We talked about high fidelity, just like in the old days, and argued the merits of vinyl and CD's and large cone speakers. We talked about science and philosophy and the future and being guys and loving our wives. At Christmas we were lighting the luminarias he'd placed on the wall around his house when he told me how good it felt to know his wife was safe inside, and how lovely the crisp night was, and how wonderful life was and how fortunate we were. It brought tears to his eyes, and mine too. It was totally unexpected and totally Leo.
On clear nights when my wife and I walked by his house we'd look for the tiny red LED light he carried--which meant the telescope was out and we had hours of viewing ahead of us. He was a patient teacher--willing to explain the basics of astronomy to the neighborhood and then show us some of the more spectacular objects. He took great delight when some of us started to understand the vastness and incredible magnificence of it all.
Leo's greatest ambition was to fly into space. When he was a young man he sneaked into the Johnson Space Center to hang out around the Astronaut Training Facility until one of the astronauts (I wish I could remember which one...) noticed him, gave him a tour, encouraged him to continue his studies, and told him to join the Air Force. He did. Flying the fastest planes was something Leo loved with a passion those of us on the ground will never understand, but the stars were his desire.
Leo was an F117 pilot in the "Nighthawk" days when we weren't supposed to know about them. He talked of the many hours in the cockpit at night with the computer flying the plane, above the weather, and with great visibility, when the stars were so clear and so bright it rekindled his interest in astronomy. He was proud of the fact he'd found all the Messier Objects available to him in New Mexico, and drove to Texas to see a few more... .
Leo was thinking about retirement last year and wondering what to do with his piloting and astronomy skills when the Air Force nominated him as a candidates for Astronaut Mission Specialist on the Space Shuttle. He was in heaven--his greatest dream of flying the world's most advanced machine into space and seeing the stars first hand was possible.
I was working with my crew in Utah last week when I got the phone call. I was stunned and upset and one of the younger workers came over to see what was wrong and I told him. He immediately brightened. "Don't you see?" he said. "It means there's more important work on the other side."
Page by Tom Stalzer