Saturday, July 25, 2015

"We Are Vikings."

A couple months ago, my grandfather called me up asking if I'd be interested in going to a fancy dinner with him. Specifically, a reunion for members of the Viking missions, of which he was most definitely one.

"I don't know if you'd want to go," he said. "It's just going to be a bunch of old engineers and scientists."

Begging your pardon.

I most definitely did want to. Growing up, while I never really knew huge amounts about the specifics of what my grandfather did, I was familiar with the missions. I remember seeing Viking mission photos from an early age, mixed in with the various other space landscapes spread out on the dining room table. I may not have the mental agility required for maths and science (it all goes into Doctor Who minutiae and guitar chords anymore), but the fascination remains.

And so, I met Vikings.

How I knew we were in the right place.
When my grandfather was telling me about what he expected of the dinner, he said he anticipated "Oh, maybe about ten or fifteen people." The back dining room of the restaurant (the Riverwalk in Yorktown, for the curious) was packed, though. Estimating people in a room on sight is a skill I most definitely lack, but there were at least a couple dozen Vikings there plus their plus-ones. And my grandfather still recognised many of them on sight.

I wish I could remember the people I was introduced to, because there were so many names and so many projects and accomplishments attached to those names. All I know is everyone remembered my grandfather and no one had a negative thing to say about him. And while I did a great deal more listening than I did talking, I was fine with that -- it was fascinating to hear conversations pick up again out of nowhere 40 years later, to hear names mentioned that made the whole room smile or shake their heads, and to see everyone comparing notes about where they'd ended up since they all last worked together.

One thing to keep an eye out for -- and sadly I'm unable to find it online -- is a book called A Bunch of Plumbers by John Newcombe, about the Viking mission team and how they made it happen. I'm looking forward to finding myself a copy so I can have a read,

Anyway here are photos.

Fascinating stuff, fascinating people, and I'm so pleased I had a chance to meet them and hear their stories. Even though I personally have no professional connection to NASA, I often feel like space is in my DNA, and being able to get close to things like this is a lot like coming home after growing up in a house where I could look at the surface of another planet just by pulling a stack of photos out of the silverware drawer.