Launching a Rocket in My Father's Honor, 40 Years Later
The story of how a failed rocket launch inspired one man to retrace his father's mission 40 years later.
Near the the end of the Apollo space missions of the early 1970s, my father—an aerospace engineer from Johnson City, New York—began work on his own Saturn V (the massive vehicle that brought men to the surface of the moon). Even at 1/100 scale, the Centuri Saturn V was the grand daddy of all model rockets—at almost 4 feet high it was as tall as me at the time. The kit had hundreds of separate parts that took my dad months (my mom remembers it as YEARS) to meticulously cut, glue, sand, and paint.
When he finally finished, he brought the whole family out to an open field. We counted down, and my mom had the honor of pushing the button. The rocket shot 500 feet into the sky...but the chutes failed to deploy and we watched in horror as it plummeted—nose first—back to earth. Dad's Saturn V was destroyed and I've never forgotten.
Front view, side view, rear view of my dad's Saturn V with launch pad, 1973.
My father passed away a few years ago, and I recently discovered his launch pad in the attic—along with dozens of snapshots of the original launch. I am a father now as well, and it struck me that this was the first time I remember seeing him fail at ANYTHING. It reminded me of a time when our fathers were omnipotent; when any dispute with the kid down the block could be settled with "I'll ask my dad."
Dad prepping the rocket and liftoff!, 1973.
The 40-year-old Centuri Saturn V kit No. 2140 I found on eBay. Incredibly it is complete and even has the original bottle of contact cement.
I started thinking about taking this experience full circle, to see if I can reverse the outcome or see if history will repeat. That's when I thought of the idea to build another Saturn V from the very same vintage Centuri model kit my dad built (recently purchased on eBay), and pick up where he left off. I plan to conduct a public launch (in Kirkwood, NY) and fire the rocket from dad's 40 year old launchpad —and hopefully—land it safely.
Re-Launch day will be documented by myself, videographer Joe Hollier, and long-time collaborator photographer Michael Northrup and will take place sometime in spring/summer of 2013. Our photo study (along with my dad's original images) will populate a self-published art photo-book that I will write and design. A short documentary video will also be produced.
Launch day, 1973. I'm in the front in the Superman t-shirt. My grandparents drove up from New Jersey for the event.
In the process, I hope to share a bit of my father's geeked-out love of flight and physics with my two young sons, who never knew their grandfather. But this is more than a personal story. Saturn V Relaunch is a tribute to the days before NASA cutbacks when every kid wanted to be an astronaut in order to explore the unknown, if only in our own backyards. And to all of the model rockets that caught fire on the launch pad, exploded in mid-air, were lost in a tree or disappeared from sight, never to be seen again.
Scouting the original launch site with Eli, 2012.
To do this, I started a Kickstarter page, and while we exceeded our original goal, in the last two days of fundraising, I would like to expand the video part of this project into a short documentary film with original music by composer Shay Lynch, who did the music on the project video and the trailer. But making even a short documentary will cost money. I have added an HD digital download of the documentary to all pledges of $10 or more. Please back the project or consider upgrading your pledge by adding on a book or poster or mug.