Several Orbits Later


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All in all, it was a beautiful coda to one of the better stories I’ve had a chance to record, and to one of the better stories I’ve had a chance to live.

Last week, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center hosted its annual Space Exploration Gala, and this year the event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Skylab program. The eight living Skylab astronauts all came back to Huntsville for the event.

A similar night, almost 10 years ago, helped plant the seeds in me for a life-changing adventure. The eight were in Huntsville for the 30th anniversary, and it was one of the times I started to think seriously about what it would be like to work on a book telling the Skylab story. I was still a little ways out from having the nerve to actually step out and stop thinking about it and start doing something about it, but that night brought me a little closer.

So it was an incredible experience, on the other side of that adventure, to see the guys gathered in Huntsville once more, to see them and the program being celebrated, and to be a little more involved this time.

I had the chance to see most of the crew members the night before the event as we signed books to be sold the next night as a fundraiser for the museum. It was good getting to have a little time to visit and catch up, and even better to get to be present while they visited and caught up. I’ve been blessed to be in some amazing situations through the book, and this was one of them. I try to always appreciate what a blessing and responsibility it is; the legends will long live in history, the men behind them will only be known as long as there are people to talk about them.

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Five of the Skylab crewmembers came to Marshall the next day to talk about their experiences with the workforce. The event started with an awesome video overview of the program. I’ve always wondered if you could make a good movie about Skylab; certainly, that video showed you could make a great trailer for one. It was a little odd watching the video; I know the guys more as they are now, it was fun and a little odd seeing them looking so young. I ended up watching them watch the video more than watching it myself; it was fun watching their reactions to their younger days.

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It was also neat for me seeing my friend Andy Herron watching their talk from the front row. Andy’s a young NASA engineer working on SLS, and it was encouraging to see one of the team members who are taking on the torch appreciating the value of the experiences and wisdom of those who have paved the way.

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Afterwards, there was a reception at which I ate Skylab cake …

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… and photo-bombed astronauts. (Unintentionally, of course.)

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It was a fun combination of past and present, getting to be there with both the past NASA team I worked with on the book, and the present NASA team I work with today. That’s my former NASA boss in education, Jeff Ehmen, talking to Joe Kerwin. If you work at Marshall, you are the heir of an incredible legacy, and events like this really drive that home.

I was talking with my team lead after the talk about the fact that is a big part of why we do what we do — someday, I’m going to go to an event at Morris auditorium and hear astronauts tell about their experiences flying atop a rocket I was part of. And that will be a good day.

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The Space & Rocket Center used the occasion for another exciting Skylab milestone — the Skylab trainer that had been deteriorating in the parking lot for years was brought inside the Davidson Center for display. What the public didn’t realize is that not only had they fixed up the outside to bring it inside, they had actually also done a substantial amount of work on the inside, and the interior was ready for display also, if not complete. I was amazed at the work they had done. Very very exciting!

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Skylab trivia: Differently colored Snoopy stickers were used by each astronaut to mark his property.

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The Skylab display was particularly exciting to me because that was actually how I began my years as a Space & Rocket Center volunteer, by participating in a volunteer effort to fix up the exhibit many years ago. We made some progress, but it fell apart long before the trainer was display ready again. But we did reverse some damage and laid the foundation for the recent professional effort, and, for me, it was a great experience to be able to spend time inside a Skylab mock-up while working on the book. At one point, we closed the airlock door on the trainer, which was a Gemini hatch that was repurposed for Skylab. How many people can say they’ve had the opportunity to close a Gemini hatch? So it was very exciting for me to be inside the trainer for the first time in a long time. Not nearly as many years as it had been since the crew members had been aboard Skylab, but still a nice homecoming for me as well. Before the volunteer effort ended, we all were given the opportunity to sign an out-of-sight wall, and it was a neat experience to see my name still there.

I don’t have good pictures of the talk, but it was great as well. The guys did a good job of telling the old stories, and they have some great ones.

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Dead Man Talking


20121214-065702.jpgAnd then there was the time I dressed up as a dead man and hung out in the cemetery.

Someday, there’s going to be a post about how the last year and a half or so have changed me, and this post relates to one of those ways. My writing and acting backgrounds have merged into a new skillset, and I had a neat opportunity to put it to good use a little while back.

I met the awesome Jacque Reeves, who has an incredible knack for breathing life into Huntsville history, through the Depot earlier in the year, and mentioned that if she ever needed help with any of the fun things she does, I’d love to come play. That chance came a few weeks ago when I was invited to participate in the annual Cemetery Stroll at Maple Hill Cemetery.

In the Stroll, local folks dress up as historical characters buried in Maple Hill, stand by their graves, and tell their stories to visitors. The event continues to expand each year to the point where it’s now almost impossible to hear all of the stories, which keeps it fresh for repeat visitors.

I was called in as a last-minute replacement to portray Thomas Bibb, the second governor of Alabama. My museum connections helped my lay hands on some rather dapper period attire, and I rather misguidedly shaved my full beard off in favor of muttonchoppy sideburns. (I was apparently the only guy to sacrifice facial hair for his character, and I’m not entirely sure it was worth it.)

The last-minuteness of it added an element of challenge; I was provided a couple of sheets of information about Bibb, which I supplemented with a bit of my own research, but then had only a few days to make it my own and be ready to perform it. I found myself wishing it had been this easy to learn history when I was in school; it’s far more interesting when you take a narrative approach instead of a raw data-dump angle.

Bibb was an interesting guy. His family played a huge role in the formation of Alabama as a state, and he became governor when his brother, the first governor, was thrown from a horse and killed. He served out the remainder of the term, and decided he’d had enough. Of course, for all his accomplishments, the fact that capture more people’s attention was that, after he died in New Orleans, he was shipped back home in a barrel full of whiskey; a testament to his stature.

It was a great honor to get asked to participate this year, and I look forward to giving another lifeless performance next year!

See Me Be Funny Free!


As many of you know, I’m an actor in a local improv comedy troupe, Face2Face Improv. We do short game-based comedy sketches, based on suggestions made by the audience. Tell us who you want us to be, and we’ll act it out for you! If you ever saw the old ABC television show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” it’s like that, only better, since the suggestions are coming from you!

I have a limited number of free tickets for shows this month, and I want to give away them all! The tickets are for our weekly Tuesday night shows at Sam & Greg’s Pizza and Gelato Shop on the courthouse square in downtown Huntsville. Showtime each week is at 7:30, and the shows last about 40 minutes and are appropriate for all ages.

If you’d like to see me perform, I’ll be hosting the show on June 12 and performing in the show on June 19. (There’s a small chance I may be in the June 26 show, but I don’t know that right now. If I’m not, you can still go to that one, and it will still be hilarious.)

If you’d be interested in a free ticket, contact me!

Still the Rays of Youth and Love


Today also marks the anniversary of the death of my HHS classmate Beth Ladner, who died exactly one year before graduation. I’m not posting about that this year, but have in years past.

I grew up in the shadow of Huntsville High School. I have memories of driving past the school as a child and being fascinated by the senior wall, which stood atop the school and each year was painted with a design by that year’s senior class.

When I started sixth grade, at a Catholic school in Florida, some students were discussing where they wanted to go to high school, generally a debate between the supposed merits of the local Catholic high school and the public high school they were zoned for. When they asked me, though, I knew my answer — I wanted to go to Huntsville High School.

And I did. We moved back later that year, and I went on to attend Huntsville High. My class was the last to decorate the senior wall.

And, twenty years ago today, I became a Huntsville High School graduate.

It’s amazing to think about, that it’s been so long. The class is preparing for our twentieth reunion this summer; the first time we’ll assemble that we will have lived more of our lives after parting ways than before. I don’t know that I’ll be able to make it, but I do hope to catch up with some classmates while they’re in town.

The passage of time is driven home more by the fact that, since the last reunion, our Huntsville High has ceased to exist; the building we attended was torn down in 2004. I’ve substituted at the new building a couple of times this year, and while it is definitely still a Huntsville High, it’s not the same Huntsville High.

I’ve also subbed at almost all of the other Huntsville high schools this year, and it’s driven home what I already knew — I’m proud to be a Huntsville High School alumnus, and blessed that’s where I attended.

The anniversary has been looming for a while, as a reminder of aging, as a challenge to take stock of my life. Despite all that’s happened in the last 20 years, I’m definitely not where I would have wanted to be for this milestone, and I’m working hard to take that as a challenge rather than a discouragement. This too shall pass.

My brothers both were home-schooled during high school. It was an incredible and very positive opportunity for them, and I’ve had the discussion over the years over whether I would have wanted to have done anything differently.

But my life was shaped by the fact that I was in that place at that time. Newspapers were such a logical fit for me, and yet I really don’t know that I would have ended up there if I had not gone to Huntsville High School. My time there had an incredibly foundational impact on me, and always will have.

My Huntsville High School may have been torn down, but it still lives on in me.

Scenes From A Show


We had two great Face2Face Improv shows this weekend, one at Thespis Theater in south Huntsville on Saturday night, and our glorious return to Decatur after more than two years on Friday night at the new Coffee and Play House venue there, which was, let me say, incredible.

Our oh-so-talented videographer Caleb McPherson brought his still camera to the Friday night show, and got some great pics. There’s no way to really know what it’s like being at a Face2Face show other than, well, to be at what, but I share this as some random glimpses into what we do.

Face2Face Is On Groupon!!


OK, so I’ve talked a fair bit on here about Face2Face Improv, the incredible Huntsville improv comedy group I’m lucky enough to be  a part of.

For those that haven’t seen Face2Face before, we make up short, funny scenes on the spot based on suggestions from the audience. (And for the more timid in the crowd, we don’t bring anyone on stage or force anyone to do anything; you’re more than welcome to just sit back and enjoy the show.) We do a family friendly show of live entertainment. If you’ve ever seen the old ABC show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” we’re kinda like that. Only better.

And now is your best opportunity ever to check us out — we’re on Groupon!!

Today and tomorrow, you can get tickets at half-price or less to any of our shows that are good until next June. Buy now for cheap, and use it at your leisure anytime in the next eight months!

We look forward to seeing you there!

The Best of Huntsville, Alabama


My Huntsville picture post the other day was part of a blog carnival by local bloggers, titled “The Best of Huntsville, Alabama.” Go check it out!

O Huntsville, My Huntsville!


This is my Huntsville. (My Huntsville has a disproportionate number of rockets, but what do you expect.) There are a lot of things that would be in here if I’d understood young enough how transitory life is to take pictures of them, but I didn’t. So it’s far from exhaustive, but it is representative.

Life On Mars


We have a new Face2Face Improv clip up online, from a scene I did with Jeremy Shelley a while back. We’re supposed to be two astronauts on Mars, and when the host rings the bell, we have to change our last line to something different.

But I also wanted to share the other big Face2Face news — the new Face2Face Improv website is now online!!

I’ll be in a show tonight at Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria and Gelateria across from the courthouse in downtown Huntsville at 7:30 p.m.; we do shows there every Tuesday night. Tickets are $5, with children 8 and under free.

We’re also planning a bigger-format show at Thespis Theater in south Huntsville for Saturday, September 17.

Come join us!


For those that haven’t seen Face2Face before, we’re a comedy improv troupe. We make up scenes on the spot, based on suggestions from the audience. (And for the more timid in the crowd, we don’t bring anyone on stage or force anyone to do anything; you’re more than welcome to just sit back and enjoy the show.) We do a family friendly show of live entertainment. If you’ve ever seen the old ABC show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” we’re kinda like that. Only better.

I can’t embed them here, but there are videos of some of my work with the troupe on Facebook that should be publicly visible. Ticket information for shows is here.

Improv-ing The Travel Experience


I thought I’d share this video from a Face2Face Improv show a few years ago that was recently posted online:

This game harkens back to the ‘old days’ when slides and slide projectors were common fare when visiting relatives. More often than not … they tended to be boring.

Here, the show moderator receives from an audience member a description of their recent trip. After a basic, uneventful interview, the moderator chooses an actor to pose as the audience member, who then proceeds to show everyone the slides from the trip.

In this clip, Jen Lohrman Britton narrates a trip to Haiti. Thus the benign description, thanks to Jen, transforms into a much larger calamity of laughs.

We do shows every Tuesday night at Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria/Gelateria on the square in downtown Huntsville at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; children 8 and under are free. I’m there almost every week, usually hosting the show. Come check us out.

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