My latest installment in the "Too the Moon, Mars, and Beyond!" set 1 decade after the events of "Operation Duct tape" a few weeks prior to the launch of Explorer-1. It's part October Sky homage, part 50's Sci-Fi/ Twilight Zone send up. Also I don't have new neighbors, the ones I have are weird enough.
I remember it like it was yesterday; a cold winter’s Sunday afternoon back in January of 1958, a slight breeze was blowing out of the southwest and the sun was starting to set. There I stood with the few people that I had the privilege of calling friends out on a farm near Monte Sano Mountain watching as the fuse burned down on a home built rocket. Suddenly, Rick Watley spoke up.
“Hey Les, don’t you think we should be behind something for this?”
“That would be highly advisable.”
“I don’t see any sufficient cover, now what?” I looked over at the rocket, the fuse was getting awfully short .
“Uh, Run?,” I stammered, “Run! Fast! Go! NOW!!” I broke into a dead sprint hoping to get to a safe distance. About midsprint the blasted thing exploded into tiny rocket shards. Following that racket was more commotion caused by the baying and barking of dogs.
I looked over at the tree stump I had been using as a make-shift launch stand. The area where there had once been a launch stand was now just smoking black stain and some debris.
Bill Gibson looked distraught , “How many does this make that we’ve blown up now?”
“I believe this number is number 4.”
“At least we didn’t blow up a fence this time, or was it a porch railing, I forget. It was something long and rectangular anyway.” Kelly Morris slowly pulled herself from a “Duck and Cover” position.
“True, and it was a porch railing.” This was in reference to my first foray into rocketry, Mom was not happy all, to top it all off, I took out a few windows on the house as well. As a matter of fact, that little incident is why we ended up on Saul Gunderson’s farm in the first place, who I am very grateful to for letting us use the far end of the property.
Minutes later, Mr. Gunderson pulled up in his WWII surplus Jeep shaking his head.
“You crazy kids didn’t blow yourselves up did you?”
“Well, Sir, I’m talking to you, so apparently not,” I said jokingly.
“No offence, but if the government can’t keep their rockets from exploding like that crazy ‘Vanguard’ contraption , I don’t see how a bunch of amateurs could.”
Bill chimed in. “Well, we’re certainly trying, sir.”
I walked closer to the Jeep. “I heard that Von Braun’s ( the same Von Braun I ran into at Western Auto last week) team at Redstone plans to launch satellite at the end of this month, we won’t be beating the Ruskies, but at least it’s something.”
“Ugh, I’m all for beating the Reds, but I’m just not quite comfortable with those guys for some reason. Guess I’m biased due to the war; I spent four long years fighting the Nazis. On the other hand, Russia was also our ally back then. I don’t know, maybe I’m just paranoid. Well, I’ll let you kids go, you probably need to get on home, Y’all come back now, ya hear! ”
“Oh we’ll be back as soon as we get another one built.”
Despite feeling a bit defeated, we were giddy with anticipation on our next launch. Walter Calvert, the guy in charge of the fuel mixing was positive that he made a slight calculation error and that the next batch of rocket fuel would be perfect. We discussed these plans as we piled into the back of Bill Gibson’s Dad’s (a local undertaker) Cadillac hearse. When it wasn’t serving as a meat wagon, it was our official launch site transportation vehicle (creepy right? We were somewhat reluctant to ride in at first). On the way home, we discussed, well, just about everything. However, to this day, I will remember that Rick said that one day spaceflight won’t be the domain of just the government, but that private industry will take over.
“You guys remember that movie, ‘Destination: Luna’, I think it was called?”
“’Destination Moon', but yeah. That was just movie.”
“True, but still, wouldn’t it be awesome if someone, probably with a name like something out of spy novel, did build their own space program, even buy a launch pad of their own at the Cape?”
“Now that’s crazy talk, right there.” Walter was a bit skeptical of Rick’s crystal ball on the future.
...To Be Continued