Saturday, August 8, 2020
Larry Scheckel discussed the NASA Apollo program and more at the Tomah Area Historical Museum. Herald photo Bob Kliebenstein

Tomah museum recognizes Apollo 11 anniversary

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon was celebrated nationwide last week with significant hoopla on July 20.

That was the day in 1969 when NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo lunar module on the moon's surface and took their historic steps. The third astronaut on the journey, Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command module

The Tomah Area Historical Museum recognized the anniversary with a program featuring Larry Scheckel. Approximately 50 people were at the museum. Scheckel was the longtime physics and science teacher at Tomah High School (nearly 40 years).

During his teaching career Scheckel also created some local buzz in 1984. Then president Ronald Reagan asked for teachers to apply to be the first Teacher In Space as part of the NASA space shuttle program.

Over 11,000 teachers filled out the extensive application, 314 from Wisconsin. Five from Wisconsin were selected. Then through interviews and tests, it was narrowed down to two. Ellen Baerman from Brookfield and Scheckel.

Approximately 100 teachers met in the summer of 1985 in Washington, D.C. for a week-long seminar, orientation, tours, and the final selection process. They met former astronauts, such as John Glenn, and Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. They met Reagan at a White House reception. They attended many NASA classes and met four members of the crew that would be taking the selected Teacher In Space in space with them in early 1986.

"I was up against some tough competition," Scheckel said.

Some applicants had Masters degrees. Others were published authors.

"I was just a kid from a small Wisconsin (Seneca) farm," Scheckel said.

Scheckel was not chosen for the shuttle trip. Its history is well documented. NASA selected Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan as the backup.

The remaining applicants were sent home. All 100 of the finalists were invited down to the Kennedy Spacecraft Center for a week of classes, tours, and for the launch scheduled for Jan. 22, 1986. Due to scheduling delays, a stuck hatch, sand storm in Senegal, equipment failures, and high winds, the launch was actually Jan. 28, 1986.

Sheckel was unable to attend and was back in the classroom.

He remembers being in his classroom when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds into its flight. All seven crew members, including McAuliffe died. An O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster failed at liftoff.

Scheckel said he does not dwell on what might have been if he was chosen for the Challenger mission. Being part of that group opened doors for other experiences in life, he added.

Scheckel also discussed NASA's Apollo space program history from Apollo 1 through Apollo 17. Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during the Apollo program. Four are still alive. But some of those 12 achieved greatness in space at a personal cost. Divorce among some of the astronauts was not uncommon. Some could not handle the public adulation associated with being an astronaut. Scheckel said Aldrin battled alcoholism in his post-astronaut life.

Apollo ran from 1961 to 1972. Scheckel noted another point of interest. If space travel lands another astronaut on the moon  they would available transportation to travel on the moon's surface.

The lunar roving vehicle (LRV) is a battery-powered four-wheeled rover used on the moon in the last three missions of the Apollo program (1516, and 17) during 1971 and 1972. LRVs were transported on each successive mission. These three LRVs remain on the moon and after a quick battery charge likely could be driven, Scheckel said.

Uber in space? Why not?

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