Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Apollo 14 BEEP BEEP Patch

The astronauts have a sense of humor. Does that surprise anyone? There are many instances where they played practical jokes on each other. Was it to have fun? To relieve stress? To break the tension? Well, you would have to ask them.

One example of the types of practical jokes the astronauts played on each other during the Apollo Era was the Apollo 14 "Roadrunner" or BEEP BEEP Patch.

There are many accounts of the story behind the patch that are detailed in different books such as, "The Last on the Moon" by Gene Cernan, but the basic tale is that the Apollo 14 backup crew used this patch to drive the Apollo 14 prime crew towards their goal of landing on the Moon.

Although the patch was a "Gotcha" on Alan Shepard, the backup crew of Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Joe Engle used the BEEP BEEP insignia as an incentive to the prime crew. It was the backup crew's way of saying train hard and stay sharp or we will take over your flight and beat you to the Moon.

The patch is a play on the popular Warner Brothers "Looney Tunes" Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner animated cartoon. The patch tells the story of the Roadrunner beating the Coyote to the lunar surface.

On the patch, the backup crew is represented by the Roadrunner standing on the Moon with a American Flag and a "1st Team" banner. The Coyote has red fur to portray Stewart Roosa's red hair, the pot belly depicts Edgar Mitchell's exercise regime and the gray beard represents Alan Shepard's advanced age as an astronaut.

The Roadrunner's "BEEP BEEP" has been placed across the top of the patch. The backup crew's names are across the bottom. Finally, the Coyote is in place of the Astronaut pin that is on the original prime crew patch design.

Prior to the launch, the backup crew had final access to both spacecraft. As they were setting guages and switches in the Command Module or packing the Lunar Module prior to loading, they stashed the patches in "every nook and cranny, setting up a future mini-blizzard of 'Gotchas' for the three rookies" as Cernan described in his book.

After launch the Apollo 14 crew was barraged with "BEEP BEEP' patches floating from every where in the spacecraft. Everytime they opened a compartment out would float a patch. Roosa found them in Command Module. Mitchell found them taped to the Lunar Module bulkheads.

The above photograph shows Stu Roosa hold one of the patches for the TV camera. The patch even made the communications circuit as related by this air to ground transmission.

ROOSA: "Hey Fred (Fred Haise of Apollo 13 was capcom) did you hear the last comment I made about ... how clean the spacecraft was?"

HAISE: "Roger, Stu"

ROOSA: "That was planned as you know for all the uh, authorized people who worked on the spacecraft. We're really inundated with unauthorized objects in both spacecraft...I think Ed was showing you one up in there. If you can can see this (Roosa holding the patch)...I don't know if any of the backup crew is in there (MCC) tonight...but they've left their calling card."

HAISE: "OK, we have a pretty good picture, Stu, and they are here."

ROOSA: "OK, tell them we sure appreciate every compartment that we open up having one of these things come floating out..."

HAISE: "They (backup crew) aim to please."

According to Cernan, "Perhaps the most repeated phrase on the private radio loop... (at) Shepard's annoyance when still another patch would suddenly appear (was) 'Tell Cernan, beep-beep his ass.' "

The BEEP BEEP or Roadrunner patch is the only backup crew produced and the only one to fly to the Moon. This was one of the great "Gotcha" gags of the Apollo Era.

In 2004, I traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Gene Cernan to re-certify the patch. Gene got a tremendous kick out of seeing one of his patches again and told the story of it's beginnings and how it got into the spacecraft to me as well as several other people who were gathered to meet Gene.

Gene took the patch and wrote "Flown to the Moon" and signed it Gene Cernan. Gene actually signed it twice. The first time he hit a stitch in the back and messed up the signature. He signed his name a second time at the bottom of the patch.

We then moved on to other artifacts that needed similar treatment and I never took a photograph of Gene with the patch. Oops!

Also in 2004, I went to visit Edgar Mitchell at his home. During our time together, I pulled out the patch and asked him about it. Edgar actually winced when he saw it. He told me the story of entering the lunar module and finding them plastered to the bulkheads and in checklists. The patches were all over the place. He then described how he filmed one of the patches that was attached to the bulkhead of the LM during a TV presentation during the journey out to the Moon.

Edgar graciously agreed to take a picture of himself with the patch and then he, too, signed the back of the patch.

There are just situations that lead themselves to the completion of the provenance of an artifact. My trip to Tucson in 2005 lead to such a situation.

I, again, had the chance to meet privately with Gene and photograph him with the patch.

As I said in the beginning of this post, this was one of the great gags or "Gotchas" of the Apollo Era and it has been worth the effort to get the story behind the patch and put provenance to it.