Friday, September 11, 2009

"Look at the sky"

It was a beautiful morning in Houston, with a few days remaining of our Professional Development Conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. We aerospace educators met annually at a NASA center to get up to date on the latest NASA education and science programs. The night before, we watched the movie Apollo 13 from the original mission control room, the film being projected on the same screen that displayed the televised images from the moon. When it was my turn to watch from the Flight Director's chair, I stood behind and paced - we never saw Gene Krantz sitting down. Earlier that day, I crossed the street to the municipal complex where a refreshed Apollo boilerplate BP-K had been placed on display. But now, a new day to hear from NASA on how to inspire today's youth.

We were meeting at the Gilruth Center, a multi-purpose facility for JSC employees. Noshing on pastries and morning caffeine, we were slowly making our way to our meeting room. Suddenly, someone came in saying, "Return to your duty stations. Return to your duty stations, now!" Someone said we were from across the country and had no duty at JSC, so we were sent to the meeting room where we were going anyway. Wondering why, we were told that something had happened in New York City, so we turned on the TV projector and saw smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. We watched a little, then tried to start our session while we monitored the video.

When the second plane hit we knew that there was something very serious in the works. The JSC guy who told us to get to our duty stations returned to say that JSC was closing down - planes were being grounded and fear that some were heading toward Washington. Or boss took the podium and offered a choice; remain in Houston until flights resumed or take our rentals and drive home. A call to the rental agency confirmed we could do this (with the appropriate rate increases), so we decided to drive home. Within an hour we were checked out of the hotel, with four of us heading east on I-10. Listening to the radio, we pieced together what had happened and discussed how the world was changed. One colleague remarked, "Look at the sky. Not a contrail in sight. We've never seen a sky without airplanes."

Stay tuned for the rest of this story.


  1. On this memorable day, I was an assistant principal in a middle school in Florida with 1200 students and more than a hundred adult staff. Their personal stories and painful emotions were cathartically shared with me for weeks following this day.

    In reflecting upon the aftermath of the days and weeks that followed, I realized that we are much more interconnected to each other than our busy electronic lives might indicate.

  2. I was working at my office in South Pittsburg, TN when word came around that the Trade Center was attacked. I had an aircraft scanner in my truck and went outside to turn it on. I could usually hear a number of planes reporting in to Atlanta Center or Indainapolis Center. Nothing but silence - the audio version of no contrails in the sky.

  3. I was working at the Orange County Convention Center when the word got around that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. My first reaction was "What's the punch line?". We had no access to television but a few fellows had radios and we were able to piece together what was happening. Say what you like about the man, Howard Stern provided excellent coverage.
    Finally, after the seriousness of the situation was realized, work was cancelled and we were allowed to go home. I remember turning on the T.V. to see the second plane hit. I sat stunned, glued to the screen for the next several hours. Like most every other American.
    I live fairly close to the Orlando airport and right next to a major highway. That evening walking the dogs I was amazed at how quiet everything was. I couldn't hear a single engine from the highway or the sky. Looking up there was not a single flashing or moving light-only stars. It seemed very sureal and remained so for several days.

  4. I was home and could hear the t.v. from the other room. I was glued to the t.v. for days, reliving the shock of Pearl Harbor many years before. I have never loved my country more as I did in the days that followed. Political party lines didn't exist. We were all joined in support for our country and our leaders. I pray that we can come together like that again without another horrific incident like 9/11 happening. God bless America

  5. Jim. I remember sitting in the MOCR watching Apollo 13. That was great. I also remember 9/11 as well. Joan, Vern, Ron, ? (why can't I remember his name), and I piled into a minivan with our luggage and drove 20 hours straight to get home. It sware it was some kind of psychological experiment. 5 spam in a can. It was very eerie not seeing any planes or contrails. It was also strange driving into the Baltimore/Washington area. Driving into instead of away. I can honestly say that my life has not been the same since.