"He loved the world beyond the world, the sky beyond the sky . . ."
"Rocket Man" by Tom Rapp.
You've got to do more than live it to be a real rocket man. You've got to have what the son in "Damn Yankees" called Heart. You've got to have what Rooster Cogburn called True Grit. You've got to be like Fred Haise and Joe Engle, the two rocket men who start this week lost-landing the air-plane-like space shuttle on the rock-hard floors of Californias Mojave Desert.
A popular astronaut image is that they all talk hard, drink hard and chase women. Some do . . . but not Fred Haise and Joe Engle. Pencil thin, Haise and Engle still carry the same weight (155 pounds) they did 20 years ago. They play handball together and they jog together. Their personal habits make Steven Canyon look like a dirty old man. They're CLEAN.
Haise has a street named after him in his hometown of Biloxi, Miss. A petition had to be signed to change the street's name and everybody on the street signed it. The worst story told about Fred Haise is that he was caught when he was a teen-ager siphoning gasline from a car that wasn't his. You don't even hear stories that bad about Joe Engle. Joe Engle still says things like: "Honest to Gosh."
When Fred Haise left the planet Earth for the moon on Apollo 13 six years ago, his bladder flared up with an infection that sent his body temperature to 102 degrees. The next day, the oxygen tank in the Apollo spacecraft exploded. Temperatures in the spacecraft cabin fell to 55 degrees. Electricty and water were rationed to Haise and his two crewmates, who fought to keep their spacecraft on course and themselves alive.
By the time Haise returned in a crippled Apollo spacecraft that didn't make it back to Earth his illness had dehydrated him. He had lost eight pounds. He was shakoong like a leaf from chills and a fever that had never been below 101 degrees.
The unlucky Apollo 13 didn't stop Haise from wanting to get back into space any more than his near-fatal airplane crash three years ago.
Haise was flying a beaten-up World War II aircraft from Ellington Air Force Base outside Houston down to Galveston, where there was a gathering of the Confederate Air Force. He remebers that the plane he was in had been in the movie "Tora, Tora, Tora" and he remembers following another old plane that had beeni in another movie about the war into the airport at Galveston when the first pilot slowed down and Haise had to pull up to avoid a nasty collision.
As Haise turned to get back into his landing pattern, the old plane's single engine quit on him. He restarted the engine by francically working the hand fuel pump but then it quit again. Haise figured he could never make it it ot the Galveston airfield without an engine so he picked out a flat field of grass and began gliding the old plane toward the field.
"What looked like flat grass from 400 feet out was riddled with ditches that had beendug there for a housing development." Haise says in that matter-of-fact way that test pilots describe their own accidents. "Anyway, one of the ditches ripped off the landing gear.
"It was fixed landing gear, which meant I couldn't get the gear up which I would have done if I could be cause it's not good to go into an unproved field like that with your landing gear gown," Haise goes on. "But the landing gear was welded on and one of those ditches ripped it off and the plane cartwheeled and I ended up going backwards and upside down with the canopy shut."
It had been a short flight from Ellington to Galveston so Haise's plane had plenty of fuel left in its tanks, which after skidding to an upside down stop burst into flames. Luckily, Haise was strapped in and had no broken bones and was able to kick his way through the tin plexiglas canopy.
But the old plane by now was a burning torch and even though Haise kicked himself free of the wreck his body was badly burned. He spent the next three months in a hospital, searred by burns over 50 per cent of his legs and arms.
"My elbows, knees and ankles were the worst," Haise says now. "I had to wear ace bandages 24 hours a day around all my joints to keep lesions from forming that will immobilize you. Happily, my feet weren't burned so I could walk. I had boots on when I crashed and you can still see a very sharp line around my ankles where the boots ended and the scars start."
In typical test pilot manner, Haise says the worst of the accident was being off flight status for 14 months and worrying that he might be kept off it the rest of his life.
"Boy, was that demoralizing," Haise says. "I thought I was never going to get to fly again . . . ever, hat's an awful feeling."
The other astronaut who will get to pilot the shuttle to its first test landings is Joe Henry Engle, who grew up in the tiny town of Chapman, Kansas, where there was no airport and no airplanes anywhere nearby to practice on. Eagle was 3 years old when he decided to wanted to fly. He practice on a model airplane his sister built for him out of a tin can.
Unlike Haise, Eagle has never been in space, although he's flown the X-15 rocket plane to the edge of space. He's flown more than 130 different types of aircraft, possibly a record even for test pilots. He's one of the most skilled test pilots in the astronaut corps, a favorite of the other astronauts and the engineers who teach the astroauts the ins and outs of space hardware.
Eagle suffered a different kind of ordeal than Haise had. He had been picked to copilot the lunar landing craft for Apollo 17 and had already undergone three months of training for the flight. But that was when Apollo 18 and 19 still were scheduled. When they both were cancelled to save money, Apollo 17 became the last of the manned lunar landings.
The cancellation killed Engle's chances. He was relieved as lunar copilot to make kay for Harriosn H. (Jack) Schmitt, a geologist ( and now senator from New Mexico) who was in training to copilot the Apollo 18 flight. Sensitive to criticism that it had not sent a scientist to the moon, the space agency moved Schmitt in over Engle. Engle told friends that the day he was told he would not fly to the moon, he felt like he'd been kicked in the teeth.
"It was hard to swallow," Engle says today, "but I think it made sense. I think that you're betting on the odds that if you've got a guy with a doctorate in geology (Schmitt's came from Harvard) with experience all over the world and you're going to the moon and you want the most meaningful samples brought back . . ."
Engle's voice trails off in the way of a man who's been through the worst and now works only for the best, which will come when he gets inside the cockpit of the space shuttle for the first time.
"I can't remember when I wanted to do anything but fly airplanes," Engle says, "and certainly for a spacecraft this bird flies more like an airplane than any of the others. It's going to be good having a pair of rudders to kick and a stick to move around."
There's something about flying that makes a lot of Americans want to do it. The same mystique goes with wanting to be an astronaut, but it's not easy getting there. Until last month, the space agency had chosen 70 people to be the nation's astronauts. Out of more than 100,000 applicants. Last month, they chose 20 new astronauts to move into the space shuttle No fewer than 8,000 people applied for the jobs.