Although I have lived in Orlando 18 years, I had never been to tour Cape Canaveral until my nephew Ted came this Easter holiday. Teddy, my buddy Keegan, and I headed out for a full day of space study. My previous memories of such things stem from the brilliant Air and Space Museum in D.C., where I field tripped to as a middle-schooler from nearby Fairfax, VA.
For what ever reason, I most remember the stuffed chimp (read taxidermic chimp), Ham the Astrochimp, whose Mercury mission was 16 minutes and 39 seconds, and proved he could do tasks in space. That eventually led to Alan Shepherd’s mission. Way to go Ham! The image of that stuffed chimp in his toddler-sized space suit stayed with me. And so did eating “space ice cream,” the dehydrated stuff that tasted like ice cream but felt creepy in your mouth, kind of like popcorn flavored Jelly Bellies. Good taste, wrong consistency.
Like every other teenage girl (read Katie Holmes), I was also captured by Tom Cruise, I mean Top Gun when it came out. My high school boyfriend had dumped me, was headed to Annapolis to become a pilot, and had a resemblance to Tom Cruise, so it really captured me. I, of course, would be the gorgeous instructor played by curly-headed Kelly McGillis or the adorable wife played by Meg Ryan who exclaimed to her studly husband, Goose, “Take me to bed or lose me forever!”
Anyway, I was completely romanced by the whole Kennedy Space Center adventure! The stories, the real control room, the men and women who sacrificed their lives, the whole deal. I hung on every word and detail of the tours and films. I’m about to rent Tom Hanks’ series Mission to the Moon and check out a few of the biographies. I’m hooked.
We’re lucky here in Central Florida; we can often see the launches from our backyards, especially the night launches. I have been so spoiled without even knowing it. Now that I have all the context for these experiences, I waited patiently Monday for the Atlantis launch. Teddy, Keegan and I saw it sitting on the launch pad when we were there. I felt a connection. Unfortunately, it was was so cloudy, I didn’t get to see it. Ugh.
But I felt like an insider: I knew something special about the mission’s commander, Scott Altman.
Our bus guide told us that Capt. Altman was the Navy pilot who did the real flying in Top Gun. How cool! I read on a news site that he only made $23 a day for his death-defying work (I wonder how much Cruise made?!). Also, NASA doesn’t even mention his role in the film, nor one of the most memorable movie scenes. Flying upside down, inverted, Altman give an obscene gesture to the pilot of an enemy plane.
“So when you’re looking at the scene where’s he’s communicating with the Russian,” Altman says,” that would be my finger.”