More weird crap in Mike’s place
Growing up in the 60s, I was a bit too young to get into the officially approved rockhippieantiwar-run off to the Height and Groove all Night-scene. That duty was relegated to my sister who was 4 years older and part of the prime demographic for VW Bugs, beads and Patchouli incense. And we were only about 35 miles south of The City.
My job was to follow the moon program. So odd to think that as I write this, it is 45 years since the One Small Step. A scant 45 years before the moon landings it was 1924, the middle of Prohibition, silent movies, flappers and speakeasies. The Great War is now called World War I, the wealthier could drive in cars called “Phaeton” or “Pierce-Arrow,” everyone likely knew at least one Civil War veteran, and the moon was still the subject better suited to poets than wide-eyed kids.
It was remarkable then to see the lunar program unfold mission by mission. My teachers learned that if I was late to school it was likely “launch day” for something.
In November of 1966, the Gemini program ended with the triumphant splashdown of Gemini 12 after an ambitious 4-day mission that finally showed that man can do useful work on a spacewalk (previous equipment issues and misunderstanding of the dynamics of zero-G made spacewalks a challenge). Gemini was to smoothly give way to Apollo, with the first manned Apollo mission scheduled about 3 months later in early-1967. The Apollo 1 would never fly due to the fire that killed her crew during a simple ground based test. (The opening scenes of the Apollo 13 movie depict this). So 1967 would be the year without any US spaceflights. And the sole manned mission from the USSR would also be caught up in the vortex of tragedy as the Soyuz 1 spacecraft failed on reentry, killing it’s sole crewman, Vladimir Komorov.
So for a young space-nerd it was nearly unbearable to have to wait until 1968 for the resumption of Apollo. It was October, nearly 20 months after Apollo 1 with the Apollo 7 crew of Wally Schirra, Walt Cunningham and Donn Eisele would roar off the pad to a successful 11 day mission in Earth orbit. One of the innovations onboard Apollo was that of a miracle of modern technology: A small handheld black-and-white TV camera. Most history books state that this was the first time live television was broadcast from a US Spacecraft. Most history books are wrong. The final Mercury mission, Faith-7 with Gordon Cooper had a crude slow-scan camera onboard that took two seconds to send back a single frame. Apollo 7’s would be full motion, all packaged into a compact 7 lb (!) device.
A lot has been made over the crew’s “mutiny” when it came to the broadcasts. It is said that Schirra and his crew protested strongly against these PR games the camera represented and refused orders for the broadcasts until their workload had lessened. However on the morning of day 3 as Apollo came up over the Goldstone tracking station in Southern California, the camera was fired up and I would get to school late.
As the fuzzy images cleared up, I could see that one of the crewmen was holding up a gag sign for all to see. Harking back to the golden age of live radio, the sign said “From the Lovely Apollo Room, high atop everything.” Here I was, in my home in northern California, able to read a sign held by an astronaut in Earth orbit! And as the CAPCOM in Houston read it back to the crew, I was thinking, “Gosh, what a great souvenir that would be of the flight!” Long after man would walk on the moon, Apollo 7 would seem quaint by comparison, but I bet it would at least be remembered for that joke.
Unfortunately the card was held too far away from the camera, the second card they showed, “Keep those cards and letters coming in folks!” was much clearer so made page one of all of the newspapers.
Fast-forward about 25 years. The astronauts realized that their space souvenirs could pay the for the kids or grandkids college education. It was at one of these early auctions as I flipped through the catalog, what did I spy? A handwritten card that read “From the Lovely Apollo Room, high atop everything.” Bidding on that was a total no-brainer, not to mention, one of my very first and favorite auction purchases. Along with that, I was able to pick up a wooden mockup of the camera itself used for training.
And every morning as I get up head downstairs to work, I pass it by in my hallway framed against a newspaper front page about that first broadcast. And I never ever get tired seeing it, thinking, “Wow! I really have it!” On the back are a couple of handwritten notes regarding some maneuver they had to make along with the “script” for that first broadcast.Years later, just a couple months before Wally Schirra would pass away, I met him and told him about my treasure. He didn’t remember auctioning it off, or who he might have given it to, but it has found a permanent home. And even though I have a lot of flown items from those days, the Apollo 7 gag card still is at the top of the heap.