Sunday, 27 March 2005

Que Schirra, Schirra

Seen via Rocket Jones, an extremely irreverant and informative website,
Wally SchirraSchirra was named as one of the "Original Seven" Mercury Astronauts on April 9, 1959. NASA announced that the seven men, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, John H. Glenn, Jr., M. Scott Carpenter, Schirra, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, had been selected from among 110 of the nation's top military test pilots to train as astronauts for Project Mercury, the first phase of the U.S. space program, involving one-man suborbital and orbital missions. Schirra, Shepard and Carpenter were from the Navy; Grissom, Cooper, and Slayton were from the Air Force; and Glenn was from the Marine Corps.
Although he's older than Adam (and is the only person ever to crew Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions), he still hasn't lost his whimsical sense of humour. His site also contains a number of interesting things I didn't know, viz;
[Schirra] Blew hatch on carrier deck and wounded right hand from recoil of push button, proving that Grissom did not blow hatch on his flight.
..otherwise his hand would have been wounded too. Right.

Then there's this old joke:
There was one debriefing that was great fun. Jocelyn Gill, a NASA astronomer, was in charge of an experiment that involved taking photographs of the heavens. Dr. Gill was particularly interested in something the scientists call the dim light phenomenon. For this experiment, she had supplied me with very fast film, ASA 4,000, which was loaded into my Hasselblad camera. So I decided that here was a chance to settle the question of the fireflies once and for all.

I knew the fireflies were frozen molecules of vapor vented from the spacecraft, and they were with us constantly in the form of a fuzzy cloud. We could distinguish them from each other, since they reflected the different colors of the spectrum from the sun's rays. They appeared to John Glenn as fireflies. To others taking a quick look, as Tom Stafford did at the moment of rendezvous, they resembled a star field. As I said before, their source was water released in the heat exchange process that cooled our space suits. Another source was urine. "We peed all over the world," I'm fond of saying, despite the groans that come from the audience.

After the rendezvous, when we had some spare time, Tom and I snapped color photographs of the molecular cloud, one every forty five minutes. We logged each shot with a label - urine drops at sunrise, urine drops at sunset, etc. when the photos were processed at the cape, they were beautiful, and I ordered a set of prints. I had them on the table during an astronomy debriefing, mixed with other celestial photos. Dr. Gill noticed one and asked, "Wally, what constellation is this?'

"Jocelyn,", I replied, "that's the constellation Urion."
Schirra is currently a private consultant in Rancho Santa Fe, California, a public speaker and a television commercial spokesman for Actifed, the cold remedy he took on Apollo 7.
A man not to be sneezed at.

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