Monday, August 13, 2018

SPLASHDOWN! Just like we planned it.


Recently there appeared a cartoon of a kid who splashed down his model rocket into his backyard pool. 

Well... I actually did that... by accident. 

The story begins with my space-buff pal CJ Vanston and I in the summer of 1971. It was about two and one half weeks after Apollo 15 had splashed down completing an historic mission to Hadley Rille. CJ would come to my neighborhood to spend about a week with his dad and step-mom every two weeks during the summer. In between those visits we'd both cook up crazy model rocket projects to punch holes in the sky over Sheridan Park- the subdivision of Saginaw, Michigan where I resided. Then, as soon as CJ hit town- all hell would break lose and the neighbors would be frightened for sure. The neighborhood kids, however, would be thrilled... especially when something went wrong.

More great spaceflight stories like this can be found in Wes' six book spaceflight series- visit HERE!

Of course at the ripe old age of 14, we always liked having an audience. The kids in the neighborhood would flock to my house at the first familiar "swoosh!" of one of our rockets. They then would peer through the cracks in the stockade fence that surrounded my backyard and watch as CJ and I rigged the next rocket. At the next swoosh, the chase was on as they all followed us downrange for the recovery. We launched from my back yard because a large farmer's field was directly behind my house and I had a lot of backyard room. CJ's back yard was mostly taken up by one of the neighborhood's few in-ground pools, so mine afforded the best launch site.

We had already done one flight this fine summer day and now we had a crowd of kids and stingray bikes all waiting on the next launch. This one involved a rocket with a see-through payload section and several ants aboard. CJ was really into B14-5 core-burning, high impulse engines that summer and so that was probably what was in this bird.

The launch boosted normally and much to delight of our rocket watchers. The B14-5 engine, however, had the thing really haulin' ass and when the ejection charge went off and the shockcord snapped! The booster section simply fell away while the payload section, on it's parachute and devoid of the booster's weight, began to drift away in the breeze.

CJ and I immediately realized that the payload section was heading off toward the neighborhood houses. We headed through my garage and into the street in a trot while keeping our eyes locked on that parachute. The wayward payload was on an "as the crow flies" course toward CJ's street. In fact, it was headed directly for his house! On foot we had to run down my street, around the corner and three doors up his block to intercept the descending payload. As we got to his house we arrived with a flock of neighborhood kids behind us just in time to see the parachute vanish behind his house.

Dashing up the driveway we both burst through the gate to his fence and saw the payload section floating in the middle of his pool! For a moment we were a bit stunned by the totally accidental landing in his pool. Looking behind us we saw a bunch of the neighborhood kids looking at the two of us. Here we were, the two space geeks who had launched from one of our backyards and splashed down in the other's pool. We looked at one another and simultaneously raised our hands...

"SPLASHDOWN!" We shouted in unison, "Just like we planned it!"

Everyone but us was amazed.

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