A couple of months back–August, I believe, the month was labeled “Moon Month,” meaning that it was the 50th anniversary of man’s landing/walking on the moon. A few years back we used to know the names of the first astronauts. Today we are lucky if we recall those names or even recent ones. There’s the Kelly twins of recent trips and the medical assignments they participated in. And, recently I heard Mary Ann Jung, a Maryland actress and Smithsonian scholar, gave a presentation on Sally Ride’s life in zero gravity aboard the Space Shuttle.
When my son, Scott, was in Cub Scouts we lived in the Chicago area and made a trip to the Cernan Space Center at a local community college. It had been planned and supported by that astronaut. It was a very nice center with a large telescope that the Scouts enjoyed visiting.
But what I remember most was having the opportunity of meeting Commander Scott Carpenter, the astronaut that just circled the moon . It happened one day in January when I twas walking the aisles of a national food convention in McCormick Place, Chicago, and there he was. (He was a member of the Apollo group.) Traditionally at conventions big companies employ a celebrity to spend a day or so greeting visitors to their booths. Commander Carpenter was promoting Fugi Film and handing out NASA lapel pins of rockets.
Actually there were very few people walking nearby and no other person in the Fugi booth because at that very moment another celebrity was signing autographs at another booth across the hall. The attraction was baseball player Hank Aaron and the line to meet him wound around the wall of the hall and beyond. I walked up to Commander Carpenter and held out my hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said, or something like that. I actually could not believe that people would pass up a chance to meet an astronaut and go wait an hour in line for a baseball players handshake. Someone who had flown within spitting distance of the moon and returned. “It looks like he is drawing a big crowd,” I said by way of small talk, and took my pin.
“I wish I was in that line,” Carpenter casually responded. I couldn’t believe it. He sounded so wistful just like my son might have sounded about receiving a signed baseball. Although Carpenter never went back into space, he did continue explorations under the sea, spending 30 days in the Navy’s Sea Lab II program and other Navy projects. He also wrote novels about submarine warfare, etc. that I enjoyed reading in later years. The one thing that I always have regretted was not getting his autograph. But I still have the pins.