"Look, there's Gus Grissom!"
"I don't know how Corey can't know those signatures! Look, Gene Kranz!"
"He can't even pronounce 'Wally Schirra' properly! Next time we go to Vegas, can we go to Gold & Silver and buy that?"
Our family does not go to Vegas as a matter of course; in fact, our kids have never been to Vegas. But we are faithful viewers of "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel, DVRing it for later viewing in the daytime. The girls have suggested several times that we take a family trip to Nevada, and of course the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop would be on our list of things to see, right next to Hoover Dam and the Ethel M factory tour.
We watch the show for a variety of reasons. I like the Old Man, as we both spent time in Uncle Sam's Yacht Club (the Navy). The Mister likes the weapons and Tortuga Trading. The kids, while fascinated at the 1950s items, usually watch it for ChumLee's antics, or to see if Big Hoss will make a crazy buy. Everybody likes Rick, who seems to have the job of ringmaster someplace in his job description.
But we never expected to have the serendipitous fortune of having an episode tie into our home education study of NASA and the space program, which has tended to go off in tangents at times in any event.
We started our study not because of some deep love of space, or physics, or even history. Blame this one on Baby's recent fascination with Clint Eastwood. After studying the Spaghetti Western and 1970s Police genre for Humanities, we sought to combine her interests with Belle's interest in sci-fi. The result: Space Cowboys, possibly the best movie in 2000.
Space Cowboys could not be appreciated without viewing Apollo 13. Apollo 13 could not be appreciated without the Right Stuff. And the Right Stuff was the perfect interjection of the old folks in the house!
Yes indeed, kiddies, we lived the adventure of Freedom 7. We knew the heartbreak of the Apollo fire. We know where we were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon (I was watching Cubs baseball, of course). It came to us in black and white TV via CBS, NBC and ABC, the only major networks at the time. No, the cable industry was subjected to burial by the theater industry, and wouldn't resurrect itself until the early 1970s. The appearance of an astronaut at some public function was like an audience with Paul VI, Queen Elizabeth II and the Beatles combined!
Apparently, our stories sparked enough interest to perform research on how the first rockets were launched, the differences between each of the three original NASA astronaut programs, to the point where the kids asked to learn to do better, faster research. There are still model rockets to be made, and a research report on their favorite astronaut.
It was not Space Cowboys that won the Retread Parent Film Festival, but Apollo 13. They sat on the edge of the sofa, holding their collective breath at each twist and turn. They paused the DVD, then slowly paced through the panels to see just what it was the NASA engineers were using to build a CO2 filter. They then debated whether they could have done the same, why a tube sock was or wasn't a good idea, and whether duct tape had been invented by NASA (it was not). They held printouts of production notes in their hands, and cheered when they discovered Jim Lovell's cameo in the film as skipper of the Iwo Jima.
So when it came time to rev up the DVR for this episode of "Pawn Stars" they were somewhat experts of the knowledge of which astronauts and crew were part of the Gemini missions, and whose signatures should have been on the photograph brought in for sale. While they could not have authenticated the signatures (that would be Drew Max), they certainly knew who should or should not have signed the danged thing.
Perhaps we can take a field trip to Vegas in October, when the Vegas tourist season changes. We're not bound by the schedule of the brick-and-mortar schools, and there are other activities there besides gambling (although the kids learned to count cards somewhere- but that's another story). It might be nice to at least look at the Gemini photograph, and have them call out the signatures, and tell a little something about each astronaut or engineer.