of Bermuda after two Earth orbits with a
chimpanzee on board.”
Astronauts frequently visited Bermuda.
For example astronaut Walter M. Schirra,
command pilot of Gemini 6, together with
his co-pilot, astronaut Thomas Stafford, was
flown to Kindley from the carrier Wasp after
Gemini 7. According to Bermuda Life and
Times, Schirra said they had seen Bermuda
quite clearly while in orbit. “In fact we always
looked for it,” he said.
Some Bermudians remember meeting
visiting astronauts at parties held in various
parts of the island during the NASA era.
Margot Cox, for example, remembers meeting astronaut John Glenn, who at one point
rented a house in Paget. However, Cooper’s
Island was forbidden territory to most Bermudians and Bermuda residents. Clearwater
Beach and Turtle Cove Beach were restricted
to the American military and their families.
Nevertheless, a significant number of Bermudians were part of NASA’s Bermuda station’s
team. The Bermudians at NASA Tracking
Station website ( http://nasabermuda.com )
reveal that Bermudians worked with Americans in all areas : power plant, administration,
unified s-band acquisition aid, ground to air,
telemetry, computers, precision measurement
equipment, radar and plant maintenance.
Bermudians included William (Bill) Todd,
NASA was like family, everyone knew every-
one else! People bonded together in times
of triumph and tragedy. After the success of
an Apollo mission, a splash-down party was
held. But during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mis-
sion, many prayed and anxiously awaited the
safe return of the astronauts.”
Bill Way, manager of the station at the
time and director of missions, was known
for his slavish attention to his slide rule. He
is said to have calculated to every last second
the length of the burn times in order to bring
the Apollo 13 spacecraft safely back. “He had
the authority to push a button to destroy a
spacecraft,” his wife, Margaret, remembers.
“Fortunately, he never had to do anything
like that!” The Ways had come to Bermuda
in 1960 when the station was being built.
Both from Philadelphia, they were childhood
sweethearts; eventually marrying, they were
together until his death in 2009.
Robert Spearing, a young student from
Bermuda studying electrical engineering at
Clarkson College of Technology (now Clark-
son University), managed to get a summer
job at the tracking station in 1960, thanks to
his mother, Sylvia, who worked on the base.
Later, he was offered a permanent position
as junior engineer at NASA in the US which
culminated in his appointment as deputy
associate administrator of space communica-
tions from 1998 until his retirement in 2007.
He vividly remembers when Neil Armstrong
first walked on the moon since the system
he worked with was used to communicate to
and from space.
In 2001 the station became obsolete and
Cooper’s Island was returned to the Bermuda
government (although from time to time
temporary space tracking has continued
to take place). Once the base had closed in
1995, Clearwater Beach and Turtle Bay were
opened to the public as was a woodland trail
opposite. In 2008 the whole of Cooper’s
Island became a nature reserve, to Bermuda’s
huge benefit since the island not only offers
acres of space, unspoiled by overdevelopment, but also is a wonderful vantage point
for observing Bermuda’s wildlife, particularly
the Bermuda cahows and humpback whales.
A partnership between HSBC Bermuda and
the government departments of parks and
conservation has allowed major restoration work—the abolition of old NASA and
base buildings and extensive replanting of
endemic and native flora—thus improving
the aesthetic integrity of the reserve. Carveth
Wells would have been delighted.
West Indian topshells