A few excerpts from The Step:
Introduction Excerpts: I often wonder about old southern tales, sayings and predictions. My mother and grandmother have plenty of them, doling them out to me as sacred gospel. Mrs. Spalding, my fifth grade teacher, recites them to our class occasionally. Are they true and should I believe in their predictions and efficacy?
It is a memory that I recall many times, for inspiration, for confidence, or to simply smile, sit back and remember…
The year is 1948 and I am eleven years old in the sixth grade at South Side Elementary School in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s a warm sunny May day with the anticipation of the end of school in everyone’s thoughts. At recess, I’m playing softball with the sixth grade girls against the fifth grade girls. I hit a long ball, a sure home run. I round the bases and jump on the home plate, positive of my home run and jubilant with my efforts; my friends cheer me on as if I’m some famous softball player, only to be told the exact opposite.
“You’re out!” yells my teacher, strict Mrs. Spaulding, who is refereeing the annual game, in her three-quarter-length dress and chunky black shoes, behind the plate.
“You failed to tag second base,” came her decree.
“But, I must have touched second base.”
“No, you went right by it. You have to touch every base.”
I feel my chin rise, my teeth clinch, but I don’t cry. I know I’ll be up to bat again and know what I have to do and will do. The very next time at bat, I whack it even further than my first supposed home run. I traverse the bases, pouncing on every base with both feet, and once again I jump on home plate, looking up at Mrs. Spaulding with both arms raised.
“Well done,” she says.
Later, back in our classroom, after the school bell rings, signifying the end of the day and the end of the school year, I rise to leave with the rest of the class. Mrs. Spaulding says, “Martha, please stay after, I’d like to talk to you.” I return to my desk and anxiously wait. Am I in trouble for my grandstanding? After the last students leave the room, she motions me to come to her desk.
“Since this is the last day you’ll be in my class I want to tell you something,” she begins in her slow southern accent. “I want you to tell your parents what I am going to say to you. Will you do that”?
“Yes Ma’am, Ms. Spalding.”
“You’ve not been the smartest child in my class. You’re good at what you like to do but there is another ingredient that you do have that will take you far in this world. You’ve got ‘The Step.’ Your dogged determination is something that will stay with you and enable you to achieve.
She notices the confused look on my face, “Honey, ‘The Step’ is an old Southern term. When you have a goal, your ‘step’ is concentrated and it hurries you along, guides you to win, or to accomplish. Your pace becomes a little faster; your stride is determined and strong, you become more focused.”
She pauses, looks right in my eyes to see if I fully understand her message.
“You’ll understand what ‘The Step’ means some day,” she says, “ I mean its full meaning, the way it can transform and perform miracles. ”
Chapter 7 – A Time To Sing
There are 18 in our chorus, nine women and nine men, led by Leon, our director and head of the entire communications area. Leon brings a great background of music direction. He’s the one who first suggests the chorus and finds hardy approval from top management. Leon has no trouble finding the right candidates for the chorus. Some are genuine singers, like Jo who sings with the Sweet Adelaide’s, or Bob and Dave who have been in other choruses; others just want to be part of the group. As a result, we practice regularly and perform at every Facility dinner. Now, we’re rehearsing for the next dinner.
As we sit waiting for Leon to arrive, Jo brings over an IBM Song Book, published sometime in the 20’s. The list of songs about IBM includes many. We’ll perform the most well known of the songs, Ever Onward.
Leon enters the cafeteria and his very presence instills a quietness of respect and admiration. “Good afternoon,” he says as we all repeat his greeting together like school children. “Let’s begin with For All We Know. Ralph, I’d like you and Gwen to do the beginning as a duet, the sopranos and altos will come in with ‘Let’s take a lifetime to say, I knew you well’; followed by the men on the next line.”
Our rehearsal lasts for a little more than one hour so I am hungry by the time I reach home at 6:45 p.m. I quickly make a spaghetti sauce, boil some pasta, and make a salad. After dinner I help with homework, see that the girls have their baths and finally sink into bed at 9:30.
Chapter 9 – I Become A Safety Hazard
There are only a handful of women who actually work at the VAB. I know of only two female engineers, but not any women assigned to a console in the firing room. There are women inspectors, secretaries and programmers. The ratio of men to women is probably 200 to one.
I glance at the clock that is conveniently placed next to the digital countdown clock that ticks off the seconds backwards during launch. Today I am again meeting Ed to take a few more photos and let him go over the draft.
Ed’s presence is felt in the room as soon as he opens the door, heading straight towards me. He’s dressed in full launch attire for the photo shoot. Dark pants, white long sleeved shirt, tie, and the light blue, IBM logo on the back of his white windbreaker, headset in his hand.
“Just tell me what you want. I’m all yours for a half-hour.”
“Let’s begin with some shots by your console. Just make it natural—just as if you’d be participating in the countdown,” I suggest. He puts his headset on and plugs it into the console. Jake begins shooting first from one side, then the other.
“Don’t smile so much, this is supposed to be serious,” I say.
“It’s hard to be serious about this sort of thing.”
“Well, it just comes with the territory for being the Apollo 11 TC.”
“Don’t say that too loudly. These guys will never stop kidding me.”
I glance up to see several guys at consoles now looking our way and grinning. After a few more shots Jake let me know that he has plenty and adds, “By the way, a couple of astronauts are visiting today. Not the Apollo 11 crew but some of the others. They’re supposed to be up there at the IU level talking to your engineers.”
‘Up there’ is the 300-foot level of the vehicle where the IU sits atop the Saturn vehicle, where it is fitted between the third stage and the lunar module.
“That’s wonderful. Let’s go up and get some photos. You have time don’t you Jake”?
“I’ve got another 15 minutes before I have another job. If we could get up there right now I can do it.”
“I’ve got 15 minutes. I’ll go with you,” offers Ed.
“Okay, let’s go.
Jake stops in his tracks. “Wait a minute…you can’t go up there dressed like that. You know if you’re wearing a miniskirt, you’ll be a safety violation.”
That stupid, anti-women rule makes my blood curdle, yet there it is published in NASA’s Safety Book.
A woman is not allowed to visit on any levels around the platform of the vehicle, above the ground floor if she is wearing a dress or a miniskirt. Such an infraction will result in a safety violation for the entire company. Women must be attired in either pants or coveralls at all times.
“Well, I don’t have time to run over to Safety and get some overalls, put them on and get back before the astronauts leave. I’ll just take my chances. What could they do to me anyway? Let’s get our hardhats.”
“They’ll give you a Safety Violation,” says Jake.
Chapter 10 – Let’s Slide
I look around the room and read a new Manned Flight Awareness poster. ‘Take an Astronaut to Launch’ it reads at the top, as a Johnny Hart cartoon character peers out from below the words. I turn my head and took at all the launch photos that surround the room. The door opens and in walks three more guys, dressed in orange coveralls. I look at the faces of the three men who will be my classmates and recognize the all-American, handsome faces, each with their own crew-cut as the trio of America’s most recently assigned astronauts for future Apollo or Skylab missions. They come through the door in high spirits, smiling and laughing.
“Gentlemen, welcome, please take a seat, says ruddy man.
The astronauts waste no time finding the only woman in the room. The other guys in our group laugh as the astronauts choose to sit next to me, one to my right and the others to my left. I am smiling so hard it hurt my jaws.
“Let’s begin by introducing ourselves, state your company affiliation and your position,” says ruddy man who begins first. “My name is Ernest Banks and I’ll be your instructor for the next couple of days. Now, let’s begin with the first row,” he says motioning to the astronaut next to me.
“Good morning, sir. Astronaut Bucky Horner, at your service. I used to be with the Air Force, flew jets in Nam. Now I’m with NASA, on my way to the moon.”
He is around 34, 6 feet tall, salt and pepper hair, dark eyes, and muscular build. I notice the ring on his left hand.
“Nice to have you with us, Bucky,” says Ernest.
“Nice to meet you Bucky,” says one of the other astronauts, mocking.
“I’m Tom Evans, youngest astronaut in the entire astronaut crew, former Navy pilot. I also hold a degree in geology, which I guess NASA thought might come in handy.”
It is obvious to me that these guys are pretty light-hearted about this class. No big deal to them, just a mandatory requirement to get out of the way. Compared to all the other rigorous training they must endure this is probably the easiest.
It’s my turn; I rise from my seat, smile and say, “I’m Martha Croskeys, a writer from IBM. I received a safety violation for wearing a miniskirt around the IU level,” several hoots and ‘hollars’ follow from the men. “I’m here as punishment but also to learn more about pad safety.”
The last astronaut, rises, and says. “I’m Andy Scott. I’m the serious one in this group because I’m the senior officer. My job is to teach these two guys how to be astronauts…and believe me it is one hard job.”
Andy, a Navy commander, is not only the senior member of the group but also the only one that has flown into space as one of the Gemini astronauts and aboard an earlier Apollo mission. He has light brown hair, green eyes and an inviting grin that takes over one side of his face when he smiles. He is athletic looking, yet slim, probably 36 – 38. Is he handsome? What astronaut is not handsome?
“Boy, it’s getting deep in here,” teases Bucky.
“That’s commander to you,” jokes Andy.
“Going down the tube, you should assume a sitting position with the palms of your hands facing each other, placed between your knees. This position allows you to transgress the many winding turns with speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Do not wear any shoes, as we do not want anything to impede your speed. Keep your socks on. The 200-foot chute will take you into the blast room where there are 20 chairs, safety harnesses and survival gear for 24 hours, including food and water. The blast room, or rubber room, can cut a 75 G force to only 4 G’s as you enter the room.
“Another method of escape from the pad in case of fire is the cab on a guide wire from the 320 foot level to revetment 2,500 feet away. We will not go into that today. That’s another class entirely.
Chapter 11 – IBM Control Center/Apollo 11 Dinner
Pete and his wife come over and join our table. Following introductions, Andy summarizes the situation. “What we have before us is a challenge, the expertise of your company’s champion, Martha, against me in a tennis match.”
“Oh, she can take you, “says Pete. “I’ve seen her play. Chris Evert’s dad was her coach.”
“All right. If we are to have this match, will we play two out of three sets”? I ask.
“Whatever you say. I really don’t know much about how much we should play. I just know I’m a highly competitive guy, athletic, good coordination…that’s what I’ve got going for me.”
“Do it Martha. You can beat him,” coaxes Jo. “We’ll back you up.”
“I’ve got $50 that says she can beat Andy,” says Pete. “It’s the IBMers against the astronauts. You guys put your money where your mouth is.”
“I’m with our commander,” says Tom as he and Bucky search their wallets and bring out $50 between them.
“I’ll hold onto the money,” says Pete.
“Martha, it’s time to commit. Do we have a match or not”? Asks Andy.
I probably wouldn’t have taken on the challenge had I been sober but now I can feel the alcohol’s warm affect on my body. Being tipsy, I have even more bravado about my skills.
“Okay, it’s a match. I’ll do it. But, I’ve had enough to drink, I’m tired and I have to go home now.”
Andy, obviously disappointed with my statement says, “Wait a minute, when and where will we play this match? I’m in town until Sunday.”
“Okay, tomorrow, Saturday it is. As long as it’s in the afternoon, say around 5 at the Cocoa Beach Tennis Complex.” I stand; pick up my purse and wave goodbye to everyone.
“Let me walk you to your car,” says Andy. “You’re not going to chicken out are you? You’ll probably win, but just to make it more exciting, let’s up the ante. As we reach my car, he opens the door and adds, “If I lose, I’ll take you to dinner anywhere you’d like…a first class dinner with all the trimmings.”
“And if I lose”?
“Then you have to go to bed with me.”