Monday, November 5, 2012

Permission to Come Aboard, Ma'am

Sunset on the Bay

I hinted on Facebook that I'd spent much of last weekend "where they keep the nuclear wessels" which, as fans of Star Trek IV already know, is the former U.S. Naval base in Alameda, Calif., where they also keep the (non-nuclear) USS Hornet.

My six faithful readers may recall that my daughter Laura is the Archival and Collections Manager for the Hornet, an aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943 that served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before recovering Apollos 11 and 12 from the South Pacific in 1969. It was decommissioned in 1970 and became a museum and National Historic Landmark in the '90s. Several months ago, Laura asked permission to redo the ship's Apollo Exhibit, which was well-intentioned but not well-organized or -curated. The Hornet had some very neat Space Age material but didn't really explain its context or significance. Laura thought she could apply her master's education (not quite completed) in Museum Studies to build a first-class modern exhibit that would capture visitors' interest and tell the Hornet's Apollo story right.

First thing she did was call the dorkiest space nerd she knew: me. One of my tasks was to help her dig through the ship's collection to identify the coolest stuff. We started planning the exhibit in the space alotted to it, basically one long compartment and a small entryway off of the Hornet's Hangar Deck, while the ship's volunteers cleared, cleaned, and repainted the room. That took a couple of months. Meanwhile, Laura and I sorted, built and drafted, with the advice of the dorkiest space nerd I know, Friend O' The Blog Jim O'Kane. Our constraints: working within the given space without altering a molecule of it (after all, the ship itself is the museum's most priceless artifact), using five display panels already installed, and spending a minimal budget (supplemented by a generous donation from Seahorse Systems and its proprietor Jim O'Kane).

Sunday was Install Day. Or, as my wife Karen calls it, the Day I Got My Garage Back. We transported a lot of stuff from home to the ship, most significantly a display case I painted for Laura and a "Gravity Box" I built to let kids pull handles to feel the difference between the force of gravity on the Earth and Moon. Laura, Karen, I, and Laura's sister Robin, who volunteers aboard the Hornet in other capacities, gathered dockside in the morning to make a museum.

How you get stuff too heavy to roll up a gangway aboard an aircraft carrier. Laura's at the top left, I'm up there somewhere (not the guy in red; he's running the scissor-lift, which only a fool would let me do). 

A nice overview of the back half of the Apollo Exhibit space. Boss Laura poses with the Gravity Box I built: pull on the left handle to feel how heavy 24 pounds is on Earth, pull the right handle to feel what the same mass weighs on the Moon (4 pounds). All units also presented in metric. At center left is a neat octagonal display case Laura bought on Craig's List and I painted blue. Barely visible at right, leaning against the bulkhead, is a long skinny model I built showing the Earth, Moon, and distance between them to scale.
This is the entryway, or foyer, to the Apollo Exhibit. I designed the banner (based on the Hornet's mission patch for Apollo 12) to lure visitors in from the Hangar Deck. Four seats to the right give a restful view of historic Apollo news coverage looping on the TV at left. An 8-foot model of a Saturn V rocket will go about where I'm standing. The bulk of the exhibit lies through a passageway to the left of the TV.
Karen and Robin paint trim on a display board at left, while Laura scrapes old tape and schmutz off the inside of an enormous plexiglass display box lying sideways on the ground at right. That box fits over the metal chair-shaped thing reclining at the lower right....
...which was astronaut Tom Stafford's Command Module couch on the Apollo 10 mission! I include this photo only to permanently document the day I dusted cobwebs off a spaceship chair that flew around the Moon. Flew. Around. The. Moon. No, I did not sit in it.

Laura with her co-worker, Curator Chad, and a partially completed portion of the Apollo Exhibit. Among Chad's many invaluable skills is driving a forklift. It was a skill we used often.
We didn't get everything done last weekend. Laura and Chad have a few more days to work on the Apollo Exhibit before its grand reopening next weekend during shipwide activities in remembrance of Neil Armstrong. It'll be tight, but I'm confident they'll get it done. I know it will be well-received by the Hornet's staff, board, advisors and visitors. Can't wait to see it!


Jim O'Kane said...

Having seen the "before," the "after" is staggering. Great work by Fies & Cie! The Mary Blair-esque banner came out fantastic, and the mass comparison-ator looks inviting, yet sturdy.

Don't know if there's time to update the captioning for the Apollo X seat, but that little couch was one of the three fastest pieces of furniture in the history of mankind. On reentry (26 May 1969) Gene Cernan's chair achieved a speed of 39,885 km/h (24,790 mph) relative to Earth. It's never been topped. Maybe the La-Z-Boy folks would want to sponsor a special display or something?

Again, a fantastic job, Horneteers! Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

Marion said...

Brian, this is absolutely wonderful. Now I will have to go back to see this exhibit.

Brian Fies said...

Jim, thanks and thanks again. I'll forward your fastest-chair-ever facts to the Boss (who I assume has already read them for herself), but I can pretty much promise we're not opening that couch case again anytime soon. The case is nearly 6 feet tall, the deck clearance about 8 feet, and it took five people to put it all together ("tilt the couch...a little more...slip the case over it...don't chop off your fingers...").

I'm intrigued by your factoid, if I read you right, that Cernan's chair somehow flew faster than the other two bolted to the same deck. How'd they figure that? In any case, the fact you know that only confirms that we found the right man for the job. I'm only sorry we couldn't use all of your great ideas (yet). Time, money, room, resources, etc. We did our best with what we had and left room for improvement.

Marion, thanks! I know a good tour guide.

Jim O'Kane said...

I said it was one of the three fastest pieces of furniture in the history of ever and ever. Cernan's bucket seat was traveling no faster than Young's or Stafford's when Charlie Brown hit the entry interface. And it's fine if the info isn't on a caption - - just gives the able docents a fact to toss out during a tour. :)