Friday, January 17, 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles

I notice that the incoming astronaut class is calling themselves "the Turtles." I wonder if any of them know the history behind that name, especially in regard to the early space program.

The custom was to ask a fellow member of the Turtles, "Are you a Turtle?" If the respondent did not answer, "You bet your sweet ass I am" he had to buy drinks for everyone in earshot. This caused some complications as we will see.
During the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission (part of the United States space program), astronaut Wally Schirra was asked by a ground controller whether he was a turtle. Not wanting to use vulgar language while his communications were being broadcast worldwide, he temporarily stopped transmitting while he gave the required response "YBYSAIA".
Deke Slayton, a mere three minutes into Sigma 7's flight, came on the radio, which was open for everyone to hear, and asked, "Hey, Wally, are you a turtle?" Schirra switched his mic from live to record and uttered the appropriate response. On the open line, he said, "Rog."
Later, on board the recovery ship USS Kearsarge, in front of Slayton, Walt Williams and the other astronauts, Walt Williams demanded to know how Schirra replied to Deke's question. Schirra played the recorder. "Hey, Wally, are you a turtle?" followed by the proper response, "YBYSAIA". This incident is also recounted in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff.
Wally Schirra's membership in the Ancient Order of Turtles came up again during Apollo 7, which was captured by the in-flight recorder:
CAPCOM radioed, "Just a minute, Wally. Let's see. Oh, it's a little message to Deke Slayton. A little bit closer Wally. Kind of looks like something about - 'Are you a, are you a—" Schirra acknowledged, "That's right." CAPCOM continued, "Looks like it says, 'Are you a turtle, Deke Slayton?"
Schirra confirmed, "That's right." Eisele added, "You get an A for reading today Jack." Swigert continued, "Here comes another one. Walt, oh, that-a-way, that's the way to turn it. It says, 'Paul Haney, are you a turtle?'" Cunningham radioed, "You'll get a gold star. Perfect score!" Swigert reported, "And there is no reply from Paul Haney there." Cunningham asked, "You mean he's speechless?"
A short while later, CAPCOM Cernan informed Schirra, "Wally, this is Gene. Deke just called in, and we've got your answer, and we've got it recorded for you return." Schirra acknowledged, "Roger. Real fine."
Shortly thereafter, Schirra asked CAPCOM Swigert, "Have you got Haney's answer yet?" Swigert replied, "No, Haney's isn't talking, Wally." Swigert then added, "Somebody tells me he isn't talking, but just buying." A pleased Schirra responded, "He is buying. Thank you very much. Very good."
This exchange about turtles was a reference to the notorious Turtle's Club drinking club of which Wally Schirra held the title of a Grand Potentate. During Schirra's Mercury flight Deke Slayton had radioed up to Schirra asking Schirra if he was a turtle.
A membership card for the "Interstellar Association of Turtles (Outer Shell Division)" signed by astronauts Scott CarpenterGordon Cooper and Wally Schirra sold at auction for $1,952 on May 5, 2011.
President Kennedy was allegedly asked if he was a Turtle at a press conference, to which he replied, "I'll buy you your drink later
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