Leonid MAC 1999:
Despite my various accomplishments during 30 years of amateur astronomy, I was not prepared for September 14, 1999. I mean how often do you get e-mail asking if you would be interested in participating on a NASA mission.
No, this was not a spacecraft-oriented mission, but one of the many other missions NASA funds each year to study the Earth and space. In this case, it was to be a mission that would fly scientists to altitudes of 40,000 feet to study the Leonid meteor shower. It was called Leonid MAC 99, with the "MAC" standing for Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign.
Well, I literally sat at my desk at work for several minutes and re-read the e-mail just to make sure I had understood it correctly! Then I had to check with some important people. First came the wife. Karen is not crazy about planes and I knew she would be worried. There was also the problem of her working nights, since we have two kids. I called her and told her about the opportunity. She was quiet for a few moments, then took a deep breathe and said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we would come up with some way to work around her and the kids' schedule. Wow! I didn't expect that!
Next I had to talk to my boss. She was in her office, so I walked in and checked about the possibility of taking nearly two weeks off around the middle of November. She said I could do so and then asked why. When I told her she was very excited. Everything was set.
I wrote to Peter Jenniskens, the project coordinator of the Leonid MAC mission and said I could go. He wrote back and said he was waiting for everyone to respond before he committed to a crew, and that a decision would be made at the end of September. Meanwhile he told me to contact Captain Jeff Lampe of the 452nd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base and let him know that Peter had recommended me to the list. In addition, I had to apply for a passport.
I finally got to go to the United States Post Office in St. Louis early the next week with my birth certificate and photos of myself in hand, and applied for my passport. I was told it would take about a month. That was going to be a little close for me, but it really got expensive to have them speed things up. Since I wasn't sure I would even be chosen I hated to go the express route.
On September 24, I received a letter from Peter announcing the participants for the flux measuring team. They were David Lawrence Holman, Jane Houston, James Kelly Beatty, Christopher Charles Crawford, David Richard Nugent, AND Gary Kronk. I had been selected! Two days later we were given a web site to visit to determine the size of the flightsuit each of us needed. I checked it out, determined my size, and sent the numbers off to Peter.
October and the early days of November were the slowest times of my life. Nearly everything I needed had been purchased and it had simply become a matter of waiting. The nice thing was that the passport arrived in less than three weeks, so the last three weeks were spent knowing I was completely prepared for this trip.
Peter continued sending us e-mail on a regular basis to keep us informed about mission preparations. We needed good long underwear because the planes would fly "cold-soaked." This meant they would stay colder than normal because they did not want to take a chance on all the equipment overheating. We were also informed about the "red line" that existed at the military air bases we would be visiting during our trip. We were instructed that crossing the line could be met with "deadly force." I quickly made a mental note about that!
If you have any questions, please email me