St. John Hosts Sea Space Symposium

Many of people had been anxiously waiting for the return of the space shuttle Atlantis in late May. Beginning with the cracked tiles at takeoff, to the five spacewalks needed to fix the Hubble telescope, to the delayed reentry, the mission was a nail-biter.

But as the astronauts worked through their space mission above, a group of astronauts, aquanauts and other scientists who led and supported similar missions. as well as others in government, industry and academia met on St. John in mid-May to exchange technological advances in the field of sea and space exploration.

The symposium successfully brought together the S3 members who continue to advance technologies related to sea and space. Experiences and technologies were shared which are an integral part of today’s sea and space programs.

Dr. Ian Koblick, who was the government and industrial liaison on the two Tektite programs on St. John as well as underwater missions in Puerto Rico and Key Largo, led the Sea Space Symposium (S3) here. Dr Koblick is currently the Director of the Marine Resources Development Foundation which continues to conduct valuable research and educational programs supporting the U.S. sea and space programs. He was joined by Scott Carpenter, the world’s first astronaut/aquanaut, who went on to lead the Navy’s Deep Submergence Systems Project.

As an aside, you’ll recall that in those days the space capsule was parachuted into the sea. It was imperative to secure the astronaut’s capsule with a flotation device. The U.S.S. Intrepid was positioned in the South Atlantic reentry zone and ready to pick up Astronaut Carpenter. Unfortunately, the space capsule landed 250 miles from the zone. It was full speed ahead for the Intrepid. My older brother, Pat, was a member of the crew and remembers well that dash to pick up Carpenter. The carrier shook and vibrated so much that the light bulbs literally fell out of their sockets.

Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Guy Bluford also attended the symposium. Col. Aldrin completed a four-day flight in the Gemini 12 space craft as well as being the lunar module pilot for Apollo 11 where he followed Neil Armstrong onto the moon. Astronaut Bluford flew the third Challenger mission which featured the first night launch and night landing. He flew one other Challenger and two Discovery missions. He was the first African American astronaut and still serves as a great role model for all young people interested in space.

Others attending included locals who worked on the Tektite projects and La Chalupa in Puerto Rico.  Alvin White, the head Tektite diver, who passed last year was remembered in a most respectful way. Dr. Koblick and Col. Carpenter called on White’s widow, Mary White, during a symposium break to express their condolences and to thank her for her work during Tektite. They credited Mike Sheen, a St. Thomian who dove during the Tektite and La Chalupa programs, for arranging this thoughtful meeting.

The participants also heard from Randy Brown of Clean Islands International, who now manages the Tektite site as the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station where educational and scientific programs continue to be carried out.