Looking ahead, looking back
June 23, 1999
Las Vegas turn-around
LAS VEGAS (CNN) -- It isn't blackjack, showgirls or Siegfried and Roy that lured me here to the town that Bugsy Siegel built. It is a high stakes high-flying spectacle that is more calculated risk than outright gamble.
I'm talking about a certain precision flying team that perches just north of The Strip -- beside the Nellis AFB airstrip: the fabulous USAF Thunderbirds. I got an invitation to fly in one of their waxed and polished red, white and blue F-16s, and will give you a full report next week. The TV piece should first air on CNN on Sunday, July 4 -- sometime between 8 and 10 a.m. EDT -- during the program I anchor. So stay tuned for that.
In addition to that piece, producer Linda Saether and I are working on a report on Air Force recruiting and retention. All of the armed services are having a hard time finding and keeping good people these days. Anytime the economy is humming along, as it is right now, Uncle Sam has a tougher time finding whom he wants. But the answer is more complicated than that.
In talking to the T-Birds some other factors come to light: the seeming lack of an urgent, imminent threat (a la Cold War), the changing role of the U.S. military (meaning much longer deployments away from home and hearth) and a general lack of interest in military service among young people. All of this has put the Air Force in a bind as it looks to sign up 30,000 enlisted personnel and 5,000 officers. Isn't it ironic that as the Air Force celebrates its all-air victory in the Balkans, it's having trouble filling the ranks?
We are looking for a former Air Force fighter pilot who recently jumped ship to fly smooth, straight and level airliner runs. Still no luck finding that element. Any suggestions out there? I'll let you know when we finish shooting that piece and an airdate is set.
On my way out here Linda Saether and I began firming up our coverage plans for the 30th anniversary of the day the Eagle landed. I don't want to give away all of our plans, but look for at least a half dozen pieces during the week of the anniversary. Sure, we will be talking to plenty of Apollo astronauts, historians and administrators.
But we will also feature an artist who has chronicled the history of the future of space exploration and a businessman who sees a commercial revolution in space. At the heart of our coverage will be the bittersweet nature of this anniversary. "What is next?" and "Why hasn't it already happened?" are the questions most on my mind.
The last man on the moon
I will tell you we plan to feature excerpts from one of the most fascinating interviews with an astronaut that I've had the privilege to conduct. Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, is out with an outstanding book by the same name. My faithful readers know how much I admire Michael Collins memoir Carrying the Fire. I would put Cernan's Last Man on the Moon in the same category for candor and insight.
Gene sat down with us recently in Houston and left us all spellbound. He was funny, emotional and candid. I know an interview is good when a jaded photographer and sound-technician start raving afterwards. As soon as we air the piece, I will post a transcript of the entire interview here in this space.
Regarding my last column
Once again, dear readers, I am astounded by the verve, and quite frankly, the vindictiveness, with which some people pick their nits with your humble correspondent. In mentioning Eileen Collins upcoming shuttle mission, I suggested she might be considered the first female commander of any piloted space flight.
Our e-mail box was flooded with not-so-gentle reminders of Velentina Tereshkova's precedent-setting mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 1963.
While certainly brave, Tereshkova was by no means a mission commander. She was a parachutist and passenger -- not a pilot -- and her mission orbiting the Earth was a stunt. Eileen Collins is in an entirely different league. She has earned her stripes.
There was a mistake that I will concede: I suggested the Pentagon's Milstar satellite was marooned in a useless orbit after an Inertial Upper Stage Rocket failure. Wrong. It was a Centaur that caused that problem. The IUS is a culprit in the failure of a DSP satellite (used for the Global Positioning System).
Remember, to err is human. Even the Thunderbirds admit that.
Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien's column appears on Tuesdays.
Civil Air Patrol Thunderbird Composite Squadron
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