Monday, July 20, 2009

Gordon Cooper, when a Legendary Astronaut became a WED Imagineer

Here is the part three of D&M "Man on the Moon" celebration, and Imagineer Pat Burke is back on Disney and more with a great story.

Before the Apollo missions in the late 60's, the Mercury missions opened the way to the conquest of the moon. Seven legendary Astronauts were part of this Mercury team - see picture below - and among them, the famous Leroy Gordon Cooper that you can see above in this gorgeous 1962 NASA picture.

What is less known is that ten years later or so, Gordon Cooper will become a WED Imagineer and Vice-President of Research and Development! Incredible!

I introduce now the great Pat Burke, who will tell you his memories about Gordon Cooper, Imagineer at WED Enterprises.

Gordon Cooper, from Test Pilot to Astronaut to being an Imagineer.
By Pat Burke.

"After WED Enterprises got Walt Disney World open in 1971, it was time to start working on Walt's "Dream City of the Future" Epcot. Ray Bradbury was the elected spokesman and was often seen in the halls at then WED Enterprises before it became WDI. Having come aboard in 1972, I was a bit surprised when I heard about a new recruit I had met earlier in the late 50's. In 1973, Disney President Card Walker, had hired a new Vice President of Research and Development. Having grown up around all the test pilots for Edwards Air Force base or Murdoch Field, as it was called back then, Gordon Cooper was a name I heard about often. X 1 to X15 Test Pilot Scott Crossfield, lived just a few doors down from my family, as there was not a lot of housing at Edwards. I believe Scott called him Gordo at some BBQ's my family attended at his home. My father, who had been in the Army Airforce training pilots in WW2, was the first contractor to be hired to build their new homes out near the Base.

Gordon moved out there after graduation in about 1957, and it was soon after that he had his first encounter with UFO's that were well documented in a film he submitted to his superiors that never went anywhere public. So seeing Gordon Cooper in the mid 70's as our new Vice President of Research and Development was not that hard to believe. We were getting both Space Mountains going for Walt Disney World in 75 and Disneyland in 77. Some of Gordon's Mercury 7 teammates, 6 astronauts in total of the 7, helped launch Space Mountain to the waiting public at WDW. Gordon Cooper was also hired by Card Walker to promote Epcot. He also helped us to get some infrared photos taken from an overhead Space Satellite in about 1974, of our Lake Independence site for ski run development.

I was lucky enough to join a group of WED Imagineers several times for a lunch in the park with Gordon. We would all pick up our ZUP'S or Pecos Bill's sandwiches and head to the nearby Griffith Park for a meet and eat session with our VP. There we would learn about his "Right Stuff" test pilot days, being an Astronaut with Mercury 7 and all the UFO's and alien encounters he had been witness to. Like Walt, he believed "it was fun to do the impossible!" and he had surely done that. He seemed to fit right in with Space Mountain and Ray Bradbury for our Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow!"

I managed to find on Youtube the video of the Space Mountain opening at Walt disney World in 1975. You will see some of the astronauts invited for the Grand Opening event and, of course, Imagineer Gordon Cooper!

Twenty years later, in 1995, another legendary astronaut, Buzz Aldrin - the 2nd man who walked on the moon - was invited to celebrate the opening of Disneyland Paris Space Mountain.

And more recently at Disneyland Anaheim, it was Neil armstrong himself who came for the Grand opening of the "new" Space Mountain!

Here is the video of the ceremony where you'll see Neil Armstrong speech.

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this interview on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

Pictures: copyright NASA or Disney

Youtube video: copyright Disney

1 comment:

Matthrix said...

i love the youtube vid !
I would love to be at the Paris'Space Mountain Opening...