Thankfully, the NASA space program hasn’t had a great number of losses, but that doesn’t make any loss less devastating that any of the others. On February 1, 2003, just a little over 17 years after the Challenger disaster, the country was once again feeling like the Space Shuttle program was so safe that it was even mundane. Many people had no idea when the shuttle flights went up or came down. It wasn’t the nation’s fault, it’s just that like air travel, the Shuttle program was relatively save, but when disaster strikes, we are once again reminded…horrifically, that relatively save does not mean completely safe from an accident. People are prone to get comfortable when things are going well. We forget the bad times. Nevertheless, space travel is not accident proof, even if it has become relatively safe.

On that awful February 1st morning in 2003, we were once again jolted out of our comfort zones and thrust back into the reality that the Shuttle program might have some serious flaws. Still, the Space Shuttle program was a long running and highly successful program, running from 1981 to 2011. During the course of the program, a total of 135 missions were flown, all launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. During that period of time, the fleet logged 1,322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds of flight time. The first orbiter built, Enterprise, was used for atmospheric flight tests (ALT) but future plans to upgrade it to orbital capability were ultimately canceled. Originally, NASA built four fully operational orbiters…Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis. Of course, we know that Challenger and Columbia were destroyed in mission accidents in 1986 and 2003 respectively, killing a total of fourteen astronauts. A fifth operational orbiter, Endeavour, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger. In the end, it was decided that the shuttles were getting old and had too many flaws, so the Space Shuttle was retired from service upon the conclusion of STS-135 by Atlantis on July 21, 2011.

It was a piece of foam insulation that would bring down the Columbia shuttle. It broke off and hit the leading edge of the wing. That small little bit of damage to the wing allowed hot gases to enter the wing causing it to break up as the craft entered Earth’s atmosphere. During the breakup, debris and the bodies of the astronauts were strewn across the state of Texas. The breakup began over California at 8:53am, and by 8:59am, communication was lost. Mission Control began its disaster procedures at 9:12am. Lost in the disaster were Rick D Husband (Commander), William C McCool (Pilot), Michael P Anderson (Payload Commander), Ilan Ramon (Payload Specialist), Kalpana Chawla (an Indian-born aerospace engineer and a Mission Specialist), David M Brown (Mission Specialist), and Laurel Blair Salton Clark (Mission Specialist). Today, marks the 20th anniversary of that fateful day. Today, we honor those we lost.

James Kent “Jimmy” Leeward was an American air racer and owner of the Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala, Florida. He was also the owner and pilot of the heavily modified North American P-51 Mustang racing aircraft known as The Galloping Ghost. Leeward loved his plane, loved flying, and especially loved air racing. He loved the thrill of the air shows and putting his plane through its paces. The Galloping Ghost was an amazing aircraft that held various airspeed records. It was also the plane whose fatal crash in 2011 led to several changes to make air shows safer.

The Galloping Ghost was built in 1944 by North American Aviation for the Army Air Force. Following its successful service during World War II, the plane was sold as postwar surplus. It was modified and raced by a series of owner over the next half-century, including finally, Aero Trans Corporation in Ocala, Florida. Jimmy Leeward was born on October 21, 1936, in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania to parents Albert and Mary Leeward. He grew up around airplanes, sitting first in the cockpit with his dad as just a toddler. The age of 11 or 12 found him often flying a Piper Cub with his father. At age 14, his father allowed him to fly solo in a North American T-6 Texan trainer aircraft. By age 18, he was flying charters in a Beechcraft Model 18. While still in college, he flew a Formula One racer in the Fort Wayne air races. He was hooked on air racing from that moment on. In 1964, he was part of the crew on an airplane at the very first Reno Air Races. By 1976, being part of the crew would no longer do, and he first flew his P-51D Mustang “Cloud Dancer” in the Unlimited Class at Reno. In 1983, he purchased the P-51D racer “Jeannie” from Wiley Sanders. He never looked back, later becoming a movie stunt pilot. He was featured in such movies as Cloud Dancer, Smokey and the Bandit 3, Tuskegee Airmen, Thirteen Days, Dragonfly, Thunder Over Reno, Lonely Hearts, and Amelia.

I suppose that with any type of stunt performance, the very real possibility of an accident exists. Many people might assume that it is just a matter of time, but there is no real proof to that statement, just speculation. Nevertheless, on September 16, 2011, Leeward’s “luck” ran out. While he was in the middle of a race over Reno, Nevada, where it all started, Leeward’s racing days came to a tragic end. In the middle of the race, The Galloping Ghost suddenly veered off course. Leeward tried to regain control, but in the end, it was determined that the cause of the crash was “flutter.” Flutter is when the plane is flown faster than it is designed to go. Leeward exceeded by nearly 40 miles per hour, the aircraft’s previous top speed without any previous testing to determine if the aircraft would be able to resist flutter at the new speeds. It couldn’t. When Leeward was unable to regain control, The Galloping Ghost crashed into the crowd at the National Championship Air Races at Reno Stead Airport, in a crash that killed him and 10 others. Additionally, 75 people were injured. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed Leeward for “‘operating at the edge of the envelope’ without fully reporting and testing modifications to his plane.” Safety standards for air shows were significantly changed because of this crash. When he died, Jimmy Leeward was 74 years old.

After losing both her husband, our Uncle Eddie Hein and her son, our cousin Larry Hein, within three months of each other, Aunt Pearl Hein went through some very sad and difficult times. That much loss can be devastating to a person. It was very hard on Pearl, but she is starting to live life again. I know that Eddie and Larry would be glad that she is. Pearl was very much loved by both of her men, as was her daughter Kim Arani. While it’s been hard to go forward, Pearl has been making great strides with the help of her daughter and son-in-law, Michael Arani. She has made a couple of trips to Texas, to visit them, and the warm climate, as well as the beautiful scenery have soothed her soul. Of course, it doesn’t really lessen the pain of the loss, but it is a matter of learning to live again.

Sometimes, the heart needs a change of scenery to help with healing, and when Pearl was in Texas visiting Kim and Michael, they took a trip down to Rosemary Beach, Florida, where they stayed at a hotel called “The Pearl,” otherwise known as their happy place. How perfect to find such a hotel with Pearl’s name. That and the peaceful time spent on the beach was sure to warm her heart and was a welcome change from the end of October cold weather that is Forsyth, Montana, where Pearl lives.

Pearl has always been a hard-working woman. She took care of her parents, and later her husband, Eddie when they really needed her help. Caregiving is a big job, and having done it myself, I totally commend anyone who willingly steps into that role. It is truly a life changing undertaking. You sacrifice most of your life on a daily basis, and while many would think that it is a thankless job, it most definitely is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs you will ever undertake. Whether the words “thank you” are ever said or not, and believe me they always are, you feel the “thank you” that comes from their hearts every time you are with them. No words can ever really express their gratitude. All they can do is hope you can see the appreciation in their eyes and know that it comes from their hearts…and believe me, you can. Today is Pearl’s birthday. Happy birthday Pearl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My grandniece, Adelaide Sawdon has had a very busy summer. Since her family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, putting them about an hour away from her cousin, Mackenzie Moore in Laramie, Wyoming, Adelaide has had the opportunity to have many play dates with her cousin often. That has been really fun for both of them. Makenzie has always lived far away from the rest of the family, so this is a first for both of them. They are almost like sisters. Adelaide also got to spend time with her Casper cousins, and her Michigan cousins this summer. Her Casper, Wyoming family all spent a vacation in Florida, and her Michigan cousins met up in Custer, South Dakota, so Adelaide had some really great quality time with her cousins this year. Adelaide is so smart. She loves school and all things learning. She’s been learning to read and is reading all the books and things she can get her hands on, and she loves her cousins and grandparents so much.

Adelaide’s Daisy dog, who had been a part of the Sawdon family since before she was born, went home to Heaven unexpectedly in February, and that was a really sad time for her and her family. They miss her very much, and it has been very hard. Now, they decided it was time to let a new puppy into their hearts, and Riley arrived. Riley is a Boxer, like Daisy was. Boxers are so sweet, and Riley has been a lot of fun. She has helped their hearts heal. Riley is already growing like a weed. Adelaide just loves her. They were instant pals, and it is the beginning of a great new relationship. Adelaide has had a dog all her life, so when Daisy went home, it left a void. It took time to be ready for a new puppy, but when the time finally came, Riley came in and stole their hearts…and she continues to wiggle her way deeper into their hearts every day.

It’s been a big summer for Adelaide in another way. She lost her first tooth. Losing that first tooth is a big step toward becoming one of the big kids, and Adelaide was so excited. She started 1st grade yesterday, and she’s a grown up six years old today…two exciting days in a row!! Her mom, Jessi Sawdon tells me that it’s such a fun time to be the little Adelady…a nickname from her mom and her dad, Jason Sawdon. Adelaide is really her mom’s mini-me, but there are definitely “Sawdon” things about her too…and anyone who knows her can see that’s true. Today is Adelaide’s 6th birthday. Happy birthday Adelaide!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Each year, approximately 40 million lightning strikes hit the ground in the United States, with Tampa, Florida having the most, and Florida being listed as the Lightning Capital of the United States. While Florida is known as the Sunshine State, it is notorious for thunderstorms, lightning strikes and fatalities. On average, Florida has 3,500 cloud to ground lightning flashes per day and 1.2 million flashes per year. Nevertheless, the odds of a human being struck by lightning in a given year are less than one in a million, and strangely, almost 90% of all lightning strike victims survive. The odds of being struck multiple times is even less, with the record being seven times in one lifetime. According to the National Weather Service, lightning causes an average of 62 deaths and 300 injuries in the United States each year. People can be at greater risk for being struck if they participate in outdoor recreational activities or working outside. Regional and seasonal differences can also increase the risk of being struck by lightning. Being outdoors in a lightning storm is certainly not a good idea.

Lightning strikes to humans have been going on as long as times and lightning strikes have been going on. We just hear about them more today than in the distant past. Rarely, humans are struck by lightning, and even with the record of known strikes to humans in one lifetime being seven, it is still a very rare phenomenon. The first time Major Walter Summerford, an Englishman, was said to have been struck by lightning was in 1918 on a World War I battlefield. He was reportedly riding a horse at the time and, while the animal died, Summerford was only temporarily incapacitated by the strike. It’s possible the horse took the bulk of the hit, because Summerford’s feet were not on the ground, meaning that it traveled through Summerford, through the horse, and then on into the ground. That is the nature of lightning. It travels through something with electricity (which humans have, by the way) and then into the ground. So unfortunately, the horse became a part of the connection and actually finished the connection…costing the horse its life. Sad, for sure, but the horse saved the life of its rider.

Summerford’s documented additional strikes included two more times…in 1924 and 1930. Then to make him even more unique, Summerford was technically struck after he had died. It happened that two years after he was buried in Vancouver, Canada, a lightning storm went through the area, and lightning actually struck his gravestone in 1936. The bolt was packed with so much power, that Summerford’s gravestone was completely destroyed by that fourth lightning strike. Now that’s got to be the most unique human/lightning encounter story in history.

My niece, Lindsay Moore can’t say enough nice things about her husband, Shannon Moore. Shannon is a Girl Dad, and best friend to his little daughter, Mackenzie. Shannon is very much a hands-on dad. He doesn’t come home from work and plop down in front of the television set, while telling Mackenzie to go play. Shannon loves to play with Mackenzie. They are two peas in a pod. He takes her to the park, pool, everywhere! In fact, they have been to the pool about a dozen times in the past few weeks. Shannon is a coach, the assistant coach for the Wyoming Cowboys football team. He is also their tight ends coach and helps with special teams too, and Mackenzie reaps the benefit of that. Shannon loves to teach her new things…in true coaching style…swimming, throwing, swinging, climbing…all the things! Mackenzie also gets to go with Daddy to work sometimes, where she is the “darling” of the football team. It pays to be the coach’s daughter. Shannon has been busy being girl dad of the year.

Shannon and his girls, Lindsay and Mackenzie, just got back from a trip to Florida with Lindsay’s whole family, to celebrate her parents 40th wedding anniversary. That trip gave Shannon another opportunity to teach Mackenzie about new things, like the beach and the ocean. Of course, while the adults got to get in the water deeper than the kids, it was still fun for all. Lindsay tells me that “Shannon just shines as a dad, and that he’s always been a wonderful husband and dad but truly, he gets better every day! He has such a genuinely good heart, a kind disposition, and a loving spirit. Praise the Lord for putting us together…because I hit the jackpot!” That’s quite a tribute from a loving wife.

In addition to being a great Girl Dad, Shannon is a wonderful Doggy Dad. He is very devoted and makes sure that their puppy, Brinkley gets lots of attention. Puppies need someone to play with them and get then some much needed exercise, and Shannon is often outside playing with Brinkley. Shannon and Lindsay work very well together, and they share the “duties” of family life together. For them, the “duties” hardly seem like duties at all, because they make things so much fun. Even Brinkley feels the fun vibes in their house. I guess that’s what being a good Doggy Dad is all about. Pets need as much love as any other family member, and just as much training too. Shannon is such a great coach, so Brinkley will learn lots of new things too. Today is Shannon’s birthday. Happy birthday Shannon!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My niece, Toni Chase has had a wonderful year with her family. She and her husband, Dave went to Florida in May. By going early in the summer, they dodged the major tourist season, and were able to enjoy a nice, peaceful getaway. It’s probably good that they had that quiet getaway, because when they got back to Casper, they were very busy helping with her son, James Renville and his wife, Manuela’s wedding…which was beautiful, by the way.

Toni’s life has taken a wonderful turn, with the addition of her beautiful daughter-in-law, and watching her son be so very happy. James and Manuela are happy, and for a mom, there is nothing better than knowing that. James and Manuela are beginning their new life together, but they still find time to spend with the family. Whenever they are around, the family dogs, Cricket and Biscuit are on cloud nine. In fact, Cricket loves playing “third wheel” with the kids. It’s like they are triplets, and Cricket thinks the kids are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Planning a wedding is a lot of work. Having planned two myself…plus my own, I know. The parents need a vacation as much as the happy couple does. After the wedding, Toni and Dave took a trip to Colorado for a concert at Red Rocks. They also went to Aspen at the beginning of fall. Toni and Dave love to travel and spend quality time together. They have such a great marriage, and it’s so sweet to see them together. They lead quiet peaceful lives, hiking, traveling, working, and enjoying their family. Life just doesn’t get any better than that. Today is Toni’s birthday. Happy birthday Toni!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My nephew, Allen Beach has had a very busy year. Following his wife, Gaby’s graduation from nursing school, they decided to buy a house closer to Wyoming Medical Center, where they both now work. They quickly found the perfect house and moved in last March. They quickly set about getting settled and making the house their own. They’ve removed some trees in the back yard that we’re old and growing into power lines. They hope to build a garage in the back yard sometime in the near future, but for now they will most likely settle for a taller privacy fence.

Now that both of them have graduated from college, they have time for all the fun stuff. And speaking of fun stuff…Allen bought an old truck he’s been working on. It seems like most men have a dream of fixing up an old car or truck, and Allen is no different. That’s one way to have fun, but Disney World is another, so Allen and Gaby are planning a trip there in April. I’m sure that after a cold winter, a trip to sunny Florida would be really nice. Maybe they could pack me in their suitcase…if I promise to stay out of the way. No, probably not. Allen and Gaby also have two wonderful dogs, named Oly and Jasper. The dogs are truly their babies. They love playing with the dogs and the dogs love them.

They love to travel, but that has been curtailed these days. That is partly why this trip to Florida is such a big deal. After a wile of being locked down, it’s time to live a little. Allen and Gaby have traveled to many places all over the world, so being locked down is especially tough. Traveling to places like Bali or Japan, are more their style, but they are just places, and the real thing is being together. Allen and Gaby are best friends and have been since they first met, while they were both serving this great nation in the Navy. They both became corpsmen and knew that medicine would be their chosen field. While Gaby chose nursing, Allen chose hospital administration. Both of them are very good at their jobs, and Wyoming Medical Center is very blessed by their service. Today is Allen’s birthday. Happy birthday Allen!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My little great grand-nephew, Max Herr is turning one year old today, and he has has a very busy year. Of course, he has done many of the normal baby things like rolling over, sitting up, and clapping his hands. He also says DaDa, has teeth, loves his bath, snuggling with his mommy, Katy Balcerzak, and hanging with his daddy, Dylan Herr. Max has a great smile that lights up his whole face, and his laugh is infectious. He delights in everything new to him…which is everything, so he is always very excited about things he sees and does.

Max has had a number of wonderful adventures in his first year of life. His family took a trip to Red Wing, Minnesota; Casper, Wyoming; sunny Florida; the Ice Castles in Dillon, Colorado; the Botanic Gardens in Denver; and they they moved from Brighton, Colorado to Casper, Wyoming. Max had a great time celebrating all the holidays for the very first time. All in all, Max is finding out just how great this celebration called life is.

For Katy and Dylan, things have changed dramatically. They now have a new boss, because when it comes to Max…well, he is the boss, and he is getting very vocal about letting them know that fact. That’s what happened when Max found his words. Dada and Mama brought his parents running, even if it was just to see what he was saying now, or what he would say next. Then as Max found out that just saying those words brought the chosen parent to him, he started saying it more and more. Of course, sometimes, the parent he wanted wasn’t in close proximity, or as in his daddy’s case, was at work, so the parent didn’t show up immediately, so Max has to say it over and over. Sadly, even the boss doesn’t get everything he wants, all the time. The good thing is that for the most part, Max is a pleasant “boss” to work for. Every time his parents respond to his calls, he presents them not with a grouchy face “barking” orders, but a smiley face, that melts their hearts. No wonder he gets to be the boss. I think that if your boss has a face like this little guy, you would be putty in his hands too. Today is Max’s 1st birthday. Happy birthday Max!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Governments don’t like to lose things…especially nuclear weapons. In fact, several movies have made that have depicted just how it might be done, and what the consequences might be if the thieves were successful. Of course, nothing could be more strange than to have it actually happen. In reality, it did happen…on March 10, 1956. It was on of the strangest mysteries in the United States. The B47 Stratojet took off from MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, on a non-stop flight bound for Ben Guerir Air Base, Morocco. The plane had completed the first aerial refueling without incident.

As the plane was beginning it’s second refueling attempt, it was descending into a cloud. In one of the strangest mysteries in United States government history, contact was lost with the plane in the cloud. No debris, crew, or missiles were ever located. After descending through solid cloud to begin the second refueling, at 14,000 feet, B-47E serial number 52-534, failed to make contact with its tanker. The unarmed aircraft was carrying two capsules of nuclear weapons material in carrying cases. Losing a bomber carrying nuclear weapons, could be catastrophic, but the nukes were never a threat to start a nuclear war. There are plenty of safety precautions to avoid such issues when a plane is going down. Also notable is the fact that in 1956, there were no hackers who could take over a weapon from the inside. The United States government has lost a total of 11 nukes, and two of them still remain the biggest mystery are from this flight.

Despite an extensive search, no debris were ever found, and the crash site has never been located. The crew, who has been declared dead are Captain Robert H. Hodgin, 31, the aircraft commander; Captain Gordon M. Insley, 32, observer; 2nd It. Ronald L. Kurtz, 22, pilot. The plane’s last known position was over or near the Mediterranean Sea, southeast of Port Say, an Algerian coastal village near the Moroccan frontier. A French news agency reported that the plane may have exploded in flight near Sebatna in eastern French Morocco, but that seems unlikely, since no debris was ever found. It certainly makes you wonder what happened.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Check these out!