1928 - Alderson High School - 1968



"Little Stinker": How I Almost Became An Astronaut

Barry Worrell - 2008

As far back as I can remember, music has been a major part of my life, and it still is today. But this isn't about music, it's about how it manifested itself in different ways over the years. One of those ways was electronics. We all know that electronics has greatly advanced the field of music, and vise versa. Even as a pre-teen I began to realize there was a difference between what I was hearing at the theatre, or the juke box at the Snack Shack, compared to an ordinary radio. This observation was the path to amplifiers, large speakers and the world of electronics.

After I graduated from high school in 1957, I had just finished my first phase of an electronics correspondent course from DeVry Tech. in Chicago. It was a pretty good course and I felt very confident about my knowledge of basic electronics. This dabbling in electronics lead to a close encounter of the strangest kind with NASA. Early in 1958 I learned they were conducting an entrance exam for perspective astronauts and other personnel in the space program. This sounded like a good career and I decided to investigate it further. In order to take this exam I had to meet one of two requirements. I had to have flown model airplanes, or have my novice radio operator’s license. Simple enough, I decided to get a model airplane. I used to watch people fly model planes in Alderson, so with that experience under my belt, I went to Lewisburg and bought a little plastic plane with a gasoline motor. It was called “Little Stinker” with a decal of a skunk that was winking at you. That probably was a clue of things to come.

The field across from our house on Maple Ave. was empty and looked like a good place to fly the plane. It was used as a garden and there was nothing there at the moment, except some weeds and rows of uneven ground. It became clear it would be impossible to get this small plane to roll on this surface, so I got my friend David Honaker to help me. After we finally got the engine started I ran and pick up the outstretched lines with the control handle, while David waited until I was ready. I stood there for a moment anticipating my first flight as David launched the plane. With the little engine screaming at full RPM, it went straight up in the air about 25 feet, and then straight back down to the ground. Scratch one model airplane. “Little Stinker” had flown it's one and only flight. A very, very short one at that.

Flying model planes was not as easy as I thought and as you can tell, I gave it up very quickly. The only other course was to get my novice radio licenses. One day while in Red Nickell's store, I mentioned to Red what I was doing. Red was a radio operator in World War II, was proficient in Morris Code and offered to tutor me. For a lot of nights after supper we would sit at his kitchen table and practice sending the code back and forth. When he thought I was ready, he took me to a friend of his in Hinton, who was an amateur radio operator, and he was qualified by the FCC to give the test for a novice licenses. I passed my test and submitted my application to NASA at Langley Field, in Hampton Va. To my delight I was invited to take that test.

Homer Perdue was the janitor of our high school in Alderson and his son worked for NASA at Langley Field. Homer called him and told him my intentions and that I would be there. My mother and I drove down to Hampton the day before the exam and met Homer’s son. He was very nice and took us on a tour of the NASA facilities. The only thing I remembered was about 100 plastic molds of the seats that went into the space craft. The way they had them line up in rows and face down on the floor, reminded me of many people praying on their knees. The next day I took the test. I was one of 500 young men in a large utility room with rows of tables and chairs. The big difference between me and the other guys was I shouldn't have been there in the first place. The only thing that I was certain of was I used a pencil for the test. I don't remember if I got any of the questions correct. I received a letter from them later telling me they selected only 50 out of the 500 and needless to say, I wasn’t one of them. For NASA’s sake, it was a good thing. But my career at NASA resembled the flight of "Little Stinker"; so much promise, but quickly crashed to the ground.

In my immaturity, I don't remember being concerned that I didn't make it. There was some relief in knowing I wouldn't have to go through something with such unknown factors. Although the interest in electronics momentarily lead me through an interesting adventure, it didn't work out. It did, however, serve me well a little later in life, which, my friends, is another story altogether.

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