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Tag Archive: Challenger space shuttle


Philanthropist Paul Allen is known by many as the owner of the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers, but he’s also known by space technology and science enthusiasts and science fiction fans.  In addition to co-founding Microsoft and earning billions allowing him to fund myriad projects, he owns the suborbital commercial spacecraft SpaceShipOne, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, which houses several screen-used props and costumes from the history of sci-fi TV and film, among many other educational, charitable, and influential enterprises.  Recently Allen used his wealth to begin to earn his sea legs as the next Dr. Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer who discovered the shipwrecks of the R.M.S Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, the USS Yorktown in 1998, and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 in 2002.  In 2015 expeditions Allen and his team discovered among the ocean’s depths the bell to the British vessel HMS Hood and the remnants of the Japanese battleship Musashi, and earlier this year he located the wreckage of the Italian destroyer Artigliere.  Yesterday Allen and a small expedition crew on the research vessel Petrel discovered what was thought unfindable: the remains of the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35).  Allen’s discovery off the coast of the Philippines, 18,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, now puts him in league with Ballard, and more importantly, will hopefully bring closure to the 22 remaining survivors of one of the most famous ships in modern history to meet a dire end at sea.

At 12:20 pm local time Saturday, August 19, 2017, Allen released the following tweet:

The “35” in the photograph above is the ship’s registry number painted on the hull (and throughout the vessel) clearly identifying the ship as the Indianapolis.  “To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement.  “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances.  While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”

Ship’s bell of the USS Indianapolis as photographed by the crew of the research vessel Petrel Saturday.

In the final days of World War II, the USS Indianapolis had completed delivery of components of the atomic bomb to the island Tinian.  Dubbed “Little Boy,” the bomb would be dropped on Hiroshima, precipitating the end of the war.  The mission was secret, and so on July 30, 1945, when Japanese submarine I-58 struck the ship’s starboard side with two Type 95 torpedoes–one in the bow and one amidships–the Indianapolis sank within 12 minutes, but tragically was not listed as overdue.  By the time a rescue party arrived, more than four days had passed and the approximately 800 survivors of the 1,196 crew ship dwindled to only 316, resulting from dehydration and shark attack.  A fantastic National Geographic compilation of interviews from 2015 provides first-hand accounts from surviving sailors of the Indianapolis’s end 72 years ago. But you already know this story.  Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the Indianapolis has been etched in modern memory since the film’s debut in 1975.  Without the fictional character of Robert Shaw’s seaman Quint, the Indianapolis might be but a forgotten footnote to history along with so many equally valiant ships lost in wartime.  The Indianapolis is now a revered part of the American consciousness along with the USS Arizona, and it’s doubtful anyone would have pursued this project but for the importance and tragedy of this ship’s crew communicated to us by a film, and amplified by that film’s continuing legacy.

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Big Bird in The Muppet Movie

If you can’t get enough of Sesame Street and The Muppets like this big kid who grew up with these shows and characters, then a 2014 documentary now available on Amazon is just for you.  I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a feature-length documentary about the original, and only, Muppets puppeteer who has performed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in the 45-year history of Sesame Street.

I Am Big Bird is a love letter of sorts, set to a bittersweet soundtrack.  Filmmakers created an emotional look at a performing artist, his wife, and his relationship with Jim Henson and the cast and performers of Sesame Street from the beginning to the present incarnation of the show.  Spinney comes through as every bit the kindhearted soul of his feathery yellow alter ego.  Highlights of the film include the impact of Big Bird on the world, from teaching little kids from 1969 onward, to being credited in part with the demise of a candidate’s presidential bid.  And nothing is more nostalgic than catching up with original Muppeteer Frank Oz and the original human cast of Sesame Street as they recount working with Caroll, including Bob McGrath (Bob), Sonia Manzano (Maria), Emilio Delgado (Luis), and Roscoe Orman (Gordon).

I am Big Bird poster

Expect to hold back (or not) some tears during the documentary.  Plenty of down moments provide benchmarks in the life and times of Big Bird: the Sesame Street episode featuring Big Bird about the death of Mr. Hooper, an incredibly poised Caroll performing Big Bird singing “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green” at the funeral of Jim Henson, and the segment discussing Caroll’s space travel preparation with NASA when he was asked to be among the Challenger space shuttle crew, only to be rejected when they realized the Big Bird suit was too big (and then teacher Christa McAuliffe took his place), a group of ROTC students nearly destroy his Big Bird costume, and even the replacement by Elmo as most popular character on the show serves as a downbeat event.

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