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Then there was the challenge to keep doing better and better, to fly the best test flight that anybody had ever flown. That led to my being recognized as one of the more experienced test pilots, and that led to the astronaut business.
The rocket had worked perfectly, and all I had to do was survive the reentry forces. You do it all, in a flight like that, in a rather short period of time, just 16 minutes as a matter of fact.
The pilot looked at his cues of attitude and speed and orientation and so on and responded as he would from the same cues in an airplane, but there was no way it flew the same. The simulators had showed us that.
The first plane ride was in a homemade glider my buddy and I built. Unfortunately we didn't get more than four feet off the ground, because it crashed.
The excitement really didn't start to build until the trailer - which was carrying me, with a space suit with ventilation and all that sort of stuff - pulled up to the launch pad.
So everything turned out fine, and we were given the opportunity to go to Washington and be briefed on the project of man in space, and given the opportunity to choose whether we wanted to get involved or not.
Of course, in our grade school, in those days, there were no organized sports at all. We just went out and ran around the school yard for recess.
Of course I was delighted the flight was over, but I still had to worry about cleaning up inside the cabin, I had to worry about the hatch, how to get in the sling, and so on.
Obviously I was challenged by becoming a Naval aviator, by landing aboard aircraft carriers and so on.
Later, in the early teens, I used to ride my bike every Saturday morning to the nearest airport, ten miles away, push airplanes in and out of the hangars, and clean up the hangars.
It's been a long way, but we're here.
It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.
I'd like to say I was smart enough to finish six grades in five years, but I think perhaps the teacher was just glad to get rid of me.
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