Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Pontefract - we have a problem

Fred Haise (Space Lectures), Pontefract. October 2014.

Thanks to the world of Twitter letting me know about Space Lectures we are recently back from our third jaunt cross-country to Pontefract to meet another legend.

This time we were meeting Fred Haise who I think is probably the unluckiest man in the Apollo astronaut corps.  Haise should have been the 6th man to set foot on the moon but instead was on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.  Having escaped the threat of measles which saw his crew mate Mattingley bumped from the mission all looked to be going well.

Except after launch an engine behaved oddly and shut down (just in the nick of time as it nearly came off which would have caused many more - fatal - problems). After spending some time orbiting earth while the ground crew assessed the impact of the engine loss Apollo 13 was good to go to the moon.  Then 200 000 miles away from the earth, when the oxygen/hydrogen tanks were stirred there was an explosion which ultimately ended the mission to the moon and turned Apollo 13 into the tense tale of three men who had to hope nothing else went wrong so they could get home safely, and the ultimate irony - to do this they had to fly right around the moon!

Obviously as Fred Haise was talking to us this was a success but his bad luck didn't end there. After being the back up commander for Apollo 16 he was then due to command Apollo 19 - a mission that was scrapped due to funding cuts.

Fighting back from a serious plane crash (resulting in burns to 65% of his body) Haise returned to flight status and flew space shuttle Enterprise on 5 test flights in the earth's atmosphere but left the astronaut corps before the shuttle programme finally got to orbit.

Haise covered all of this in his talk and though out was, like the other astronauts we've seen in Pontefract, humble, amusing and very quick to praise the other 400 000 people involved in the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions who we rarely hear about.

I'm afraid that I just spend these talks star struck and don't remember huge details of them but there are fuller accounts on Collect Space and I have no doubt that blogger Space Kate will have a post up soon - she was name checked in the lecture by Haise as his first career choice was as a journalist and Kate was taking copious notes during the talk.

This time - for the first time - we also went to the dinner on Friday night and while Fred Haise only spoke for a few moments at this there was much more time to get an autograph and share a few words with him than the popular lectures allow.  Being outbid on two auction items and not winning either raffle were slight downers!

The two things I really will take away from this weekend:

  1. Fred Haise holding a door in the hotel open for me (okay I had my hands full but I felt I should be laying down my coat for him to walk on a la Sir Walter Raleigh rather than him holding a door for me)
  2. Fred Haise's look of total emotion as the lecture theatre of c.450 people gave him a standing ovation at the end of the event.
Oh and the blog title?  The school where the events are held had several tech failures during the talk, not least Fred Haise's headset microphone failing necessitating one of the Space Lecture's organisers having to remove it.  This was connected to Fred Haise's belt and it did look very funny from the audience, caused Haise to smile hugely and also for hecklers to call out that Haise needed to check it was only the microphone removed and not a wallet. I guess you had to be there....

We'll be heading back to Pontefract in April 2015 when the guest will be the first woman to pilot, and then to command, the space shuttle Cmdr Eileen Collins.  This news really made my inner feminist very happy :)

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