Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Space Center History. The Early Days
By Bill Schuler
The Space Center's Oldest Volunteer.
I started reminiscing with Mr. Williamson about what it was like to be a volunteer in the old days when the Space Center opened. Vic suggested I write a post concerning my early Space Center experiences as a historical prospective. Realizing this will require a substantial amount of commentary, It has been decided to break it down into several separate installments.
The Start of the illness!
Mark Daymont actually introduced me to the Space Center. One day in the fall of
1990 he picked up a local paper her never reads and found an article about how this 6th grade teacher went and built a spacecraft simulator in his school. Mark was so
intrigued he actually sought out the strange teacher, to meet him and see his work first hand. Immediately Mark thought "How can I help with this". Then he thought "How can I drag my friends into this." A week later Mark, myself, and Dave Wall sat in on our first student missions as visiting admiral's. The three of us, for various reasons had acquired Star Trek uniforms from "Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Kahn". The uniforms were not very functional but looked fantastic when compared with the pajama suits of the first Star Trek Movie. These were exact copies made from the same fabrics used in the film uniforms and tailored to the last detail, no shortcuts!. Mine withstood almost 3 years of continuous Space Center use.
Vic conducted the mission from the Bridge rather than in mission control. The
mission consisted of the Voyager, represented by the movie version of the USS Enterprise leaving space dock, and no they couldn't steer out of space dock any better back then than they do now,and set course for the planet Mars. On arriving at Mars various features of the Planet were described, primarily through the cutting edge video technology of the Laser Disc Player. While preparing for the trip back to earth a Romulan Ship uncloakes and some admiral or other swore he would destroy us. Remember, Vic is on the bridge so the voice of the evil admiral is coming out of a 5th grade volunteer in Mission Control and is about as intimidating. Use voice distorters in the Voyager was still some years into future. Fortunately Voyager made her escape to earth and safety.
On completion of the mission Vic talked to us concerning the Space Center and its possibilities. Before the day was out we booked the first ever adult overnight mission. On the appointed night the crew assembled, in full uniform and the mission began. The mission itself was written by Mark Daymont and would become the template for which all previous missions are based.
The crew wasn't a bunch of Star Trek nerds living in their parents basements. In fact the majority of us were full time or Reserve Air Force personnel or had had some sort of previous professional military training who also happened to admire Star Trek. As such the ship was set up according to established military protocol's. I was the first officer and as such I was responsible for seeing to it that the ship and crew were ready for the captain's immediate use. This meant job allocation, training, watch schedules, meal schedules, drill's, personnel evaluation etc. Vic was somewhat taken aback by the professional demeanor of the crew.(remember this was the first adult mission plus the fact that most of the crew had real military experience) and at first was a little unsure how to handle the crew. Despite the primitive state of the ship, after about 45 minutes the entire crew had suspended their disbelief to the point where we saw what was happening on the ship as reality. Easy to do with kids, harder to do with adults. Never since have I enjoyed a mission so much.
Wasn't this epistle about volunteering! Oh Yea I was so exited by the possibilities of the Space Center I couldn't get it out of my head. I thought about all of the possible things I could do to make the space center a better experience, from props to decorations to acting. My head was spinning with possibilities. A few weeks later I was in serious withdrawal and badly needed another Space Center fix. So on a Friday night in February 1991 I packed up my StarFleet uniform and showed up at the Space Center doorstep asking if I could assist with the overnighter.
I'm not quite sure what Vic was thinking but he looked at me with that look he gets when you tell him the toilet just overflowed. After a pause he said Well---ok. So Admiral Schuler was born. I had a great time and couldn't wait till the next week. I'm still not sure what Vic's reaction was.
Well fate has a way of stepping in and changing your view of the world. When I
got home that night I found a note on my bedroom door. (This was when cell phones weighed ten pounds and cost a fortune to use.) "Bill, Sergeant Watson called. Your Reserve Unit has just been activated, report Monday morning. Thus I was integrated into the first Gulf War. At that point I had no idea where I would be sent, so one tends to think about things one does not generally think about. Turns out we remained at our home station in California so we could properly carry out aircraft repairs instead of doing it in a ad hoc manner at some off shore location. So by night I fixed C-5 Galaxy's and by day I thought about the Space Center. Even though I was several states away I sill couldn't stop thinking about the place and what I could do for them in my present circumstances. I turned to my "keep me sane" hobby of plastic modeling as a way of helping the space center. I built models of Starships, missiles and research aircraft to decorate what is now the Space Center office. I would build them, pack them in boxes filled with air dry popcorn and send them to Vic. Some of them are still on display in the glass case in the hall. That doesn't seem like much but when you are on a war footing, having something like the Space Center to contribute to is very therapeutic.
I know!!! I wasn't dodging bullets but we were still under enormous pressure to get airplanes in and out of the repair dock. You must understand aircraft very dangerous things to work around, especially when you are under pressure and in a hurry. I remember on one particular occasion, working in the landing gear bay, pressure was applied to the hydraulic system (2500psi). Unfortunately the Hydraulic Shop boys neglected to reattach several hoses and the hanger soon filled with a fog of highly flammable Spec 4 hydraulic fluid. One spark and the whole hanger would have gone up, mind you I am standing in the landing gear bay, in the midst of a fog of highly volatile petroleum distillate and right above me is the lit turbine engine that is pressurizing the hydraulic system! But I digress.
Contributing to the Space Center even in that limited way made the whole thing
much easier to take.
After six months of active duty and 3 months summer tour directing I was back in
Utah and the Space Center. At this time I was determined to take a larger part in the
Space Center, though at this point Vic knew nothing about it.
On a Friday afternoon in September 1991 I show up again and Vic kind of shrugged
again. After my appearance as the Admiral I am sitting in mission control (During this point in Space Center history there are something like 3 or 4 student staff members, Jr High age or younger) Vic hands me the phone and says "See what you can do with this" and thus was born the "Second Story Line".
I still felt like an outsider looking in, then I noticed on every overnighter Vic had to arrange with the mother of a student to pick up the Pizza (In the old days all overnight missions included dinner.) which I noticed was a hassle for him. This is where initiative comes in! I thought to myself "This is it! My chance to become indispensable. I offered to take responsibility to pick up the pizza every Friday from then on thus freeing Vic from a bothersome chore. He accepted my offer and from then on I was the pizza guy.
Seeing a need and filling it gets you noticed. Admittedly being the pizza guy was not the end but it was the means to give me a chance to do the good stuff.
This concludes the first installment of the "Historical Document" Next installment will include the secrets behind the "origins of the slime devil and the miracle of the 48 hour mission!