Sunday, May 16, 2021

Snapshot & memories: Posing with a Saturn V in 1982

Here's a snapshot — which I improved a bit in Pixlr but which remains blurry — taken during a visit to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston in July 1982. From left are my cousins Jeanette and Steve, yours truly and my sister Adriane.

We are standing in front of the massive Saturn V rocket (super heavy-lift launch vehicle). This historic, 363-foot relic of the "moon shots" arrived at the Space Center in 1977 and, laying on its side, has not moved since. "The passage of time, subjection to Houston humidity and the infiltration of local flora and fauna were not kind to the rocket, degrading it to the point of nearly being destroyed," the space history website collectSPACE reported in a 2007 article.

Eventually, that article continues, enough money was raised for a meticulous two-year restoration of the Saturn V, "including restoring the rocket's original markings down to the smallest decal." Additionally, a climate-controlled building was built around the exhibit, so that such levels of environmental wear would (hopefully) not happen again. 

According to
"There are only three Saturn V rockets on display in the world. The rocket at NASA Johnson Space Center is the only one comprised of all flight-certified hardware. The other two rockets are made of flight hardware, mock-ups and test components. The three segments, called stages, contain the powerful engines needed to lift off, entering orbit to reach the Moon. In total, 13 Saturn V rockets launched into space. ... Flown from 1967 to 1973, the rocket launched 26 astronauts into space with six successful missions landing men on the Moon. Saturn V also launched Skylab, America’s first space station, into orbit in its final mission."

Sadly, I barely remember anything from that visit to the Space Center. At age 11, wearing a Phillies shirt tucked into my shorts and sunglasses, I guess I wasn't interested or inquisitive enough to realize how historic and cool that place was. 

My puny knowledge of space exploration at the time was probably limited to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin; possibly John Glenn; the two Voyager probes; Skylab falling; and the fact that high-profile Space Shuttle missions had begun the previous year with Columbia.

I'm sure I knew nothing of Laika; Yuri Gagarin; the Mercury Seven; Alan Shepard; JFK's moon speech and its intrinsic Cold War context; the preventable Apollo 1 (aka AS-204) tragedy; the scandal behind Soyuz 1 and the death of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov; Saturn V's game-changing debut in 1967; Apollo 13 and the careers of Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly; the fact that Shepard also walked on moon; and so much more. It's a wonderful thing that we never stop learning.

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