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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Early History of the Space Center. Chapter 2

Hello Troops,
Many of you commented on Mr. Schuler's last post on the Space Center's History. I asked Bill to continue the series. He grasciously consented. Today we read the second chapter in the series. I hope you enjoy reading about our early days. Please send your questions. I'll ask Bill to answer them.

Bill will find pictures of the early Space Center and get them posted soon.

Mr. Williamson

By Bill Schuler

Victor approached me about continuing with more installments of the early history of the Space Center. After seven years I figure its about time. With my position as Chief Pizza Picker Upper secure ( Have you ever walked into a pizza place to pick up 12 pizza’s while dressed in a full regulation Star Trek uniform?) It was time to move onto the fun stuff.

Before continuing I would like to build you a mental picture of the space center as it was then. First there was one ship only, the Voyager. Mission control contained 3 computers. The video system consisted of 2 VHS Tape players 1 to play the mission video the other to play stars, I don’t remember what we used for stars but it was pretty terrible. The main fixture of the video station was the laserdisc player. Just think of a laser disc as a really, really big DVD.

The sound equipment consisted of a Microphone, Amplifier, 1 tape cassette player with 2 cassette bays (state of the art then) and one of those new fangle CD players with 1 platter bay. If you wanted to record or edit music you had to do it on tape as consumer disc burning hadn’t been invented yet. The Tactical screen was projected using a monochrome LCD device connected to the Tactical computer. The device was then laid on top an overhead projector and the computer image was rear screen projected onto the Voyager’s tactical screen.

The Tactical Stacks were generated by Vic using Hypercard, with almost no animations. If you wanted something to move you had to click and drag, all the while Vic would give gentle encouragement. Now lets move onto the bridge. The bridge stations were old style Apple Macintosh all in one computers with a huge 9.5 inch monochrome screen. I think most of them had 20MB hard drives. We had a few Mac SE’s with massive 80MB hard drives. Who could possibly fill up an 80MB hard drive? The bridge computers were networked through their modem ports using the then radical Appletalk network parodical. Ethernet had not been invented yet. A program called Timbuktu was used in mission control to see the bridge computers. All the bridge computer screens were tiled onto 2 macs so the control room staff could see what the kids were doing. Mind you this is all on 9.5 inch computer screens! This system was far from elegant or streamlined but somehow it worked, if not particularly fast. Most of our flight director’s these days would refuse to work under the the conditions that we considered normal.

The overnight mission for 1991-92 was the “Canada” Some of you may think you have done this mission but the resemblance is transitory. Victor cobbled together video from Star Trek 1 and 2 into a rather crude mission video. No offense to Vic but using the consumer machines of the day with the generational loss of non-time base corrected VHS recording, crude was all you could really come up with.

An overnight mission was an entirely different animal in those days. The mission lasted from 6:00pm Friday night to 11:00am Saturday morning, and all of that time aside from meals and sleeping was devoted to 1 mission. This gave us an unparalleled timespan to develop the mission story. Unique to this time the crew did several breakout sessions meaning the crew would break up into several groups and do various educational activities under the supervision of the staff. I’m a little hazy on what those specific activities were, a few of them where exercise training, building robots. and designing circuits to do various things. While all of this is going on there is a skeleton crew up on the bridge. The ship is on course to a stable wormhole that is guarded by a Federation Outpost (and yes this was several years before Star Trek Deep Space 9 premiered).

Part of the bridge routine at this time shows a cargo ship on a collision course with the Voyager. Communications is supposed to call the ship and tell them to change course. Now that I am in charge of the phone, I think to myself: If I were the cargo ship captain, why should I be the one to change course. I filed an approved flight plan, I am following the most economical course to my destination so as to maximize profit for my cargo, any course changes are going to cost me money, Why should I change course! My cargo ship captain absolutely refuses to change course. This requires the Voyager to change course. Lets say the exchange gets a little heated. So a simple course change turns into an important story element.

I also introduced one of the most enduring story elements in Space Center history, The Slim Devil! Again, I’m the guy with the phone, remember. My job is to develop the second story line. In the beginning the slime Devil had no substance. It was merely a nuisance that gets loose from the Zoology lab. People from various decks call an report its location and security has to figure how to track it down and capture it. As I recall it was very fond of hanging out at the swimming pool where it frequently laid eggs. Despite having no substance the Slime Devil did make some of the kids nervous. One night on a whim I threw a stuffed tribble into decontamination, where a returning landing party was patiently waiting out their decontamination time. As I threw it in a made an appropriate snarling noise. This action produced a few well modulated screams, we knew we were onto something. That night when the crew was bedded down Vic and I were talking about the crews reaction to the slime devil. Vic off handedly mentioned how cool it would be if you could see two red eyes floating in the darkness. The moment I heard that I thought “Hey I can do that”.

That week I scoured the nearby Radio Shack for the necessary parts and created the first corporal slime devil. The beast consisted of 2 red LED’s soldered to a frame inside a brown sock and powered by a 9 volt battery. My first test subject was Mark Daymont. He reported that he was suitably startled. During the next overnighter the slime devil made his first physical appearance in decontamination with the appropriate snarls and growls. I don’t remember much after that as the entire landing party scattered while producing screams at the highest decibel level the Space Center had heretofore ever recorded.

The next step was to give the slime devil a longer reach. I believe Vic suggested we might have it spit venom. Easy to do, get a super soaker and let fly when nobody is looking. If a crew member got “slimed” they had to go down to sick bay for the anti-venom treatment, which took about five minutes. These days I cringe at the thought of spraying copious amounts of water without regard to the 20 some odd computers on the bridge.

The power of suggestion is a truly amazing thing. One girl who was slimed remembered how the venom burned her flesh, Yep PG tap water is pretty corrosive.
one camper recalled how the slime devil would grab his feet under the communication station. This never happened as there is no access to that part of the ship from the outside. But to this day he will swear that he was being attacked from under the desk.

Late in the year a new wrinkle in the slime devil saga surfaced. How would the crew react if the slime devil started laying eggs all over the ship. Easy, I picked up a half dozen wooden eggs from a craft store, painted them up an appropriately sinister fashion and planted them in various sleeping bags on deck 2. Oh the memories of watching little campers shake down all of there belongings to ride themselves of the embryonic horrors. I always collected the 6 eggs. But they didn’t know all of them were accounted for. It was enough to give a young Kyle Herring nightmares. Oh the bliss.

Although the Slime Devil is seldom used as a plot device these days, it is the hereditary ancestor of the Grishnocks, Zitherdons, Targs, Spiders, and flesh devouring insects now in use today.

That is enough for installment 2, my memory cells are starting to melt due to overuse.

Installment 3 coming up later.
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