|By Carmelo Turdo|
The guests for the evening gathered at the Holekamp Family Skyport, near the "Liftoff" Gallery, for the reception and tour of the gallery. The gallery includes Astronaut Walter Schirra's Mercury back-up spacecraft, Gemini 3A Thermal Qualification Test Vehicle, Astronaut Gordon Cooper's space suit used during visits to McDonnell Aircraft to train for the last and longest Mercury spacecraft flight and other related artifacts. Present at the reception were John F. McDonnell, former Chairman of the Board of McDonnell Douglas and currently serving on several Boards of St. Louis corporations, and Bert Vescolani, President and CEO of the St. Louis Science Center, to greet visitors prior to the main event.
John F. McDonnell (center) with Charles Wilson and Nate Crump
Earl Mullins, Jim Merriman and Debbie Merriman from the Space
Museum in Bonne Terre, MO
McDonnell Gemini spacecraft
McDonnell Mercury spacecraft
Following the reception, the guests were escorted to the Orthwein Starbay upstairs for the recognition ceremony and presentation of a special award from a group of McDonnell Aircraft (later McDonnell Douglas) retirees who directly contributed to the design and construction of the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft. The award recipients, referred by themselves as Mac's Old Team, proudly took the moniker to identify themselves with McDonnell Aircraft founder James S. McDonnell (Mr. Mac and later Old Mac) and his term for company employees as "Teammates." The award was originally presented at the Gateway to Space Conference last November following a panel discussion on the early space programs at the Boeing James S. McDonnell Prologue Room. The panel members decided that the award should be displayed in a public place as a reminder of the McDonnell Aircraft team's contribution to the U.S. manned space program, and the "Liftoff" Gallery was chosen as the current location.
Bert Vescolani presents the opening remarks
John F. McDonnell addresses the guests
"I want to thank all of you who have gathered to celebrate an amazing group of people who I had the joy and privilege of being able to work with first-hand and who truly changed the face of history. They call themselves Mac's Old Team, because in his later years, Mr. Mac, when he did his PA addresses, called himself Old Mac calling all the team. Now that they are in their later years, they have turned that around and called themselves Mac's Old Team." He later noted, "They were people who worked for more than a paycheck. They dedicated themselves to accomplishing what seemed impossible, and the results showed. McDonnell Aircraft, including the people you have just heard from around this room, stepped up to the challenge...Mac's Old Team played an important role in America regaining the technological lead by successfully launching and landing astronauts six times on the moon. Almost fifty years later, still there is no other nation that has accomplished that even once...The (Liftoff) Gallery downstairs, our gathering here, are about more than today's event. The gallery and commemorative plaque will help nearly one million visitors each year understand a bit about the history of our great city, our great people and the amazing things we can do by working as a team."
Jerry Roberts from Mac's Old Team
The award was then presented by Jerry Roberts, Bert Vescolani and John F. McDonnell for those who had not yet seen it. The award, sponsored by the St. Louis Space Frontier, AIAA St. Louis Section and the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO, features a lighted Mercury Spacecraft containing a portion of foil carried aboard Apollo 11 to the moon and back:
Bert Vescolani, Jerry Roberts and John F. McDonnell with award
Following the award presentation to the St. Louis Science Center, a group picture of all McDonnell Aircraft /McDonnell Douglas employees present and the Mac's Old Team select panel was taken: