Tag Archives: Space Shuttle

Our Trip to the UK~Part 5

1 Jan

A Slice of Life

Bill Lites


Our Trip To The UK Part 5

By Bill Lites



Now we headed north thru Patchway, and then west, across the Severn River, into Wales.  After passing thru Chepstow and Newport, we turned north again to visit the Big Pit Coalmine Museum near Blaenavon, in South Wales.  Because DiVoran’s father had once been a miner in Colorado, when she was young, we thought a tour of a real coalmine would help us understand what he had endured back then.  This turned out to be one of the most exciting experiences that either DiVoran or I had ever had.  The South Wales Coalfield, of which the Big Pit was a part, was at the height of its production between the 1880s and 1920s.


During the Great Depression of the 1920s & 1930s, the British coal industry went into terminal decline. The reduced demand for Welsh coal, and the increased competition from abroad placed an enormous strain on the industry.  A series of pit closures in the 1970s & 1980s had additional damaging effects on many communities that had, for many generations, relied on mining.  The Big Pit, Blaenavon’s last coalmine, closed in 1980.  It was opened as a museum in the late 1990s, and has gained in popularity ever since.


It was amazing to be lowered into the mine on the same elevator, and explore the same tunnels, that had been used by miners for generations.  One of the most fascinating areas, was the horse stalls, where the horses were kept, when not in use to move the coal cars around in the mine.


The tour guide told us that the horses were only taken up to the surface once a year, and that they would run, jump and kick until they wore themselves out, just to be free of their confinement. It’s hard for me to see how they could ever get those horses back into that mine, once they had experienced a short period of freedom like that.


When we finished our tour of the Big Pit Coalmine Museum, and returned to our car, there was this guy cleaning the car windows.  When I ask why he was cleaning our windows, he said he was raising money for his men’s choir to make a trip to America the next year.  Well, I was skeptical, but DiVoran had heard of Welch men’s choirs, and wanted to know all about their choir and their trip plans.  He told us the closest they would be to us during their tour would be in Charleston, SC, and we told him we would put that date on our calendar to come to their performance.          


DiVoran told him that she had always wanted to hear a Welch men’s choir sing in concert.  After we all warmed up to each other a bit, he mentioned that their choir was rehearsing that evening, and invited us to come to the rehearsal.  We were thrilled to get the chance to hear them sing, and got directions to the church where there they would be practicing. The quaint town of Abergavenny, in Gwent, wasn’t far from the Big Pit Mine Museum, so we had time to look around some, and to still have time for a meal at the local pub, before locating the church for the rehearsal.



They called themselves “The Blaenavon Male Voice Choir”, and were known internationally. But let me tell you, these were some of the most warm-hearted men you would ever want to meet, and could they ever sing!  Even though it was only a rehearsal for them, and they had to stop and restart from time to time, it was still some of the most beautiful singing we had ever heard.   And, to think we were a private audience of only “two” for the whole performance!



Just as a note, when we got home, I told my sister Judy, and her husband Fred, who lived in Virginia at the time, about the choir tour and we planned to meet them in Charleston for the performance.  Then a week before we were to leave, I had to fly to California for an unscheduled Space Shuttle landing there, and was not able to meet them, for what they said was a marvelous performance.



—–To Be Continued—–


Happy New Year animated

U.S. Space Walk of Fame

16 Jan

A Slice of Life

Bill Lites


As two of the many workers on America’s Apollo moon landing program, Ron Spangler and Bill Lites were looking forward to attending the ground breaking ceremony for the Apollo monument at the U.S. Space Walk of Fame.  When completed, the U.S. Space Walk of Fame will honor the men and women who have been part of the U.S. Manned Space programs, from the first Mercury launch to the last Space Shuttle launch.


The ceremony took place in Titusville, Florida on July 16,1999 exactly 30 years to the second of the launch of the mighty Apollo/Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center.  This was the rocket that carried the Apollo 11 spacecraft, and the first men from Earth, to a landing on the moon.  The Apollo monument was the third in a series of four planned monuments making up the U.S. Space Walk of Fame.  Astronauts Wally Schirra and Gene Cernan were among the honored guests, and more than 300 attendees were on hand to commemorate this special event.  As part of the ceremony, a bronze bust of President John F. Kennedy, who originally challenged our nation to what became the Apollo Lunar Landing program, was unveiled.


The first of America’s Manned Space vehicles was the one-man Mercury capsule that carried a succession of American astronauts on missions into Earth orbit to prove man could live and work in space.

4a    4b


Next in the progression of space vehicles was the two-man Gemini capsule that carried additional American astronauts into Earth orbit where they practiced space vehicle maneuvering. This involved rendezvous and docking procedures with various target vehicles.  In addition, space walks were performed to test space suit design and function.



The Apollo project used the mighty Saturn V launch vehicle to carry American astronauts in the three-man Apollo space capsule and the two-man Lunar Landing vehicle to the moon, where Neil Armstrong and Buss Aldrin were the first humans from earth to set foot on the moon.



The Space Shuttle was America’s 7-man reusable space plane that was used to assemble and serviced the International Space Station, and perform many other important manned space missions.  This was truly an International venture.




The Hubble Space Telescope along with countless military and scientific satellites were placed in Earth orbit using the Space Shuttle Orbiter.


So it was that Bill and Tom were there with the many others, that day, who came to the U.S. Space Walk of Fame ceremony to represent the nearly 300,000 dedicated men and women employed by NASA and a variety of contractors from all over America, who toiled to make the United States Manned Space Program a reality for the world to see and appreciate.  What a great feeling of satisfaction and pride each of those workers deserves to have, as a memory, for the rest of their lives.

Farewell Endeavor

20 Sep


Wednesday I watched as the space shuttle Endeavor was flown from Kennedy Space Center to begin her final journey and just like other champion she did a victory lap, flying low over her central Florida home.  Thursday I watched as she left her overnight fuel stop in Texas to complete  the final leg to her new home in Los Angeles. As Endeavor perched on top of a 747, lifted off the ground, my eyes roamed her surface. I noted the wing edges with their protective tiles. I have friends who knew every tile on all the shuttles and could tell you stories of difficult repairs or times when the tiles almost failed during a re-entry. You see, the space shuttles weren’t just objects to those who worked on them.


After the Columbia disaster, the collected pieces of debris were brought into a warehouse and laid out in a grid. There were many pieces that were not easily identified so shuttle technicians were asked to help. Some were so mangled it looked impossible to determine their purpose but the men and women who worked on Columbia, some of whom worked on her from the very first tile, had no difficulty. My husband was one of those men. If you had asked him to identify our children’s clothes in a closet he would not have had a clue but he knew those mangled pieces because he spent eight or more hours per day for over thirty years cajoling and finessing them.

As you visit the space shuttles placed in museums around the country, stop a moment to pay your respect to the astronauts who lost their lives and if you listen closely, you might even hear echoes of the men and women who held their breath with each countdown and re-entry, the proud workforce of Kennedy Space Center.







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