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[b]Model rocketeers honor Apollo 7's 40th anniversary[/b]
More than 30 scale flying Saturn 1B model rockets will serve as the centerpieces on the tables at the 40th anniversary luncheon in Dallas today honoring the Apollo 7 mission and astronaut Walter Cunningham -- the only surviving member of the crew that made America's first ever Apollo flight.
Among those scheduled to attend today's luncheon: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean, legendary NASA flight controller Gene Kranz, and 300 others. President Bush will appear via videotape to honor Cunningham and the crew's accomplishments.
The 1/70th-scale models, expertly built by 26 different rocketeers from across the nation, from kits supplied by Semroc Astronautics, are patterned after the SA-205 Saturn 1B that lifted Walt Cunningham, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele into orbit on October 11, 1968.
While today's luncheon is historic, the build project -- sponsored jointly by Semroc and LAUNCH Magazine -- has made its own model rocket history. The 30-plus rockets on the tables at the luncheon mark the most flying scale models of a Saturn 1B to ever be showcased in the same room at the same time.
"The Apollo 7/Saturn 1B project is the finest example of how our friends have worked so hard to make Semroc look so good," said Semroc founder Carl McLawhorn. "This would not have been possible without the support of some of the best modelers in the country."
Each builder had to sign off, via email, on a non-disclosure agreement because the project had to be completed in secret. Also, Scott Hansen and Buzz Nau provided a private thread on Ye Olde Rocket Forum for the group to communicate back and forth for three weeks.
"Although Walt Cunningham has been aware that a luncheon in his honor was scheduled in Dallas, he was not aware of all that is being done to honor him," said LAUNCH editor Mark Mayfield. "We sort of conspired with Walt's wife Dot to keep much of this from him. And in doing so, we all had to keep this a secret. I just cannot adequately express how excited Dot is about the Saturn 1B models. It just underscores the great lengths to which everyone has gone to make this a special day for Walt and, posthumously, for his crewmates Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele. Their mission was a perfect one, yet they never got the credit they deserved."
Impressively, each Saturn 1B builder (some of whom constructed more than one model each) agreed to donate the rockets for this important event. Following the luncheon, most of the models will be sold at high prices to benefit Be An Angel, a charity that helps children with disabilities. Walt and Dot Cunningham have been actively involved with the charity. However, three of the models judged to be the best among what is clearly an outstanding group of more than 30, will be returned to their builders.
There will also be a random drawing for other prizes for the builders, including a $500 Semroc gift certificate, a $300 cash award, and other gifts as well. The costs of the kits and prizes will be shared jointly by Semroc and LAUNCH. But the labor donated by the builders is invaluable. Some of the modelers spent as many as 150 hours building the Saturn 1Bs.
"It's just incredible how much effort went into this," said Mark Mayfield. "It just shows how model rocketeers come together to support each and support a great cause. The Apollo 7 crew never got their due credit for paving the way for the Moon missions that would follow. You can certainly tell with the support from NASA and the White House, just how important this luncheon is."
Apollo 7 was the first ever manned Saturn flight, and the longest test flight ever, at 11 days, of a new spacecraft. The near perfect mission returned America to space 22 months after the tragic Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The luncheon honoring the Apollo 7 crew will be held at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, where the mission's command module is on display.
Among those who built and donated Saturn 1Bs to the project: [list][*]John Dyer - Dallas, TX
[*]James Gartrell - Cleburne, TX
[*]Jack Sprague - Hickory Creek, TX
[*]Suzy Sprague - Hickory Creek, TX
[*]J. Stuart Powley - Rowlett, TX
[*]Bill Gee - Dallas, TX
[*]Evan "Buzz" Nau - Manchester, MI
[*]Chas Russell - Fort Worth, TX
[*]Chan Stevens - Cincinnati, OH
[*]Craig McGraw - Mobile, AL
[*]Donald Fent - Bartlett, TN
[*]Mark Kulka - Tupper Lake, NY
[*]David Montgomery - Katy, TX
[*]Roy Green - Alpharetta, GA
[*]Mario Perdue - McCordsville, IN
[*]Gary Degler - Indianapolis, IN
[*]Aaron Head - Indianapolis, IN
[*]Rick Randol - Indianapolis, IN
[*]Jeff Taylor - Coon Rapids, MN
[*]Carol Marple - Champlin, MN
[*]Mark Thell - White Bear Lake, MN
[*]Jim Filler - Frederick, MD
[*]Jeff Graham - Battle Creek, MI
[*]Caleb Boe - Cottage Grove, MN
[*]Tim Lundie - Bumpass, VA
[*]Joseph Mosher - Kalamazoo, MI[/list] "I have to say, the first person we called to be a part of this project was John Dyer," said Mark Mayfield. "And then John and the group from Dallas began building 10 of these rockets, assembly style, at Jack and Suzy Sprague's house. Others around the country like Chan Stevens also inspired everyone: It was a Semroc Saturn 1B built by Chan as a Semroc display model at NARAM that actually launched this entire idea. Walt was so impressed with the model that Dot and I, along with Carl McLawhorn, sort of hatched a plan!"
While the Dallas group provided 10 models, several other builders provided two each, including Chan Stevens, Gary Degler and Rick Randol.
LAUNCH will publish a major article on the Saturn 1B modeling project and the luncheon in the November/December issue.
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