My Father — Retired Rocket Scientist

I was 6 when the first space craft landed on the moon in 1969. Rockets were the most exciting thing for me growing up in the late 60's and 70's. (The least exciting thing came afterward when adulthood meant trying to date women while I was wearing the clothes of the 1980's).

I got interested in building model rockets as a kid. To be more accurate, I got interested in watching my father build or fix rockets that I wanted to fly. We were fortunate enough to live in a house surrounded by farmland, so there was more than enough room to launch model rockets.

Launching a 6' tall rocket named “Big Bertha”

Model Rockets came in kits which were mostly a collection of cardboard tubes and balsa wood that were bought from the local hobby shop. You can still buy virtually the same kits today from Estes, although there are fewer models now. The way they work is you have an engine with solid propellant fuel that shoots the rocket into the air. Then there is a small ejection charge that pops out the nose of the rocket which is attached to a parachute that floats your rocket back to earth. It was such a thrill; I imagined myself in those rockets seeing what my small world looked like from far overhead.

If I had stayed with the basic rockets, my father’s life would have been much easier as I learned to build those by myself. However there were so many fun variations to try. I particularly liked the Scissor Wing Transport that had a wing that would pivot out at the apogee of the flight and the rocket would glide to earth. This one I cherished so much that I rarely flew it for fear it would blow up as some of my other models had.

The Final Frontier

1975 Estes #1275 Star Trek Starship Enterprise Flying Model Rocket

This is the model rocket that my father remembers best; the one that never got to “boldly travel where no man has gone before”. When I got the model, all I was interested in was putting the cool decals on the finished product but there was some assembly required that was beyond my skills at the time. Picture this; my father at a table with all the above pieces spread out trying to read the directions while my sister and I played with all the pieces in wild anticipation. I started playing with a sort of rubbery jelly bean looking thing with a protruding cone at one end. This ended up being a small tube of rubber cement that I managed to break open and get all over my hands. My father’s frustration with the “help” he was getting from his eager young son was not appreciated that day. Not to be outdone, my sister pressed the top of a spray can of florescent orange spray paint with the nozzle pointed directly at her eyes. After the doctor’s visit, my father managed to transport the partially assembled Enterprise to a world high enough that our little hands couldn’t reach it.

It was around this time that my father encouraged us to partake in the entertainment of his youth; pitching horseshoes.

Love you Dad. Happy Father’s Day

Melvin Thume and his son Wayne