Why is space sometimes referred to as “the Final Frontier”. I do not know, except that 1) it is far away, and 2) there is no air out there! I can’t help but share with you a photo of a gift from a co-worker, Mike Fox of Tishman Technologies. Mike worked with me back in my earlier Rutgers days as we were building the Rutgers telecommunications network. Our project was a $98.3 million, four year project known as RUNet 2000. I’ll probably write about RUNet 2000, but that will be in a future post. 1
Back to Mike Fox…..Mike is an excellent project/contruction manager and a real stand-up guy. We share an unfortunate background of both having lost a son. Mike’s son passed away while working with me and I knew that I wanted to support Mike emotionally. I remembered Woody Hayes’ advice that “You don’t win with technology, you win with people.” So as project director of RUNet 2000 (a technology project), I commandeered a “Rutgers” bus, asked for volunteers to go with me to Mike’s son’s wake, and 43 people headed for Union, NJ from New Brunswick. Mike, a “man’s man” as we used to say, saw each one of us dismount the bus and walk into the funeral home. Mike broke down. I knew he felt our love…………more about Mike. Mike was a great artist as well, which is why he made this post. Back to space, Mike drew the below picture highlighting why space travel isn’t that easy, take a look:
So, back to space…I mentioned that space is far away, past the birds and airplanes and Wizard of Oz balloons…. everything that exists within the earth’s atmosphere. Of course , there is a story before the story here…..
The Spring of 1972 was a very unusual time for me. A high school senior, I had been accepted into West Point’s Class of 1976 while our country was still involved in Vietnam. After being assured of this full-ride scholarship, (later, as cadets we used to compare a full ride scholarship to West Point to getting $50,000 jammed up your butt a nickel at a time!), I blew off academics and high school baseball (I had lettered the year before and chose not to play my senior year) and I spent from March 1972 till the day I left for West Point (end of May 1972) going to Red Wings hockey games and rock concerts (Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone, Black Sabbath, Yes, the Moody Blues, to name a few). That was a long sentence. I do not regret blowing things off one bit, I knew I was heading for a rough summer at West Point’s “Beast barracks”. I celebrated my high school accomplishments and prepared for the next, very serious, phase of my life. I knew I was going to be seriously tested in the summer of 1972, and friends and loved ones did everything they could to encourage me to “reach for the sky and keep my feet on the ground” as Casey Kasum would say as he signed off the air of the America’s Top Forty show. One friend, and I do not remember who, gave me a signed copy of the inspiring Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story:
Time for the main attraction…outer space…
We are all familiar with the story of Apollo 13. Now THOSE guys were (are) heros. Jim Lovell (Class of 1952, US Naval Academy), Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise braved almost certain death as they piloted their spacecraft safely back to earth after an explosion had seriously diminished their air supply. You certainly remember Tom Hanks playing the part of James Lovell in the movie “Apollo 13”.
I was fortunate enough to attend a Cisco Networkers conference in Vancouver in 1999 while working for Rutgers. James Lovell and Fred Haise were both there as the keynote speakers as the closing event of the conference. The two of them tag teamed with each other as they discussed much of what we saw in the movie.
You may recall in the movie, when the spacecraft was on the far side of the moon, Tom Hanks telling one of the other astronauts that he “might want to put that camera away so we can get back home”. Of that scene, James Lovell told our conference attendees, “Those weren’t my exact words.” I can only imagine what this “Old Corps” 1952 Naval Academy grad might have ACTUALLY have said to get the other astronaut’s attention during that stressful moment!
The conference ended and I caught the cab to the Vancouver airport to catch my flight back to Newark, NJ (changing planes in Chicago). As I settled in at the gate waiting to board the plane, I glanced over and saw our American hero, James Lovell, just arriving in the gate area to board the same flight as me! As shy as I am, (NOT), I walked up to Mr Lovell and introduced myself. “Mr. Lovell, I am Joe Sanders, a West Point grad and I hope you won’t hold that against me! But, I was at the Cosco conference where you just spoke. May I have your autograph?”. He chuckled, and replied,” Sure Joe, and thank you for your service.” Imagine that, this national hero thanking ME for MY service!!!!! You can’t make this stuff up. He signed the only book I had with me from the conference and we bade each other good luck. It suddenly dawned on me that if our plane crashed, I would die on the same flight as James Lovell, who could get a wounded bird back out of space, but couldn’t save us on a plane here on earth! Thank God we arrived safely in Chicago!
So friends, that ends my story of the final frontier. In a previous post I sarcastically mentioned that no Naval Academy grad story was worthy of being in the same story as a West Point story. But whether you are Woody Hayes of Ohio State or James Lovell of the Naval Academy origin, this born-in-Michigan and trained at West Point man has the utmost respect for both of you, and all of you! We are Americans and each serve to make this country and world a better place.
Stay tuned for more stories about great Americans that I have met including Joe Paterno, Gordie Howe (Canadian by birth), Joe Sestak, and comedian Jay Leno. See you soon!
All the best my friends,