Above & Beyond: Tully’s Astronarium

A high-schooler champions science in America

Kauffeld and Bruce Tully discuss a model that Tully built in his high school shop class. (Library of Congress)
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“How about a trip to the Cape to see our first man launch in space?”

“I can do that,” Kennedy replied.

On a Saturday morning in March, while Tully was cutting the grass, a military staff car pulled into the driveway to take him to the Newark airport. A military transport flew him to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, at Cape Canaveral, where John “Shorty” Powers, a NASA public affairs officer who became known as “the voice of Mercury Control,” was waiting for him. At Hangar S, the seven Mercury astronauts were lined up to greet him. To Alan Shepard, the last in line, Tully said, “Mr. Shepard, it is an honor to meet you,” to which Shepard replied, “No, Bruce, it is an honor to meet you. I watched you on the ‘Today’ show and was very impressed.”

Tully accompanied the Mercury Seven on scuba trips and simulations, and stayed with them at the Holiday Inn in Cocoa Beach. There he deduced which of the final three—Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and Alan Shepard—would be the first American in space: He saw a Mercury capsule instrument panel simulator in Shepard’s hotel room.

One day, while he was in Shepard’s room for ice cream and pie, the phone rang and Tully heard Shepard say, “Yes sir, thank you for allowing her to do this. Thank you, Mr. President.” To Tully he said, “You never heard that phone call.” Kennedy had told Shepard that Shepard’s wife, Louise, would be in the blockhouse during the Freedom 7 launch, where Shepard would say his final goodbye to her from the capsule. (Due to postponements, Louise was not in the blockhouse on launch day.)

On May 5, 1961, Tully awoke before sunrise and watched Shepard enter the astronaut transit van, which took off for the Mercury-Redstone launch site. He then watched the launch from the press area.

Three weeks later, on May 25, Kennedy announced the nation’s goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to Earth “before this decade is out.” Earlier that afternoon, 17-year-old Bruce Tully testified on Capitol Hill in support of Anfuso’s National Science Academy bill, armed with letters of support from Edward Teller, Gerard Kuiper, and Donald Douglas.

In the end, the United States chose a different theme structure for the World’s Fair, and despite Anfuso’s efforts, the National Science Academy facility was never constructed.

So why were the Astronarium drawings in a New Jersey mansion for almost 50 years? That was Kauffeld’s house. Tully says he and Kauffeld brought the drawings to Cape Canaveral during the 1961 visit, where the astronauts signed them. He recalls seeing Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra only briefly, which explains why their signatures are missing. Kauffeld never gave the signed set to Tully, leaving it as a mystery for me to solve, and then relay the whole story 50 years later.

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