Houston we have “Weird Crap” #6
It’s no secret that I have a NASA obsession. That would be obvious the moment you step into World HQ for Global Domination, otherwise known as “my house.” The first WTF is a spacesuit seated in one of my otherwise nice Ethan-Allen chairs. Then there’s the large Soviet-made N1 model, and over in my TV room is something-really-cool-that-cost-more-than-a-Miata-but-not-immediately-recognizable-so-may-be-sold-for-something-else-cooler-looking-in-the-future.
This comes from having grown up in the 60’s letting my older sister do the hippie-thing (we were only 35 mi. south of San Francisco, and by inference, “The Haight”), and it was up to me to grab hold of man’s last great era of exploration. As each new spaceflight drew closer and closer, I’d collect the newspapers, jot down the schedules and get progressively more giddy like a 7 year-old girl convinced her parents got her a unicorn for her upcoming birthday (who she’d name “Sparkles.”) As the launches typically took place in the early morning for us on the West Coast, the preceding night’s sleep was short, if at all. My excitement would usually get the better of me though, and I’d have my homemade AM radio on to a news station while wearing my dad’s old WWII-era headphones.
Those mornings ceased by the end of the Apollo missions. Until the movie Apollo 13. I’d read Jim Lovell’s book but had no idea it was being made for the big screen until I saw the first trailer which started “On the 13th minute, of the 13th hour, the 13th Apollo mission was launched…” (note that the famous “Failure is not an option” line is not used as it hadn’t hit catch-phrase status yet).
I was giddy once more, and believe it or not, could hardly sleep that night before. I went with a bunch of friends from my church. As Star Wars fans go in costume, I had to go in mine
The jacket was an authentic Apollo mission jacket made for Gordon Cooper who flew the last Mercury mission and was commander of the Apollo 10 backup crew. Coincidentally, Cooper was likely to be named the commander of Apollo 13, but lost out for many reasons, among which he considered a bit of a slacker.
The film was about as good as I had hoped it would be, and represents a good example of how to adapt a book to a screenplay. Although I would’ve avoided the omniscient viewpoint that Ron Howard took and not reveal what happened leaving us in the same kind of dark as the crew and ground control. Instead of showing Jack Swigert slowly flipping the switch to “stir the cryos” as if it was something unique and dangerous followed by the spark in the LOX tank that caused the explosion, I would have played that down and focused on the crew doing routine things when the first bang was felt. In the background through one of the windows we’d then see some debris flying by. Much scarier.
When leaving I heard a little girl behind me say “Daddy! That man is wearing what the spacemen were!”
Not too long after the movie, at one of the semi-annual space artifacts auctions in LA, the cassette tape recorder from the movie popped up for sale. As it is one of the key props in the film short of slide rules and frozen hot dogs, I would carefully unwrap my precious a couple of weeks later. I pulled out the DVD of the film and found the final scene it was in and compared mine it. WTF? One of the labels was upside-down in the movie! &@(. I must’ve gotten a backup unit that may not have ever been on screen. Small props are typically in multiples in case they get lost or damaged during filming. Particularly when filming the cockpit scenes in real, but short lived zero-G. Props, cameras, crew and sets would get pretty beat up as the flying sound-stage would go from zero-G to 3-G and back, dozes of times a day.
I flipped the recorder over and noticed a nice large scratch on the back that just might be visible on film. Popping back to the very first scene right before the accident, Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) is showing the viewers their musical system as it plays Hank William’s “Honky Tonkin.” And just as it flips over, I spy a large scratch on the back.
With the success of the film, NASA’s black-sheep mission (as it was the one that “failed”) garnered much deserved respect. And as such anything flown on the flight now days command prices second only to Apollo 11. So my Apollo 13 collection only has a flown mission patch and some parachute material. But having the recorder ain’t bad.