Out of bed, showered, quick stop at Starbucks (which faked me out), then south toward San Francisco. I'm no dummy (no, really!) and figured it had something to do with our girls, Robin and Laura, who live in The City. But Karen faked me out again, veering off toward the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge that crosses the North Bay toward Berkeley, Oakland . . . and Alameda.
Which is where they berth the USS Hornet aircraft carrier--once a warship and recovery vessel for the Apollo 11 and 12 space missions, now a floating museum and historic landmark--and where my girls were waiting for me. Surprise!
I've written about my girls and the Hornet before: they both volunteer there, giving tours and chaperoning groups of Boy Scouts and such who spend the night aboard ship. Laura trained up to become a full docent and more recently parlayed her in-progress graduate education in Museum Studies to become the Hornet's full-fledged Archival and Collections Manager. Her job is to go through decades of papers and material that came with the ship when it was decommissioned in 1970 plus a lot more donated by old sailors since, figure out what it is, document it, preserve it, and do the gruntwork needed to make the Hornet's junk into a real museum-quality collection. It'll take months. Years. You know that warehouse at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark?" Like that. But what an opportunity for her! So my birthday gift was a backstage tour.
Now I need to tell you about deadly Moon Germs.
There aren't any.
But nobody knew that for certain in 1969, and on the off chance that the first men to land on the Moon brought back some alien face-hugging brain-burrowers, the returning astronauts of Apollos 11, 12 and 14 were locked in a modified Airstream trailer dubbed a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) (it wasn't necessary for Apollo 13 since those astronauts never left their ship; by Apollo 15, NASA concluded the Moon was sterile and the MQF wasn't necessary at all). The MQF used for Apollo 11 is in the Smithsonian. The one used for Apollo 12 is at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The one used for Apollo 14 is on the Hornet.
So here's a photo of President Richard Nixon on the hangar deck of the Hornet looking through the window of an Airstream trailer--excuse me, MQF--congratulating Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin. Note the "Hornet + 3" sign above the window, covering up the "Airstream" logo with a touch of military whimsy (similar whimsy had the astronauts fill out a U.S. Customs form listing their previous destination as "Moon" and declaring their cargo of "Moon rocks"):
Now look at me this morning, grinning like a loon, holding a piece of painted wood Laura found tucked away on a shelf one day.
|Not a recreation. Not a simulation. The wood grain matches. It's the real deal.|
Now look at the shelf behind me, under my left hand (here, I'll blow it up for you!), and compare it to a photo of the MQF used for the next lunar landing, Apollo 12:
They kept the signs. On the ship. For forty-three years. Before the Hornet's crew loaded the hero-filled trailers onto military transport aircraft and flew them back to Texas, they kept the signs.
Some of you may say, "So what?" I understand your reaction. Others of you might get chills up your spine and tears in your eyes. You understand my reaction.
Best. Birthday. EVER. And best kids ever.
|Robin, me and Laura in front of the Apollo 14 MQF on the hangar deck of the Hornet.|