Saturday, November 16, 2013

Capt. Richard Gordon

Back in June, I Facebooked about meeting astronaut Dan Bursch and posted a photo of me giving him a copy of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, explaining my policy: if you've actually been in space, you can have a free book. A couple of friends who've spent more time hanging around astronauts than I have warned me that, given all the folks who've been up on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, my policy could bankrupt me.

Point taken. My revised policy: if you've actually been to the Moon, you can have a free book.

Dick Gordon has been to the Moon. So last night he got a free book.

Gordon: "So what's it about?" Me: "Well, you're in it."

Captain (US Navy retired) Gordon was the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission. To refresh your memory, the Command Module Pilot was the man who stayed in orbit around the Moon while his two crewmates--in Gordon's case, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean--descended to the surface in the Lunar Module. Before Apollo 12, Gordon and Conrad flew Gemini 11.

The opportunity to meet Capt. Gordon had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my daughter, Laura. You may recall my many posts about her job as a museum staffer aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier. She works there part time; the other part of the time she works at the Space Station Museum in Novato, Calif., a free one-room storefront museum opened by Ken Winans, a man with one of the world's largest private collections of space memorabilia and a passion to share it. Winans is on the Hornet's board of directors, Gordon's Apollo 12 mission was actually recovered by the Hornet, Gordon is an advisor to the Space Station Museum, and you can see how it all fits together.

I've done a few good deeds for the Space Station Museum myself and so was invited to tag along for Friday's meet-and-greet with museum staff and volunteers. The group was small, maybe 15 or so, so I had a couple of opportunities to talk to the captain at length. I also eavesdropped on everyone else's conversations. Gordon is 84 years old (!) but astonishingly sharp and fit. At one point I leaned over to Laura and whispered, "Forty years ago that man was one of the coolest people on the planet." Searching for an appropriate comparison, I added: "He's like old Bruce Wayne in 'Batman Beyond.'" That became our private joke the rest of the night. "He's Batman."

For the uninitiated, "Batman Beyond" was a cartoon set in
a future in which Bruce Wayne retired and trained a teenager
to become the new Batman.

I mean, just look at the photo at the top of this post. Have you ever seen a cooler stud in your life? Dick Gordon's still got it.

Ken Winans (second from left) introducing Dick Gordon to the troops. I chose
this photo because it gives a good overview of both the Space Station Museum
and the size of the group. Plenty of opportunity for one-on-one interaction!

I learned late that Capt. Gordon had agreed to sign one item for every person. With little time to prepare, I looked around my office. I could've printed out a photo like the one up top but that seemed tacky. Then my eyes fell on my toy shelf:

Best part is that I had him sign the Command Module, which was his domain on the mission. I just noticed that my Service Module is missing a thruster rocket (should be where that dark gray two-holed block is at lower right). Rats. Let's say it adds charm.

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Yvonne Cagle, an M.D., flight surgeon, and Air Force Colonel who is a new-generation astronaut, though she hasn't yet been in space. Col. Cagle was extremely personable, and gave me my favorite insight of the night when she entered the Space Station Museum and spent several minutes at the front counter nervously worrying about how she should approach and address Capt. Gordon ("Oh no, I can't call him 'Dick.'"). Even people you might expect to be calm and confident in every situation can have heroes who awe and intimidate them.

A member of Astronaut Group 16 (Class of 1996) meets
a member of Astronaut Group 3 (Class of 1963).

Then we all went out for pizza.

Me, Laura, Col. Cagle and Capt. Gordon

I don't know what it is with me and pizza, but my two pizza dinners this week were extraordinary.

I went to meet Capt. Gordon, a genuine American hero, and he didn't disappoint ("He's Batman"). But I'd have to say I came away a real fan of Col. Cagle, who was absolutely terrific. This was a special night for me. Thanks, Laura!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay, I'm happy to have given you the opportunity to meet Batman! ;)