Some good news and bad: Honoring Kepler, remembering friends

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Published on: March 11, 2012

This week I don’t really have an opinion to share, so much as I have some good news and some bad news to tell you.

First, the good news: If you listened to the March 4, 2012 edition of Space Talk on NASA’s Kepler mission to find planets around other stars in the galaxy, you know what a truly great mission this is and the exciting results the Kepler team has reported during the past three years the telescope has been in space since its launch March 9, 2009 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

So far Kepler has discovered 61 confirmed planets and cataloged more than 2,300 candidate planets. For this, the Space Foundation, one of my former employers, is recognizing the Kepler team with this year’s Jack Swigert Award for Space Exploration.

This is an extremely prestigious honor, named for the Apollo 13 astronaut who was eventually elected to Congress from Colorado, where the Space Foundation is headquartered, but died of cancer in 1982 before he could assume office.

The Kepler team will be honored with the award during the opening ceremony of the 28th National Space Symposium at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, which begins on April 16. So congratulations to principal investigator William Borucki, and his fellow Kepler team members, who also were honored this past week with Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine’s 2012 Laureate Award for Space.

(By the way, if you missed the Space Talk program about Kepler, you can download a podcast of the show by clicking on the Space Talk Archive link above.)

As for the bad news: It is an unfortunate reality that as the years go by, we naturally are forced to say good bye to more and more of the great pioneers who were responsible for so many historic achievements during the early days of our space program. It’s almost as though a week can’t go by that we don’t hear about someone of historical significance passing on.

A very select few became household names. Most you never heard of, and are the unsung heroes of the space age.

For example, a couple of weeks ago we lost Tal Webb, a widely respected and admired mechanical engineer who worked as a contractor on every NASA manned program from Project Mercury up through and including the Space Shuttle, retiring as a senior manager at United Space Alliance. In fact, the Canaveral section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers has an award named for him. And it says something about the importance of the man that news of his passing raced through the local space community here. I shook his hands a few times, but never really knew him. I’m told I would have liked him.

But hitting a little closer to home, at least for me, was the news that David Parrish had passed away this week. If you’re wondering who he was, let me tell you. Dave was a retired colonel in the Air Force who from 1969 to 1972 served as commander of the 6555th Aerospace Test Group, which prepared Atlas and Titan missiles for launch from the Eastern Test Range. Actually, the 6555th went by a variety of names throughout its history, but it was the group that got things done, eventually for the Eastern Space and Missile Center, and then later, under a different name, for what we now know as the 45th Space Wing.

Dave was here through it all, eventually working as a program manager for the Shuttle Payloads Operations Contract, which was an Air Force contract at Cape Canaveral responsible for preparing Department of Defense payloads for launch on the Space Shuttle.

After retiring, Dave became involved with the Air Force Space and Missile Museum as a volunteer and as a member of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum Foundation board of directors, and took it upon himself to manage the little gift shop at the museum out at Launch Complex 26.

Now, for the past decade or so, I have been involved with the Museum Foundation, and currently am its secretary. One of my early duties, back when the late Maj. Gen. Jimmey Morrell was the head of the Foundation, was to assist Dave in managing the gift shop as it was getting more and more difficult for him to do the job, especially as we sought to update the gift shop with a computerized inventory system and a “modern” cash register.

To be honest, there were times when he and I didn’t agree on the way to do some things. I was the young whipper-snapper, and he was the old dog who didn’t want to learn new tricks. But what was great about him was his absolute pure desire and drive to make that gift shop, and therefore the museum itself, the best it could possibly be. And when we got together out there, and we were finished with whatever business we had, he would tell me stories about this missile or that one, and what it was like to be a part of those incredible times in the past.

When he finally gave up the reigns of the gift shop, the Foundation board and the volunteers presented him with an engraved trophy, which I was honored to have been the one to design and procure. And now today, thanks in large part and in so many ways to Dave’s work and his legacy, we not only have a thriving gift shop at complex 26, but also at our new History Center, which is located outside the south gate of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on State Road 401, and which is ably managed by our own Sharon Rodriguez and Mary Ann Edwards.

So to David Parrish’s wife Martha, his five children, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren we send our condolences, prayers and thanks for the colonel’s contributions in enabling us to continue to tell the story of the history of launch operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Godspeed David Parrish. You were a true steely-eyed missile man, and you will be missed.

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