Wednesday, February 26, 2014
That handsome white-haired guy up there in the middle?
That's my dad's best friend.
They were rocket scientists together.
My dad led a fascinating life and he was surrounded by fascinating people.
Particularly Al McDonald.
If his name sounds familiar to you, it might be because of this:
It was Al McDonald who was the engineer who refused to sign off on the launch of Challenger in January of 1986 because of his concerns about the freezing conditions at the launch pad and the impact those conditions could have on the Shuttle and its boosters.
Tragically, his agonized apprehension was well-founded.
He and my dad's friendship ran deep, ran decades, became brotherhood. His stories of his and my dad's years of working together, playing pranks on each other and fellow co-workers, of driving through crazy weather conditions to get to the lab can quickly get my brothers and me worked into side-splitting laughs. And his heart-felt conversations about the support and solidarity he and my dad shared in the days after Challenger and through the changes in the rocket industry inspire us about the power of friendship.
Al's fascinating and in-depth book about the Challenger disaster is called Truth, Lies and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, published by University Press. In addition to hardcover and paperback, it's recently been released in Kindle format (you can find Amazon purchasing information here). He also speaks across the country on his experiences in the space industry and the critical importance of integrity, ethics, leadership and safety in business and exploration (click here to visit his website).
Growing up in the rocketry and space community was the stuff of my and my brothers' childhoods. We spent many an hour standing on dry lake beds, waiting for Shuttles to land and for rockets to be tested. We went to school with astronauts' kids and sonic booms were daily percussions in our neighborhood as the sound barrier was broken each day by test pilots. It was our normal.
It's now that I realize how unique 'growing up space community' really was.
When Al arrived for my dad's memorial, my brothers and I all scrambled over one another to run into his arms. His humor and love and tears and laughter and integrity, so highly valued by my dad, are much beloved by my siblings and my mom and myself. To reflect on the amazing people my dad called friends and who called my dad friend reveals a spectacular legacy, a community of star gazers, engineering dreamers, voyagers who made the galaxies their seas.
William Butler Yeats wrote, "Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends."
What a blessing to share in that glory.