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Beatle and Apollo Space enthusiasts, old and new, will discover riveting, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, while the not-yet-enthused discover what they've been missing.
Join fictional NASA communication specialist Dutch Richtman and the very real Beatle roadie Mal ...
Beatle and Apollo Space enthusiasts, old and new, will discover riveting, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, while the not-yet-enthused discover what they've been missing.
Join fictional NASA communication specialist Dutch Richtman and the very real Beatle roadie Mal Evans as they navigate the turbulence of the American Space program and the eye-popping ride of the Beatles.
Roll up for the tour!
Eastern Africa, September 13th, 1961
Only three more hours until liftoff, and natives brandishing spears and torches are blocking my Jeep. The office is in plain sight, barely a hundred yards away.
In three hours, I had better be at my desk; make that two. I'll need an hour to set up. It's been a month now since I arrived in this riot-infested area, which is only somewhat protected by Britain's Gordon Highlanders. My mission is to set up tracking stations for the Mercury missions. The very first orbital flight of an American capsule is about to take place. It will be unmanned of course, but many questions need to be answered. Will NASA be able to track the capsule in space? Will we be able to control any aspect of its flight?
Tracking satellites have not yet been invented. The only way to follow an object orbiting the earth is by way of earth-bound stations strung out around the globe. The stations lie along the anticipated trajectory of the Mercury capsule: the Bahamas, Zanzibar, Western Australia, Hawaii ...
Months of planning and these – I can't help but think of them as savages – are going to ruin it? Can they even imagine what a space program is? Is it even the 20th century in Zanzibar? I think better of just ramming through. They're not coming towards me, and as I look more closely, they aren't very threatening. They're just dancing from one foot to the other.
The tallest one of the bunch moves towards the Jeep, and I feel my fingers stiffen around the steering wheel. He is carrying a tall carved staff in his right hand, and a long mask covers the top half of his face. I don't know what kind of animal it represents, but it has two swept-back horns at the top. The man is bow-legged and barefoot. His clothing consists of a loose loin cloth, National Geographic-style. A year ago, it would never have occurred to me I'd be seeing this in real life. But the scene is real. I can just imagine the headlines: "NASA foiled by spear-wielding Africans." The Russians would laugh so hard we'd hear them in Florida. But just as I feel the first clench of fear, the man, just a few yards from the car now, breaks into a toothy grin. The gap between the front teeth and the gold incisor give him away. It's Ouamadou, the housekeeper. I lean back into the seat.
"I take care of 'em," Ouamadou whispers to me. "Got something for 'em?"
Perhaps I detect a wink.
I get it. I reach into the dashboard and pull out a carton of Camels. The toothy grin widens. The breath is awful. Ouamadou spins around triumphantly towards his buddies while brandishing the cigarettes, the modern day war trophy. The road clears.
The office is nothing but an ugly concrete bunker, a leftover from God knows what war, paid with God knows whose foreign aid, meant to go for God knows what kind of food program. I call it the Palace. Inside, sad little light bulbs dangling from the ceiling illuminate drab green cinderblocks. My "office" is the largest room on the second floor. A large rectangular window looks out onto the desolate tundra. It faces north, and there is little direct sunlight. Large non-descript wooden tables line three of the walls. They are covered with electronic equipment, including the latest model Teletype machine. The machine can transmit a phenomenal sixty words per minute. In short order, Teletype technology will be outdated, but for now it's state of the art. This machine is how I communicate with Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz back at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The roof of the Palace is an electronic porcupine of tracking gear that I personally escorted here a month ago. I've been testing it and tweaking it on a daily basis. All of this for an approximately eight-minute test. I think of Olympic athletes who train for years just to perform a two-minute routine.
The chatter of the Teletype breaks the silence. My time has finally come.
A stream of numbers starts to come through, indicating the speed, direction, pitch, yaw, and roll of the capsule. Moments later it's my turn. Yes!!!! There it is! I cannot see, let alone hear the small capsule whizzing by at 17,000 miles per hour a hundred miles over my head. But there it is on my oscilloscope. The numbers are coming in clearly, and I dutifully transmit them back to the Cape.
Now for the crucial part: Can I change the pitch, roll, or yaw of the capsule from here on earth? Not that we engineers don't trust the astronauts, but it'll be necessary for us to have control over the capsule, should they become incapacitated. Upon arriving, I painted the three critical knobs red, white, and blue, so as not to make any mistake. Yes, of course, I can turn these knobs in my sleep, but at the decisive moment would my nerves betray me? I hadn't really thought so. However, I wasn't taking any chances.
I gently turn the white knob a few degrees clockwise. The readout indicates a three-degree yaw to the right. Yes! The ultimate remote control airplane! Briefly, I allow myself to remember being twelve.
I repeat the maneuver with the pitch and roll, teletype my success to Kranz, and my job is over. Time to pack up the gear. Good-bye Zanzibar. I make a mental note to leave Ouamadou an extra pack of Camels.
Hamburg, West Germany, October 1960
I looked away from the blurry forest and into the large face of the man sitting next to me. He seemed huge – 6'4" at a guess – with an engaging smile and thick, Buddy Holly-style, black-rimmed glasses.
"I noticed your name on the folder," he said, nodding towards a red file on my lap. The words "UFO" were lightly stenciled across the top right corner.
He had a British accent and introduced himself as Mal Evans. It was vaguely comforting to hear English in a bus full of boisterous Germans.
"Your name is ... Robert?"
"Robert Richtman." I call myself Rob, but everyone knows me as Dutch."
"My father's Dutch. Van Reichtmann is my given name. I've shortened it."
"I see." He looked down, and his voice tailed off.
He perked right back up.
"Any Celtic ancestry?"
"Actually, yes, on my father's side. My grandfather once told me that our ancestors were from Brittany. With a name like van Reichtmann that didn't make much sense to me at the time."
"Ah ..." Mal leaned back with an air of satisfaction. He paused.
"My ancestors were Druids, High Priests if you will." He glanced at me to see if I knew what Druids were. I nodded. "Reichtmann, Reichtman, Richtman, I think these are names that can be associated with a high priest from Brittany called Chyndonax, which is why your name caught my attention. Perhaps your ancestors were also Druids."
"Chyndonax? Sounds like a cartoon character."
Evans ignored me.
"You've heard of Stonehenge, menhirs, dolmens?" I nodded again.
Mal continued, "Did you ever think of who could have lifted those twelve-ton blocks or who laid them out in such a perfect astronomical pattern? Did you ever notice that, when seen from the sky, Stonehenge fits every description that's ever been made of a flying saucer? ... It's round ... Our planet may have been visited by other civilizations, don't you think?" His eyes brightened, and I had a moment of déjà vu. Had I met him ... in high school ... no, college maybe ... there was a definite sense of familiarity.
I shifted the red folder onto my other lap. "Yes, who knows?"
Mal was a little forward, but he was animated, and I found myself drawn into his banter – Stonehenge, UFOs, extra-terrestrials, and the like – until, in the blink of an eye, we had pulled into Hamburg's bus station. I took him up on his offer to meet for drinks later in the week. Outside of my Air Force buddies, I didn't know anyone in Hamburg.
The Kaiserkeller was a dive along the Reeperbahn, an avenue within the red light district of the Baltic port of Hamburg. The fishnets and portholes lent an air of faux nautique to the joint, complementing the sailors and prostitutes who made up most of the clientele.
I joined Mal, seated at a small round table. Over the din of a rock'n'roll band, he picked up where he'd left off.
"Our ancestors were from Brittany. Stonehenge lies in southern England, but you can't look at these lands as separate countries. As I'm sure you know, there were Celtic tribes on both sides of the English Channel, including the part of France now called Brittany. This is why the language of Brittany is similar to Celt."
With a few beers under his belt, Mal was off to the races.
"Have you ever heard the term "geoglyphs"?"
"Ancient carvings in the ground whose shape can only be appreciated from the sky. You find them all over the world. The Nazca plateau in Peru, the American southwest ..."
Evans stared at the mug and twirled his beer ever faster.
"Of course, thousands of years ago, humans were completely earthbound. No airplanes, zeppelins, hot air balloons. So who could have drawn these figures, and why?"
Evans stopped talking and seemed to be completely absorbed by his beer.
"I'm sure there's a cosmic connection."
I was now more interested in the band playing behind Mal at the other end of the room. Five very young men in leather outfits were jumping around on a dilapidated stage. Actually, one of them stood with his back turned to the audience as he fussed with his instrument, while the three other guitarists did all the jumping. They were screaming so loudly I thought they'd cough up a larynx. One of the two singers would harangue the sparse crowd in a combination of English and German. He yelled out a nonsensical stream of gibberish and curses, sure that they would land on unappreciative ears. He was quite correct in that assumption. The handful of German sailors seemed to be paying no attention. The night was still young.
The band played exclusively American rock'n'roll. One of the singers, the other one, the one not shouting obscenities, sounded remarkably like Little Richard in his rendition of "Long Tall Sally." The bass player, the one who kept his back to the audience, wore sunglasses. I hoped his better days were still ahead; he just played single notes here and there. The drummer was the best looking of the bunch. He seemed to command the attention of the two fraulein waitresses, both blond and red-cheeked, one just a little plumper than the other. They were young. Could they remember WWII? It wasn't impossible one of their fathers had faced mine in battle ...
Mal pulled me away from my disturbing thoughts. "You said you're here with the American Air Force? What exactly do you do?"
"Communications. I work on designing communications systems for fighter pilots."
"Planet Earth to pilots?"
"Yes, you could put it that way." This seemed to please him. "I'm a telephone repair man, so I'm in communications too." He chuckled at the little connection he'd just made. "I'm just here for the week-end. I work part time at a music club in Liverpool and these are my friends." With his thumb he gestured over his shoulder towards the stage.
I felt a stab of envy. Rock'n'roll was fun. At least I could say I worked for the Air Force.
Mal stood. "I've got to go, but let's get together again. I'd love to know more about your family."
My family: the Celtic Druids. I could just imagine what my father would say to that. I smiled and told Mal I'd be happy to see him again too. He left a few German marks on the table, took down my phone number, promised to call soon, and left.
I was about to follow, but the band suddenly launched into a vibrant rendition of "Summertime Blues." Then "Twenty Flight Rock." Then "Be-bop-a-lula."
Songs from the 50s.
Obviously an oldies band.
Beep ... Beep ... Beep ... Beep ... Beep ...
Rarely have Americans been as frightened as they were when they awoke on the morning of October 5th, 1957.
The Beep ... Beeps ... were emanating from a 184 lb porcupine called Sputnik, the world's first orbiting satellite. It was a Communist Soviet satellite. The implications were immediately shouted from house to house all across America, as surely as if the British were coming. The Communists now had the capability of loading the skies with nuclear weapons that would be out of our reach. If they wanted to, the Russkies could rain nuclear bombs onto every American city. They could blackmail us. Take over our government. Pretty soon we would be dead. Or worse.
We'd be Kommunists!
There could be no worse fate. "Better Dead than Red" was the motto of the day. I believed it, and so did all my relatives and all my friends. The Communists saw us as decaying, decadent, and exploitive Capitalists, and we saw them as drab and totalitarian murderers.
The geopolitics of the day were straightforward for people like me. The world was divided into three camps: The Free World, the Communist World, and everybody else. In the Free World – mostly the United States and Western Europe – citizens could express their thoughts and choose their own beliefs without intervention from the government. The United States and Western Europe championed such beliefs. The Communists, on the other hand, believed that the State knows best. About everything. Communist governments were the arbiters of acceptability at every level of society. Topping the list of nono's was organized religion, "the opium of the masses." Rock'n'roll, the corrupter of youth, could be found one rung below. Any citizen with an inclination to disagree with the Party could end up in Siberia (or embalmed).
Nikita Khrushchev was born in 1894, worked in the mines, converted early on to communism, slavishly followed Stalin, became head of the Communist Party in 1953, and took full control of the country in 1958. He was a short, rotund, blustery, in-your-face type of man. He was short on intellect and long on conviction. You either believed in his political system or you were evil. You were with him or you were against him. You either saw things his way or he would make you pay.
In 1956, he had been attending a reception at the Polish embassy in Moscow. He was so overbearing that a number of Western delegates had walked out. An infuriated Khrushchev lashed out: "History is on our side. WE WILL BURY YOU!" That same year, Hungary tried to throw off the Soviet yoke. Khrushchev sent the tanks into Budapest and had the leaders executed. A few years later, while addressing the United Nations in New York, he would bang his sandal on the table in a fit of anger. Americans had reason to be scared.
The Free world and the Communist regimes fought for influence in the countries that fell outside these two systems. Now the Communists had sent a rocket into space, and we hadn't.
For President Dwight ("Ike") Eisenhower, this was precisely the situation he'd been avoiding: America had long had the brainpower and the means to develop a space program; after all, had Germany's Wernher von Braun and his team of rocket scientists not defected to America in the waning days of World War II? Von Braun had been the director of Peenemünde, and he'd been responsible for the V2 rockets that rained death and destruction on Great Britain. But it was space, not war, that was his true passion. He liked to remind everyone that the Nazis had imprisoned him for two weeks in 1944 for professing too much interest in space and not enough in weaponry. Yet, not wanting to open up another front in the Cold War, Eisenhower had personally kept the lid on the idea of a space program. Having seen firsthand the ravages of war, he would do his utmost to steer the country away from dangerous confrontations. But presently, the Communists had made the first move; Eisenhower had no choice.
Unfortunately, America had more brainpower than rocket power.
Excerpted from Into the Sky with Diamonds by Ronald P. Grelsamer Copyright © 2010 by Ronald P. Grelsamer. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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