1,204 pixel wide panel shot of Alex's plane.

Astronauts and Wheat Fields by Doug Reeves
Home > Travel Stories > Cosmosphere

On 8/8/2001 Alex DeDominic took me as a passenger in his RV-6 N727LV (pictured below) along with Jay Pratt in his RV-6 on a day trip from Dallas, TX to Hutchinson, KS to see the Cosmosphere Space Museum.

I am a manned space program history fanatic.  I'm in awe of everything the United States did in space in the early '60s and '70s.  For reasons I don't understand, one of the largest collections of US and Soviet space hardware has been put on display in Hutchinson, KS, just about dead smack center of the country.

n727lv.jpg (33519 bytes)n727lv_panel.jpg (125830 bytes)I took a Wednesday as a vacation day from work, climbed in Alex's N727LV at 7:30am, began taxiing at 7:34am and was airborn from Arlington Muni (GKY) at 7:39am pointed toward cheap gas at Gainesville, TX (GLE).

Alex is an air traffic controller by trade and gave me some helpful tips concerning what he likes to hear from pilots when they call up for a transition request or flight following.  At least for me, the whole class B experience is a little overwhelming speedway.jpg (21898 bytes) at times (remember, I'm a fairly new pilot), but I found his advice and tips very helpful.  We contacted approach with a short "Fort Worth Approach, N727LV request."   Alex requested and received flight following, got a squawk code, and was routed to GLE toot-sweet.  We passed right over the top of Texas' new NASCAR mecca - The Texas Motor Speedway.  He made it look easy....I'm going to need some practice.

okc.jpg (29069 bytes)Around 8:00 we were on the ground in GLE for $1.79 avgas.  Met Tom Shad at the pump, a RV-8 builder.  I noticed he was wearing an Omega Speedmaster Professional (the NASA moon watch).  This was, I thought to myself, a good omen.  We were off sl60.jpg (58740 bytes)navaid.jpg (39835 bytes) again at 8:30am, got flight following, climbed to 6,500ft and pointed towards Hutchinson (HUT) 245nm away.  Alex punched in HUT in the ol' Apollo SL60 that is tied into his Navaid single-axis autopilot, trimmed for level flight and turned on George.  We crossed over the top of Oklahoma City around 9:15am at 165kts making sure to stay clear of Vance AFB's MOA, and started our decent into HUT at 10:02am, touching down at 10:12am.

formation_up.jpg (20998 bytes)carl.jpg (60391 bytes)We taxied up to the control tower and walked inside, where Carl Nelson of Wells Aircraft greeted us.  While we were eating some of the free chocolate chip cookies he asked if we were 'those guys from Dallas who called about ground transportation to the museum'.  He said the courtesy car had a time limit for use but that he would have one of the line guys drive us in - one Brandon Taggart.  The museum is about 3 miles from the airport and we were standing outside the entrance by 10:20.  Total time from GLE to HUT in the air - 1.7 hrs.

alex_climbing.jpg (60035 bytes)Note Alex here clearly following posted instructions.  When you walk into the museum the first thing you see is a Lockheed SR-71 - specifically #961.  Here's where I plug a great web site, as the Blackbird is my all-time favorite non-RV aircraft.  Go to http://www.habu.org/ if you have any interest in these unbelievable planes.  Understandably, I took a LOT of pictures of the Habu, so I'll just put a little clump of them here...

SR-71 pictures
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Next stop:  A Soviet procedures trainer.  Unbelievably, three people fit in this ball.
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Next:  A Space Shuttle tire.  This tire goes from 0 to 225mph in .1 seconds.  Notice the area that is worn completely through the tire - called the 'Spin Up Point'.  The life cycle of a shuttle tire is, understandably, one landing.
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A Lunar Lander.  This was one of the engineering test vehicles built at Grumman in Long Island.  I just finished a book written by Tom Kelley, the LEM program manager.  In the book Mr. Kelley says conceptualizing and designing it was an engineering dream, building it an engineering nightmare.  The walls of the LEM in some spots was the thickness of three sheets of aluminum foil.  You could punch your fist through it with no problem.  When it was pressurized on the Moon it creeked and groaned.  Can you imagine Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 on the surface in one of these for three days, sleeping in shirtsleeves in hammocks?  In the lower corner of the picture is one of the rovers (this one also a engineering mockup).  They cost 6,000,000 each and were built by Boeing.  The first 4X4.
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V1 Buzzbomb
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yuri.jpg (28597 bytes) yuri2.jpg (26654 bytes) Bet you didn't know that the first Russian in space had to, upon re-entry eject at 22,000ft.  Here's an actual Soviet space test article.

geminicockpit.jpg (64459 bytes) Gemini cockpit.  Frank Borman (who will be judging RV's at the Land of Enchantment RV Fly-In in Las Cruces, NM on Sept 14,15,16) spent 14 days in one of these with Jim Lovell to test long duration effects on the human body.  They announced their engagement when they landed <g>.        

firstsovietspacewalk.jpg (30281 bytes) firstsovietspacewalka.jpg (52210 bytes) How the Soviets pulled off the first space walk - a canvas sack!

lem_inside.jpg (30732 bytes) LEM procedure trainer. 

whiteroom.jpg (21026 bytes) whiteroom2.jpg (38553 bytes) One of the three 'White Rooms'.  Picture this room over 350 feet off the ground up against the door on the command module of the Saturn V rocket.  In this very spot was where 1/3rd of the final handshakes and hugs were doled out as men journeyed into Earth orbit and later to the Moon.  Exact records weren't kept as to which missions used which white room, so we'll never know.  My thoughts went from the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire to the nervousness of Apollo 11 to the sadness of the final mission Apollo 17.  Quite a lot of history departed from within these steel walls.  Apparently, Jay and Alex are ready and willing to go when called.

The Apollo 13 Command Module
A highlight of the trip.  This isn't a model or copy - it is the ACTUAL Apollo 13 command module 'Odyssey'.  As you know, they were lucky to get back alive.  Needless to say I took a few pics.  The last one is 1,024 pixels wide and shows where Jim Lovell would have sat.  This one item was worth the trip (to me).
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Here is a collection of the various cameras used during the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab missions. 
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Historic Gloves
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(big version)
As the sign said, "With these gloves, humans first held the soil of another world.  These are actual pressure gloves worn by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin when they accomplished one of humankind's greatest triumphs - the first landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969."

Question:  How does an astronaut tell time?  Answer:  If he's a NASA astronaut and he's on the Moon, he looks at his Omega Speedmaster Professional.  This is the actual watch worn by Alan Sheppard on Apollo 14 - the fifth human to walk on the Moon.  Chuck Maddox has one of the definitive sites concerning the history of this watch and I'd recommend it to anyone.  I reference it often.  It's a great watch.  It has grandeur.  If you want some history on how NASA selected the Speedmaster for the space program, read on...

The Speedmaster in space

In 1964 NASA sent two employees out to "incognito" purchase five reputable chronographs to be tested for possible use in space. The Mercury program was almost complete and the coming Gemini program with scheduled "space-walks" would require a watch that could withstand the extreme conditions in space. After the first round of tests two of the five brands were disqualified and after the second round there was only one left... On September 29 1964 NASA ordered twelve Speedmasters from the US Omega importer. They paid retail price, $82.50 for the watches and wanted them delivered by October 21.  Meanwhile NASA arranged for a series of test to finally determine what watch to use in space. The watches had to cope with:

The tests were completed on March 1, 1965. Three chronographs from different manufacturers were still running, but only the Speedmaster had passed without any of the serious troubles that had occurred with the two others (twisted hands, warped crystals...). NASA stated: "Operational and environmental tests of the three selected chronographs have been completed, and, as a result of the test, Omega chronographs have been calibrated and issued to three members of the GT-3 crews." The "GT-3" (Gemini-Titan III) took off 04:52 March 23, 1964 with the astronauts John Young and Virgil Grissom on board. On the next Gemini flight (IV) Edward White left the capsule and became the first American to walk in space. On his wrist was the Speedmaster.

Pete Conrad during Apollo 12.  Notice the watch around his left elbow.  There was also a Playboy centerfold picture on that wrist checklist, but that's another story.

Okay, enough about watches.....   I think it's been established that DOUG LIKES OMEGA SPEEDMASTERS.

Back to the museum.

Moon rock:
moonrock_apollo11.jpg (65955 bytes)  This rock was brought back by Neil and Buzz in '69.  I'm thinking it's priceless, which might account for the, like, three layers of bulletproof glass.

rover.jpg (69126 bytes) One of the $6,000,000 rovers built.

We called the number that Wells Aircraft gave us and one of the line guys came and picked us back up.  What service.  We even had another cookie!  We got some gas, climbed in, and scooted up to 7,500 where the air was cooler (it was 100 on the ground).  The afternoon Sun had created a few big TCB's.  We enjoyed the shade when we were under them.
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Turning base at GLE, where we stopped for avgas and chicken fried steak at The Smokehouse.

car.jpg (85001 bytes)We decided to get gas again at GLE ($1.79 at GLE, $2.79 at HUT) and since it was around 6:00pm in the evening decided to go into town using the the airport courtesy car and get some food.  Apparently Red Marron's FAVORITE place to eat in Gainesville is The Smokehouse.  We gave it a shot and I must admit it was not bad at all.  My glass of tea was about 10" tall and was exactly what I needed.  I needed about three.  The car reminded me of the car in The Blues Brothers.  When I climbed in I said, "We're on a mission.................a mission from God!"  Here we are polishing it up and checking the tires.  Eight cylinders (I think almost all of them worked).  I particularly liked the subtle labeling.

Tanks and stomachs full and bladders empty found us back in the plane about an hour later.  It was a short hop of about 25 minutes to where Alex keeps his plane hangered at GKY.  The Sun was beginning to get low on the western horizon as one incredible day came to a close.  Fifteen minutes and I was back in the car on my way to the house where baby duty and dirty dishes awaited.  Time to turn back into 'an adult'.  Rats.  I can't wait to do this in my own RV-6.
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We covered around 800 statute miles in a day over three states.  For me it was one of those days you remember forever.  It tied together two of my passions, aviation and astronomy, so nicely I couldn't have crafted a better script if I had a year to do it.  Those of us lucky enough to be building and flying these wonderful machines are a truly blessed bunch.  


Doug Reeves - vansairforce@hotmail.com
August 9, 2001

Jay Pratt runs RV Central - a RV builder assistance facility in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  His number is (817) 271-0594.
Alex DeDominicis is a CFI/CFII and is listed in the 'Transition Training' section of this site.  He can be reached at (817) 798-0419.