A Gathering of Astronauts
I recently attended the annual Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando. It was a time to see old friends, many of whom are Hall of Famers and several of whom were being inducted into this prestigious group. It is very special for me to wear the large, heavy gold medallion that marks those who are part of this group.
All the Hall of Fame members entered the large ballroom according to the date of our first flight. My husband, Hoot Gibson, entered before me since his first flight was in1984 and mine was in 1985. After everyone was seated, the program began. New members were introduced to all the guests and family members. Each new inductee had asked a more senior Astronaut to talk about him or her. The ceremony evolved into a “roast” of the new inductees! Everyone remembered hilarious tales of events that the inductees wished had never been told…
Family photos (often crazy ones…) were put up on a large screen and family members were asked to stand and be recognized. Our dear friend and new inductee, Dave Leestma, spoke about the support his wife, Patty, had given him through the years, especially with their large number of children. We learned that the Leestmas broke the record for grandchildren – and a photo of all 19 of them appeared on the screen. And, surprise, there are two more expected at the end of the year.
Prior to all the festivities, we were taken on a bus tour around the Space Center, a place that will live forever in the minds of those of us who had launched from there. I almost could feel the ghosts of Astronauts past as we drove past the Launch Control Center where our families watched our launches from the roof. We drove by the pad where our flights sent us heavenward and made us “real Astronauts”. We all remembered with sadness, the two flights that did not make it home – Challenger and Columbia.
We drove by the pads where the next generation of space vehicles will launch other Astronauts who will fly higher and faster – soon to the moon.
My heart swelled with pride as I remembered those glory days and the friends that had been a part of my life. For those who will make the journey, I couldn’t help but wish them what had been said when John Glenn launched in 1962 – GODSPEED! — Rhea