Thursday, October 13, 2011

An afternoon with the Astronauts

1st Lt Louie Rivas
Assistant Public Affairs Officer and Mission Pilot
Amelia Earhart Senior Squadron 188
California Wing

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - San Francisco Fleet Week, the annual event celebrating the sea services is a very popular event in the Bay Area. It’s a weeklong event held on the marina green and wharfs along the bay and consists among other things, air shows by the Blue Angels, the Royal Canadian Airforce Snowbirds, and various aerobatic pilots.

I typically visit Fleet Week as a spectator but this year I participated as a volunteer for The W Foundation. I along with fellow members Lt Doug Perreira, Lt Mike Allen of Squadron 188 and cadets from Squadron 23 of Novato CA volunteered to help out the W Foundation with crowd control at their display booth.

The W Foundation (TWF) was founded in December 2002, by Ken Winans and his wife Debbie Wreyford-Winans as a volunteer staffed & privately funded California non-profit corporation for space education (The “W” is for Winans and Wreyford.) The Winans have been able to amass one of the largest private collections of U.S., Russian and Soviet space exploration artifacts in existence.

The W Foundation set up a booth on the marina green to display their collection of space artifacts. The display includes a mock up of a space helmet, Russian space suit, gloves, meteorite, explosive bolt and the insulating tile used on the space shuttle.

The helmet was fun to try on, it’s big round and it echoed when I talked. I felt like a fish in a fishbowl. The space tile was really cool, no really. A volunteer heated up one side of the tile with a torch, and allowed those who were brave enough to touch the opposite side of the tile which was surprisingly cool. Did you know the space shuttle is held in place by eight 110 lbs bolts? These bolts keep the space shuttle on the ground while the engines are starting up. Once the engines are stabilized the nuts of the bolts explode and allow the space shuttle to lift off the ground. Who knew? This year’s display also had four very special guests, and each of them is an astronaut.

The astronauts represented the early days of the space program, Gemini, Apollo, and the era of the space shuttle.

Astronaut Dick Gordon flew Gemini XI, and orbited the earth 44 days over a three day period. He also piloted the Apollo 12 command module while his crewmates walked on the moon.

Astronaut Richard Searfoss piloted two Space Shuttle missions, STS-58 and STS-76, and was the mission commander on his third space flight, STS-90. In 1996, during STS 76, he piloted Atlantis to the Russian space station Mir where the crew performed the third docking with Mir.

Astronaut Danny Bursch is a veteran of four space flights and has logged over 227 days in space. He was a mission specialist on STS-51, STS-68, and STS-77, and served as flight engineer on ISS Expedition-Four (2001-2002). Dan Bursch and fellow astronaut Carl Walz currently hold the U.S. space flight endurance record of 196 days in space.

The last astronaut, John Harrington, flew on STS-113 logging over 330 hours in space, including 3 EVAs (space walks) totaling 19 hours and 55 minutes.

These heroes were on hand to support TWF, promote space exploration and pose for the obligatory photographs. Each of them was happy to answer the same questions over and over again and share their very unique experiences into space. For example, I asked Astronaut Bursch what it was like to spend 6 months on space station Mir. He said, the most difficult part was not having a place to hide after having a bad day at the office. I also asked astronaut Searfoss what it was like on takeoff. He said you couldn’t really hear the noise but he could certainly feel the pressure of the thrust on his chest.

All in all it appeared to me they enjoyed themselves supporting TWF, mingling with the crowd and spending a fine day on the green.

Editor note: Visit the website for The W Foundation or perform a Google search for more information about the astronauts.

Images courtesy of 1st Lt Louie Rivas

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