Shuttle Endeavour being piggy-backed to Florida (NASA photo/Jim Ross)
I had an opportunity of a lifetime late last year, and only recently was given permission to talk about it. Keeping the secret was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
I received a call in early December asking if I would like to ride Space Shuttle Endeavour as it was ferried from its landing site at Edwards Air Force Base (mission STS-126 returned to earth on November 30th) back to the Kennedy Space Center where it would be prepared for the next mission (due to launch in May).
There were six of us who were invited to sit in the spacecraft on its cross-country trip. We were an assortment of on-air personalities, politicians – and one cartoonist. The briefing by NASA and Air Force personnel resembled what you have seen when reporters and celebrities ride with the Blue Angels: safety procedures, how to communicate with the crew in the 747, what to expect on take-off and landing. They also told us – quite pointedly – not to touch any buttons.
I was lucky, and allowed to sit in the forward cockpit of Endeavour, giving me a bird’s eye view (literally), during the flight. The entire trip took just under eight hours, and will forever be one of the most memorable eight hours of my life.
When we landed in Florida, we were ushered to a lounge where we could arrange transportation back to our homes. While I was waiting for my ride, a NASA official pulled me aside and asked if I would be interested in designing nose art for the shuttle, similiar to the art that famously adorned aircraft in WWII.
(1st Fighter Group WW2 P-38 Nose Art)
NASA, pinched by the economic downturn like everyone else, believes nose art might be a good way to raise awareness and enthusiasm for the space program, both of which have waned over the years. Of course, I said yes.
Other artists will be invited to participate, but I would like to get our readers involved too. To that end, send me your ideas for shuttle nose art – if your idea is selected and is used as nose art on a space shuttle that actually gets launched into space, we’ll pay you a hundred dollars, and give you full credit for the idea. The program starts later this year, so please get your submissions to me by September 31st.
Thanks to NASA for letting me participate – not only in the nose art idea, but also in the piggy-back flight to Florida last year. Now that we are allowed to talk about the whole experience, and because of the time-sensitive deadline for nose art, I can honestly say that there is no better time to get the story out than today.