My trip to Indiana

I dunno.  This may be really boring and uninteresting to some of you, maybe to everyone.  But my quick little trip to Indiana was so smooth, interesting and fulfilling that I felt compelled to document it, and even to share it with anyone else who might possibly be interested.

I feel that life is made of moments, and we only get a finite number to experience.  The way I see it, the more moments you get to fill with positive experiences, the better you’re doing in the long run!  This little trip was filled with just enough positive, interesting and rewarding experiences to make it noteworthy.

The trip centered around a new event for Capstone Photography, the Purdue Boilermaker Half Marathon.  For the uninitiated, the Purdue in question has nothing to do with chickens.  Purdue University is one of the top engineering schools in the country, particularly regarding Aviation and Aerospace Engineering.  I earned my BS degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia in 1990, and the education there was first-rate.  But had I the chance to do it over again, I would have very seriously considered going to Purdue for that degree.

You see, I happen to be a huge astronaut buff.  My heroes are guys like Buzz Aldrin and John Young, guys who risked their neck with stoic calmness as America first reached to the realm of space.  It still blows my mind to this day how a bunch of young engineers, project managers and test pilots put together some of the world’s most daring and technically challenging accomplishments, all based on slide-rule calculations in the nascent field of Aerospace Engineering.  You won’t be surprised to know that one of my biggest heroes is Neil Armstrong.  I won’t fill the narrative here with details of his accomplishment, but I encourage anyone to read about him and some of the highlights of his gutsy career. A great book on Amazon is here: http://www.amazon.com/First-Man-Life-Neil-Armstrong/dp/1476727813/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1382313796&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=neil+armstrong  and a brief biography is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_armstrong.  My two favorite and vicariously hair-raising stories are how he successfully bailed out of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, just seconds from death, and his recovery from a stuck thruster in the Gemini program that would have doomed most of us mere mortals who lacked the ice-water that ran through his veins.

The connection is this.  23 NASA astronauts studied at Purdue, including Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon), Gene Cernan (last man on the moon), Roger Chaffee and Gus Grissom (who both died in the Apollo 1 fire).  I had always dreamed of at least visiting the campus, and being in the same place where so many of these young heroes-to-be earned their education about the physics of earth and space flight.  So going to the campus was a chance to do just that, while completing an assignment for my company.

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I arrived a day early, to scope out the start, finish and half marathon course.  With a little time to kill, I decided to explore the university campus.  My first reaction was its visual appeal.  It was very clean, with appealing architecture that somehow merged the late 1800’s with contemporary design.  Students bustled to and fro, and it made me reminisce about being an undergraduate a long time ago.  I downloaded an app for my iPhone which gave a campus tour.  Of the various landmarks, of course it was the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering which caught my eye and became my first stop.  Outside is a statue of Neil Armstrong as a student, and just about three days before Buzz Aldrin posted a picture of himself next to the same statue.  In a way, I felt like I was connecting with two of my heroes just by being there.

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As I walked into the lobby, more like a large atrium, again it brought me back to my college days.  Bulleting boards were overstuffed with flyers about activities and the availability of math tutors.  Computer labs were lightly occupied on what was a Friday afternoon.  Engineering labs were visible through glass walls, stuffed with various electrical and mechanical equipment and projects.  There was even a “Danger: Radiation” sign on one room.  But in the main atrium, something else was happening.  Rows of chairs were lined up, an oak podium with the university name sat at the front of the room.  A technician was setting up a video camera while another technician spoke “Check.  One, Two.  Test” into the podium microphone.  A Boeing display sat on the far side of the room, and a large mysterious item about 15 feet long was cloaked in a black cloth.  I asked the video technician what was going on and he smiled “Shhhh… it’s a big secret.  We’re unveiling a dedication, but I can’t tell you what.  The ceremony begins in about an hour.”  My mind pretended for a moment that I had arrived just in time to an event scheduled to coincide with my arrival, almost like it was just for me.  IMG_0594

Hmmm… what would they unveil?  From the shape, I guessed it was a Northrop M2 lifting body.  (This is what crashed in the beginning footage of the old Six Million Dollar Man episode)File:Northrop M2-F2.jpg

So with an hour to kill on a college campus, I did what any forty-something year old pretending to be 20 years younger would do:  I asked directions to a nearby bar.  A student directed me to Harry’s Chocolate Shop.  Without questioning why I was being directed to a confectionary store, I followed the directions and found the destination to be a bar alright, and a bit of a dive at that.  I ordered a local brew, chatted with a few locals and then made my way back to the Neil Armstrong Hall.  This time, a few more displays were set up, including a picture of Mr. Armstrong himself next to a strange bird I’d never heard of called the X-20.  And so that was what the event was all about.  Boeing had built a mockup of the X-20, which Neil was slated to fly, but the program was canceled before it ever took flight, with funds redirected to the moon program.  So I wasn’t far off, thinking it was the Northrop M2.  The two were definitely relatives.

Feeling under-dressed in jeans and a golf-shirt, I eschewed the formal seating area and instead went up to the second floor balcony, where I got a great view of the proceedings alongside a few dozen students.  The dean of the school spoke, and a few people from Boeing.  And then voila, the cloth was pulled back and the X-20 revealed.  It was really cool to have the good luck of walking into this.  I would have been satisfied with just a stroll around the campus and the building.  But I’ll never forget the feeling as if they had been awaiting my arrival to complete the unveiling!

The rest of the weekend went fine.  I had a nice quiet dinner before retiring to my hotel in nearby Lafayette.  (The 70’s called.  They want their room decor back!)  I woke early to meet 8 other photographers back at Purdue Saturday morning to cover the race.  It was dark, cold and rainy, but that’s part of what we photographers do!  After the race, I had a couple more hours to pass, so I found a place with great beer, chicken wings and the Purdue game on TV.  Now an instant Purdue fan, I cheered on the Boilermakers, but unfortunately they lost to Michigan State.  Then it was off to the airport.  That Indianapolis airport is so calm compared to other airports… what a pleasure to fly out of!

Thanks for letting me share my trip with you!  I hope your life brings you some small, pleasant adventures soon.  And of course, I’d love to hear about them!

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