Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Countdown: Apollo 9

Today, March 3, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 9. Apollo 7 was impressive for being the first manned test of a Saturn rocket and of an Apollo command module, and Apollo 8 was stunning for taking a crew all the way to the Moon and back. Comparatively, Apollo 9 might have seemed mundane; the crew of Apollo 9, James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart, would perform their ten-day mission in Earth orbit. But Apollo 9 was loaded with tests and first achievements, and was as crucial and challenging as any mission of the Apollo program. It included a nearly forty-minute spacewalk by Schweickart to test the spacesuits that astronauts would wear on the Moon; the first flight of a lunar module, the spindly spaceship designed to land astronauts on the surface of the Moon; and the first rendezvous between a lunar module and a command module, a maneuver essential to the success of the coming landing attempt.

Apollo 9 splashed down safely in the Atlantic on March 13. The stage was set for Apollo 10 — the mission which would do everything but land, the final preparation for Apollo 11.

And, I may as well note that Apollo 9 is also the name of an Adam Ant song. I was never that into Adam Ant, so take this as thoroughness, not an endorsement.

Above: Dave Scott sticks his head out of Command Module Gumdrop.

Take 190 West

I was glad to be invited to the inaugural Take 190 West arts festival in Killeen, Texas, which took place this past weekend. I enjoyed meeting and talking with the organizers and other participants, including bookseller (and chef de cuisine) Pat Anderson and illustrator (and soon to be author) Don Tate, whose latest book, Ron’s Big Mission, is its own kind of astronaut story: it tells how future space shuttle astronaut Ron McNair, as a boy, by demanding the right to check out books, integrated his hometown library. It was also great to meet and rub shoulders with Keith Graves, Clare Dunkle, David Davis, Jan Peck, Jackie Mills, Xavier Garza, Nathan Jensen, Christina Strain, Rod Espinoza, and the other people whose names I’m forgetting right now. Thanks, Killeen, for the invitation!