If I was ever unsure whether or not I was my parent’s real daughter (I mean – it’s VERY clear in many ways, but you know, for the sake of coming up with a better introduction to this article…), then finding out that my dad owns a very exciting space collection with genuine astronaut memorabilia had to be the moment that wiped all of the doubt away, haha!
Ever since I got introduced to Finnish Space Media Company “Space Nation“, and worked with them for a while until they unfortunately seized business at the end of last year, I found that one of the passions from my childhood, that frankly I’d totally forgotten about, has bubbled back to the surface: SPACE TRAVEL.
As a kid, I remembered loving science museums, learning about space travel and the possibility of the existence of alien life (thank you Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, you’ll be forever in my heart) made everything even more exciting. Yes, I still have a set of alien-shaped cutlery at my parent’s house and I am proud of it, but that is not the point of this article, so let’s move on.
What I didn’t realize until recently, is that my passion for space travel wasn’t just something that I had come up with myself, but was actually something my father was passionate about when he was a little boy.
**PPPGGSSSSSHHHH** (< this is the sound of my mind being blown)
My Dad’s Love for Space Travel
Recently, on one of my short visits to The Netherlands, I dropped by my parent’s house and we got talking about NASA, space travel and astronauts (as you do with your parents… right?), since I had the honor to interview a real astronaut -Gregory “Box” Johnson- back in Iceland last year (as you do in a normal job… right?).
Turns out, as a kid growing up in the exciting time of the Space Shuttle programs and people popping onto the moon and more of that good old-fashioned exploration-stuff, my dad was a huge fan of John H. Glen Jr, a United States Marine Corps aviator, engineer, businessman and later politician… but most importantly to my father: he was an astronaut.
In fact, he was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, circling it three times in 1962 as the pilot of the Project Mercury Friendship 7 Mission with NASA (the first manned space program of the United States). It made him the 5th ever person and 3rd American in space!
Even though Glenn resigned from NASA in 1964, he went back to space as a pilot of the Discovery space shuttle’s STS-95 mission in 1998, making him also the oldest person to fly in space and the only person to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs. Dude!
No wonder he got into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990, after being the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, before passing away at the grand age of 95 in 2016.
What is fun, is that my dad owns a little record, on which you can find the authentic recording from Cape Canaveral during the Mercury mission with the voices of John H. Glenn while in orbit. I have yet to listen to it, but how cool is that?!
Unexpected Mail From an Astronaut
Now, something you might not know about the ’60s, was that there wasn’t something like… you know… MOBILE PHONES… or THE INTERNET and all that nonsense. No, in order for people to communicate, you’d have to read newspapers, books and magazines, and (perhaps even more shocking to some of you young people out there) …write letters!
And that’s exactly what my dad did. He wrote letters. To astronauts. To NASA. Because he could. And it was the sixties.
Who knew that he’d actually get a response too?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, while my dad didn’t get an actual response from John Glen himself, as by that time my dad was old enough to care for astronauts (17 years old in 1963), he was already a pretty popular guy, but guess who wasn’t so famous yet and did take the time to respond?
NEIL FLIPPING ARMSTRONG!
(not sure that’s his actual nickname, but let’s roll with it for now)
Yes, on January 22 1963, my dad has a typed letter, on official Houston Space Center paper, dated and SIGNED by Neil Armstrong, who was then 33 years old and still 6 years away from becoming pretty much the most famous guy on earth when he landed on the moon in 1969.
The letter says:
Your recent holiday greeting is most appreciated, for to know that people not known to me personally are interested in my appointment as an astronaut trainee makes me aware of their enthusiasm for the manned space flight research program.
Please accept the enclosed autographed photograph in appreciation of your thoughtful gesture.
Neil A. Armstrong.
**TEARS IN MY EYES PEOPLE!**
As you may or may not know, Neil Armstrong used to pretty much autograph everything & the kitchen sink after he became famous, until 1993 when he found out people were selling his autographs for a lot of money, so he stopped doing it all-together.
But we have one. Or I have one now, because of course I kindly offered to keep good care of it in my own personal space-museum (aka my home office, haha). I’m sure I will never sell it in my life, but frame it instead!
More Mail from Space
Now while you can’t really top a signed letter from Neil Armstrong in my opinion and while my dad never got a response from his hero John H. Glenn Jr. himself, he did receive another letter from one of his Mercury mission colleagues, Leroy Gordon “Gordo” Cooper Jr. This was an American aerospace engineer, test pilot and United States Air Force pilot and he was the youngest of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury.
The letter reads:
Just a short note to advice you that your holiday greetings reached me, and that I certainly enjoyed hearing from you. I hope your holidays are filled with as much happiness as mine were.
It is indeed heartwarming to be remembered during the holidays by so many wonderful people. Again, thank you for your thoughtful gesture.
L. Gordon Cooper
Wait, There is More?
Besides these two amazing autographs, my dad showed me much more amazing items, from obscure Russian newspapers that he really shouldn’t even have back in those days, to stickers of many of the mission badges coming straight from NASA itself, old National Geographic Issues covering space travel and another record with space stories in Dutch.
My dad was under the assumption that he also owned some real fabric mission patches and a replica of the silver mission pin that astronauts get from NASA when they return from space (which he had his jeweler-brother custom made from a photo) … but we couldn’t find those last time, so that has to remain a story for another time.
I think that with my enthusiasm for this initial find, it’s safe to say that I now fully understand my dad’s obsession for space travel and that I’m happy to tell him, I will definitely continue his hobby and expand his collection of memorabilia!