cutting twice and measuring once and pretty soon we had ourselves a spaceship.
Now to save wood and time, since we were really in a hurry to get to the moon, we simply attached our little “ship” to the backside of the barn itself. This saved a bunch of time and lumber and we figured we could take the shed with us, there was an awful lot of stuff in there that might be of use once we got up there on that lunar surface.
Yep, we were even starting to SOUND like astronauts.
So we had this whole thing all built and looking pretty fine. That’s when we discovered our mistake.
Yep, we had built our spaceship nice and airtight, but we forgot to put the seats inside and now we had no way to get them INSIDE.
As you can well imagine, this lead to some rather serious discussion over at the design and engineering section of what we were now calling TAGS which stood for “Ticonderoga Area Guys in Space,” the “in” was, of course, silent.
We fairly easily solved this dilemma and threw in a bonus win as well. We KNEW we wanted to conduct at least one spacewalk, maybe even a couple if we had the time, so it occurred to us that we needed one of those “hatch” things we kept hearing Mr. Cronkite talk about. We figured that if we built the hatch big enough, we could get the seats right through it.
So off we went in search of some hinges that would hold up in this harsh environment of space and we found some on the door to Dad’s garage.
Now THIS, is where things got really tricky.
We knew that the garage was going with us, but since we weren’t gonna be IN the garage but in the space machine, why the hinges on the big door could go on our hatch and we’d figure something else out for the garage door.
About halfway into taking the hinges OFF the garage door, something occurred to me.
What was I gonna tell my father about this?
Now my Dad was cooler than gasoline turning colors on the cement at night by the light of the moon, but if he got riled up, things might get a bit serious and we would have to go into space a bit sooner than we had planned.
This wasn’t good at all. The countdown had already begun and we KNEW from the TV that you could stop the thing, but you couldn’t make it go faster. This was pretty simple stuff so we had to hatch a plan.
We talked about inviting Dad to go with us but we figured he wouldn’t go without Mom and Laurie. I wasn’t sure, exactly, about Mom, but Laurie already had enough air in her head, she couldn’t afford to have much more. We scratched that idea and went with a more direct approach.
We talked to Dad.
He told us that we had to put the hinges BACK on the main door, but not to worry, he’d get us some really great hinges. I told you my Dad was cool. We did decide, however, that we WEREN’T gonna tell him about our cigarette stash. That might just push him into outer-space without aid of said capsule and clearly we needed him here on our design team.
So it was, that we cut a big hole in the roof of our spaceship, dropped the seats inside, then put the hinges on the part we cut out and built a ledge so it wouldn’t fall in on us, and we were almost there. Just had to get an inside latch for the hatch, nail the seats down, and figure out what a seat belt was.
And we were T-Minus about two days from launch, so we needed to get this thing going fast.
The seats were easy and Dad got us a latch and a Master Lock with a key so now it was all about these belt things.
We really didn’t have any spare belts, in fact the only one I had was for Sunday Church so it was pretty clear that if I wanted to live past Sunday, that belt wasn’t gonna work.
We thought and then, just like clockwork, I had an idea.
My Uncle Tom had brought home this orange looking parachute thing from the Air Force. None of us were really sure what the Air Force was, but apparently Uncle Tom went there every day.
We had experimented with this parachute by jumping off the roof of the garage. Turns out that you gotta fall a lot further for the thing to really work very well BUT, there was this big heavy duty strap on it, and since we weren’t planning on jumping off the barn anymore, we figured we could cut that up and make some “belts” that would hold us in the seats alright.
T-Minus 4 hours and counting and we began loading up with food and stuff so we wouldn’t starve on the way up to the moon, or on the way back. We weren’t really sure how long we’d be gone but maybe it was like the Air Force and we’d be back for the weekend. We unloaded stuff from Mom’s kitchen cupboards and decided that would be enough. We could live on nuts, Cheerios and that sort of thing, heck, it’s pretty much all we ate anyway…..that and frozen pizza.
We decided taking frozen pizza just wasn’t a good idea.
So finally we got right down to launch time. We were strapped in our seats all ready to shoot off to the Moon. We invited Mom, Dad & Laurie to watch us go off. I was pretty surprised, honestly, that Mom didn’t get all teary eyed over us being away for a few days, but she held up pretty well.
We had installed an old steering wheel from one of the broken bugs, and a gas pedal too. We took the orange parachute and tied what was left of it to the roof. We knew from watching the TV that you had to have one of those when you splashed down, and we figured to splash down right across the road in the crick.
Everything was going perfectly. The clock kept ticking, our company had kissed us goodbye except for Laurie who wanted to know if I didn’t come back could she have my room. I figured what the heck, in for a penny, in for a pound and I said yes.
Right down to ZERO and since I was the command module pilot, I grabbed the wheel and mashed down on the gas pedal.
Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even a spit or a sputter. What the heck?
I looked at David and he looked at me. We both had on our football helmets and we weren’t even moving.
Out of the seat I crawled and I opened the hatch. Mom & Dad were right there and wanted to know how the trip went?
I looked down at David and he looked at me, his eyes searching for the meaning of this whole thing. I asked Mom where Laurie was and she said she’d already moved into my room thinking I wasn’t coming back.
I waved and said we’d be out in a bit after we tidied up. I got back in the seat and looked at David.
As usual, he had all the answers.
“Space travel is awful fast he said.” He’d heard they went hundreds of thousands of miles an hour in space so it began to make sense that we’d simply missed the whole thing ‘cuz it went so fast.
We’d never actually “thought” about all this speed business, but there was Mom & Dad saying “HI” and all, so it must be true.
We wrote to NASA about all this, sent thing big long letter with all of our “findings” figuring that perhaps they might benefit from our experience.
We never did hear back, but that was ok. A couple of weeks later we got some new cereal and right there in the box was an actual “Astronaut Badge” saying that we were really out of this world.
I guess both God AND NASA move in strange and miraculous ways.