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The Launch of the USNS Wally Schirra

March 10, 2009

On March 8th, 2009, the USNS Wally Schirra launched into San Diego bay. Francis French, our Education Director, was invited to sit in the VIP section. Below is a video he took of the launch, his recap of the event, and then some photos he took. Enjoy!

It has been an incredible two days of events here in San Diego surrounding the launch of the USNS Wally Schirra. My deepest thanks to the Schirra family for inviting me and my wife to the launch and all the surrounding festivities.

It was a very impressive lineup of guests from all aspects of Wally’s life – including, from the space years, Bill and Valerie Anders, Scott and Patty Carpenter, Jim and Marilyn Lovell, Tom Stafford, Suzi Cooper, Chuck Friedlander, John Healey, Dale Myers, Dee O’Hara, Laura Shepard Churchley and her sister Julie. Plus of course, Jo, Suzi and Marty Schirra. I had the honor of being seated with Healey and Myers for most of the events, who had fascinating stories to tell.

Current NASA astronaut (and Navy Captain) Lee Morin was the principal speaker just prior to the launch, and gave one of the most moving and personal speeches I have ever heard a current NASA astronaut give. Anders, Carpenter, Lovell and Stafford also shared their personal impressions of their colleague, both moving and humorous.

The launch itself, taking place as dawn broke over San Diego bay and the tide was highest, was just as spectacular as the launch of the USNS Alan Shepard I had witnessed a few years ago. Except, this time, all agreed that Wally was pulling one last “Gotcha.” Jo christened the ship with a bottle of champagne broken over the bow, and then… the ship did not move. It was so cold this morning, apparently, that the grease on the runners was too tacky. Very, very slowly, the ship inched (literally) away from the viewers, with Laura giving it a couple of playful shoves of encouragement. Then, after a number of people remarked that, in classic Wally fashion, Schirra was not going to launch “until I am good and ready, dammit,” the immense ship picked up speed, and with a blast of its horn and a colorful display of streamers it slid into the bay. Watching something the size of a city block race away from you like that is an unforgettable experience. I took some video [above], along with some photos [below].

It was a weekend of suitable Schirra-esqe levity all around, and held a special surprise for me. Looking in the formal program brochure, and at the short biography of Schirra, I was amazed to find the following line…”He was also a major contributor to the 2007 book, In the Shadow of the Moon, which captured his final published thoughts on his life and career.”

To have this mentioned in a brief summary of his entire life was incredibly special.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dee O'Hara permalink
    March 11, 2009 6:41 am

    Francis,

    Another spectacular write-up capturing all the events of a most awesome sight and weekend. It was indeed a priviledge to have witnessed this wonderful honor for a beloved friend, Wally. HIs final “gotcha” will live on!

    Dee

  2. Kris Stoever permalink
    March 11, 2009 9:06 am

    Francis,

    What a wonderful tribute to Wally and his family. The photographs are wonderful.

    Kris

  3. Paul Nitchman permalink
    March 12, 2009 6:04 pm

    Exciting launch, this makes five for me.

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