Wow, did I get a surprise when I walked into the new Grissom Space Museum! Located in the center of Bonne Terre is a group of very passionate people busy setting up a world-class museum.
When I first walked into the museum, I couldn’t believe that all the displays were real. The materials in the displays were collected and donated by NASA and people who really, really like space. One guy, in particular. Meet Earl, the leader of the space pack.
Earl knows the secret to success. It’s simple really: NEVER QUIT! Interviewing Earl and his friends was a total pleasure. The passion and excitement these guys have are out-of-this-world. (Sorry for the pun.) But really, Earl has been working on this project for years. He started with a tiny museum to house his personal collection of space memorabilia. Through countless hours, a zillion phone calls, and a trillion emails, Earl held on to his dream and built something wondrous. Huge personal investments of time and money allowed these space monkeys to reach their goals. In March, the Grissom Space Museum will hold it’s official opening day.
NEVER QUIT! Interviewing Earl and his friends was a total pleasure. The passion and excitement these guys have are out-of-this-world. (Sorry for the pun.)
Grissom Center grand opening, part of the annual Show Me Space event.
Guests scheduled to attend include astronauts Charles Walker, Richard Richards, Linda Godwin, and Jerry Ross; shuttle flight directors Rob Kelso and Author George Leopold; and public television celebrity Janet Ivey. Distinguished guests include Lowell, Scott, and Mark Grissom. Mr. Leopold will be doing a book signing.
There is really nothing remarkable about my life or family. I am sure many American families share similar stories, but let me tell you what I think is important for you to know.
On March 3, 1952, I was born the youngest of a family of eight on a dairy farm outside of Vienna, Illinois, population 1,100. We were poor, but we didn’t know that until we grew up. At the time, we were probably considered “from the wrong side of the tracks” and somewhat dysfunctional as families go. Again, we did not know that. Remarkably, all of us turned out OK. In fact, my brother started a business and became a millionaire. I think the reason for our success is that none of us considered ourselves a victim.
Living poor in a small community did not provide for a lot of entertainment, so we depended on our imagination. Fortunately, I was born with a good one. My imagination was the key to where I am today. I’ve never been able to explain my love for aerospace other than I was designed that way. My wiring kept me looking at the night skies and dreaming. I can tell you when that love was solidified, though. It was when I spotted Echo America’s first attempt at satellite communication. It was big, bright, and easy to spot. Needless to say, it spawned all manner of imaginations. I wanted to know all I could about Project Echo and anything else involving space travel. Again, maybe it was by design that I was born at the dawn of the Space Age. Ultimately, I followed it all my life.
I started collecting the relics of space early in life. My first pieces came from a local carnival. I was around 7 or 8 years old. I had 30 cents to spend, and I dropped it all on a claw machine at 10 cents a pop. I won three Mercury space capsule pencil sharpeners— design or fate!? I was thrilled to have them, but it also taught me something. I liked them so much that I wanted more, and being poor was a problem. I could have pouted and lamented my fate, but as I said before, none of us kids considered ourselves victims. I knew if I was going to have anything, I was going to have to earn it. My first job at 12 was mucking out horse stalls. I have been working hard ever since.
I excelled in science classes. In high school and college, I favored technical classes would prepare me for a career in aerospace. I was only able to eke out an associates degree in engineering technology by working as a janitor. I carried 21 hours a semester and worked 30 hours a week. Somehow I still managed to be in the top 10% of my graduating class. Sadly, my desire for an aerospace career was not to be. By the time I got my degree, we had beaten the Russians to the Moon and funding was drastically cut for space. I chased the rainbow for a while as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Through different jobs I learned carpentry, construction, millwork, machinist skills, speaking skills, management skills, and organizational skills. I always thought that my jobs were coincidental, but as I look back, every one of them prepared me for what I am doing now— fate or design?
If anyone deserves credit for the existence of the museum, it is my dear wife Suzanne. She is my rock. She does not share my love of space, but she BELIEVES IN ME! She allowed me to follow my dream unfettered.
Though I was unable to follow my dream of an aerospace career, I continued to collect the artifacts of the Space Age. The collection too large to house at home. It was time to take the logical next step. A museum would allow me access to even cooler space stuff. In 2003, I opened the doors and waited for the swarm of visitors. You could hear crickets chirp! I went almost one and a half years without a single visitor! I considered quitting many times, but frankly, I had no place to move the collection.
Since there were advantages to becoming a not-for-profit, I incorporated as a 501(c) 3 in 2007. The museum then became eligible to receive NASA artifacts. Since that time we have received well over $22,000,000 in artifacts and continue to select and receive more. Thankfully, I have a board that shares my vision and supports my direction 100%. In fact, several of them are former engineers who designed and built the first spacecraft. They added a new dimension to the museum and love interacting with the visitors. There is no real way of recouping the thousands upon thousands I have personally invested in this project. I knew the story going in, so I have no complaint. To me, it is a reasonable investment in our future. You might say it is my Cadillac, bass boat, and lake villa rolled into one. I never had a hunger for any of those so hey, money well spent.
Now, we have expanded to the Grissom Center.
The museum is all about inspiration. It is about promoting noble things that will make a positive impact on a troubled, chaotic world. We wish to convey this way of thinking to all those who visit, regardless of the direction their dreams take them. The Space Museum and the Grissom Center stand as testimonies to that way of thinking. The museum project gives people something good to believe in.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to keep a dream alive is that they can come true. If acted upon, a dream is the energy that propels us to a better place. No true dreamer dwells on making things worse! Dreams are the antidote to mediocrity and stagnation. Every individual who has made a positive impact on humanity was at first a dreamer who considered what might be. A distinction has to be made. It is not enough to dream. A person must empower the dream with action, and they must be willing to accept that their dream may not be realized in their lifetime. To achieve our dreams, we must suspend the logical, “It cannot be done!” The realization of my dream is as much about being too stupid to quit as it is about being smart enough to succeed.
Though I was unable to pursue a traditional aerospace career, many the astronauts and engineers involved in the Space Race consider me their friend and colleague. Perhaps I have achieved my dream, and I didn’t even realize it!