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Thoughts on the Space Shuttle

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RUSH: I saw it again today, space shuttle, Enterprise this time, flown from Washington to New York, numerous fly-bys over New York City.  It's eventually gonna end up on the Intrepid, the Air and Space Museum, the Intrepid, the aircraft carrier. Do you know the Intrepid, for those of you old enough -- by the way, it's a great place to visit, if you have not been, on the west side of Manhattan.  They've got an SR-71 Blackbird on the deck now.  It's antique aircraft, World War II-era aircraft, Vietnam-era aircraft.  They're gonna have to move some out because that's where they're gonna put the shuttle, the Enterprise. 

The Enterprise was the first shuttle that they tested whether or not the thing could glide back to earth with no power.  The shuttle came back from space with no power.  Edwards Air Force Base I think is where they tested it. They took it out there and put it on top of a 747 and they dropped it, to see what happened.  They knew what was gonna happen. Engineering and aerodynamics, they knew what was gonna happen.  They just had to make sure it worked.  And of course it did.  I'm watching, and I have to tell you, I'm an aviation buff like my father was.  I've got a soft spot in my heart for NASA, the old NASA particularly, but the space shuttle.  I'm looking at American technology on display, not just the shuttle, but the 747 as well, and realizing that this administration has ended the manned space program. 

It's nostalgic.  And, again, I couldn't help but tell myself, there's not a battery in the world that coulda made this happen today.  There's not a battery powerful enough to even taxi that 747 out to the runway with the shuttle on top of it, much less take off and fly anywhere.  And yet there are people who continue to want to force upon us the electrified mobile sector, as it's called.  The electrified mobile sector, which means electric cars, golf carts, and that kind of thing. 

So, anyway, it's the end of an era in the United States.  The shuttle is about the size of a DC-9, if you're familiar with that.  And getting it on top of that 747 and flying it around, oh, yeah, a massive crane to lift it up and put it down.  Stop and think of the 747. Nobody ever thinks of putting -- this is 200,000 ponds, 200,000 pounds on top of a 747.  You can easily put that much in it, but on top of it?  Think of how strong the thing has to be to support that.  People don't think about these things.  And I don't think people are cognizant, I don't think they are aware of the power required to make this simple fly-by happen in this era where we're talking about batteries and electrified mobile sectors and all this. 

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RUSH: Do you remember Gus Grissom?  I think he was in a Mercury capsule, one of the first.  Gus Grissom was plucked out of the ocean by the Intrepid. That was the aircraft carrier, the one that is on display in New York now, the museum. It was the Intrepid that plucked Gus Grissom out of the Indian Ocean way back during the Mercury program.  If I got this right Grissom was a little off course -- no, no, that was another astronaut.  Grissom landed, but panicked.  You're supposed to stay in the thing, the capsule, and the aircraft carrier comes along and plucks you out, and you are hoisted, you get out of the Mercury capsule on deck.

He blew the hatch wanting to get out of there and it flooded. There was so much water in it, the helicopter couldn't lift the capsule out and they lost it.  It went down to the bottom of the ocean.  Maybe James Cameron can go get it when he gets back from the Titanic or wherever he is down there with the blue mermaids.  But, yeah, it was the Intrepid that got Gus Grissom out of the ocean.  So much American history is on display here today just with that one shuttle flight.  

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RUSH: A correction.  I said that Gus Grissom blew the hatch.  The official story is the hatch blew itself.  On July 21st, 1961, Gus Grissom was pilot of the second Project Mercury flight.  It was a suborbital flight of 15 minutes, same as Alan Shepard's.  John Glenn was the first to actually orbit the earth.  Alan Shepard went up there first for the first suborbital, 15 minutes, same thing with Gus Grissom.  His was the second.  The name of his capsule was the Liberty Bell 7.  And after splashdown the emergency explosive bolts unexpectedly fired, blew the hatch, causing water to flood the spacecraft.  Grissom got out fast through the open hatch and into the ocean.  He was nearly drowned as water began filling his space suit.  A nearby helicopter tried to lift and recover the spacecraft, but it was too heavy and they ultimately cut it loose, and then it sank. 

Now, Grissom asserted that he had done nothing to cause the hatch to blow.  NASA looked into it. They eventually concluded that he was correct.  Initiating the explosive egress system required hitting a metal trigger with the side of a closed fist by the astronaut.  It was rigged so that it could not accidentally happen.  And when the astronaut had to hit that switch, the trigger with the side of a closed fist with a lot of force, it unavoidably left a large bruise on the astronaut's hand.  Grissom did not have any bruising.  "Still, controversy remained, and fellow Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra, at the end of his October 3, 1962 flight, remained inside his spacecraft until it was safely aboard the recovery ship, and made a point of deliberately blowing the hatch to get out, bruising his hand," in support of Grissom.  So I was wrong when I said Grissom blew the hatch.  The hatch just blew.  It wasn't supposed to happen.  But it just did. 

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH:  It's a day of learning for me.  I love that.  I know so much, I don't learn every day.  Gus Grissom's space capsule was recovered, and it is restored on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere.  I had no idea that they had recovered it, but it has been recovered.  James Cameron did not do it.  And it's on display. 

Here's John in Syracuse, New York, as we start at the phones today in the first hour.  Great to have you with us, sir.  Hi.

CALLER:  Hi, Rush.  First of all, it's an honor to talk to you.  I'm a huge fan, and everything you say makes my day better.

RUSH:  Thank you very much. I appreciate that, sir.

CALLER:  Sure.  Listen, I was telling the producer, I'm an A&P mechanic, and I work on 747s for a living, and one of the aircraft that I work on was the one that took home space shuttle Discovery.  That was the final flight it took to its resting place.

RUSH:  What is an A&P mechanic? 

CALLER:  Airframe and Powerplant.  It's a license you have to have to work on commercial aircraft.

RUSH:  Cool.  Airframe and Powerplant.  And so you did maintenance on the 747 that piggybacked the Discovery?

CALLER:  Right, yes, sir.  I was in the military ten years, and I worked on KC-10s, which is a DC-10 offset.

RUSH:  Right.

CALLER:  And I got to be an A&P mechanic, and I've been doing that for eight years now, and when we flew that space shuttle home, we brought mechanics on the aircraft in case we had to divert in case of emergency.  We do it quite often, you know, for test flights or --

RUSH:  What's it like flying on a 747 with that shuttle on the top?

CALLER:  It is the roughest, most absurd ride I've ever been on before.

RUSH:  You know, I'm so glad you called because I wanted to ask somebody that, wondering what it's like.  I assume that the wings on the shuttle give it some additional lift, and I didn't know if that worked in conflict with the 747 or worked against it, but I can imagine that would be bumpy.

CALLER:  Oh, absolutely.  It's not made to do that. You know, aerodynamically it's made just to fly stand-alone, but when you put something like that on the top of it, you know, pretend you're putting it on top of your vehicle and drive like that, you can only imagine how rough that ride would be.

RUSH:  Yeah, it's like putting an obstacle up there.  Although it is aerodynamic, just the wings on the shuttle are aerodynamic, and not all that much.  Well, that's fascinating.  I always wondered what that was like and I'm not surprised.  I appreciate the call, John. 

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