Well, a legend has passed. My uncle Al Schade, amateur radio operator N6UMW passed away at 93 in his sleep last night. He was an inspiration to me all throughout my life. He was in WWII and the Korean conflict and migrated into the Space Program and became an integral part of it during the Apollo years and ushered in the Shuttle. His last role was Project Engineer for the Shuttle Challenger. He retired after that and said it was amazing they even got those things working. "They literally have over a million moving parts!" he said to me once.
One of the coolest things Uncle Al did for me was spark my interest in science. He gave me a window from an Apollo spacecraft command module (one that was extra and never went into space) and a couple of test tiles for the space shuttle heat shield. Uncle Al was also very diligent about sharing family news with his blind (from diabetes) brother Walter in the 1960's and even sent him miniature reel-to-reel tapes with "letters" on them. I found one when I was younger and have digitized it below. It talks about the family for a bit and then there's a complete play-by-play narration on how an Apollo mission will be conducted, strewn with extra facts only an engineer would appreciate. Give it a listen, it's fascinating!
I remember when I first got interested in ham radio... it was years before I actually got my license. Uncle Al always had an interest in it too. We both got our licenses in the late 1980's and we once had a QSO on 10 meters. We were both excited to be able to hear each other. I was in Houston, TX and he was in Cambria, CA. Alas, that was the only time we were able to talk on the air.
I always knew the day would come when Uncle Al would pass. He was almost 94 years young. I'm just happy he passed in his sleep and it was peaceful in the end. I have mixed emotions about his loss. Mostly I'm happy that he lived a life to celebrate and not so sad. After all, he's been reunited in heaven now with his siblings that have already gone and his parents and I'm sure it's a joyful occasion.