Outside of the school in Crystal Springs in The Water Castle sits an old space capsule, donated by an alumnus who was an astronaut. A key confrontation takes place inside of the capsule (without spoiling too much, it is when the three kids still somewhat antagonistically agree to work together.)

Why a space capsule? Well, the book takes on the idea of exploration and what it means to really find something. Also, there is a fair amount of exposition in that scene, and I find that exposition does better in a great setting. But the real reason I put that space capsule in is that there was one outside of my high school.

Apollo Boilerplate Capsule in Cape Canaveral

I was unable to locate a picture of the Oyster River space capsule. This is from the Air Force Space and Missile Museum in Cape Canaveral, FL.

The space capsule outside of Oyster River High School was an Apollo boilerplate space capsule. These were used for practicing retrieving the capsules from the ocean. The story goes that this space capsule was acquired by Eleanor Milliken, a science teacher who found it in the dump at the nearby PEASE Air Force Base and had it brought to the school. She also had an planetarium built at the school, which allowed me to believe that a school could have a Van de Graaf generator in it. 1

The space capsule was always just there as I was growing up. Sometimes my older brother would have soccer games at the fields by the school, and the younger siblings would play around. I have a very clear memory of being inside of the capsule, and it is much as I described in the book: metal painted blue. I wondered if this was a false memory, a mix of hopes and imagination. A former science teacher at the school assures me that going into the capsule may have been possible at one point, but eventually it was filled with cement, most likely for liability reasons.

Sometime toward the end of my high school years, the capsule was removed to make space for dumpsters, thereby allowing more room for parking. Mrs. Milliken was gone by then, and I suppose there was no one to fight for it. It was just there one day and gone the next. No one really knows where, though perhaps to a traveling museum.

I’d be interested to hear other memories of the space capsule. If you’re an alum of the school, or just from the area, and happen to stumble upon this blog post, please do comment.

Notes:

  1. Author Rona Maynard wrote a lovely remembrance of Eleanor Milliken and her husband, Frank, teachers who I was never lucky enough to have.
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2 thoughts on “The Space Capsule

  • August 21, 2014 at 12:01 pm
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    I was just looking around the web at different things and for some reason decided to see what I could find about Mrs. Milliken.
    I was from the class of ’82. I grew up in Farmington, NH and moved to Madbury at the beginning of my freshman year.
    I loved Mrs. Milliken and took all the classes she offerd. I was hooked on astronomy so I took planitarium operation and supervision. When it was done I asked that she make an operation and supervision II which, to the best of my knowledge, I was the only person who got a chance to take.

    I first saw the space capsule you talk about when I was a kid. My mother was in the commisary at Pease and I was waiting out in the car. I must have been about 10 years old but I instantly recognized it as an Apollo capsule. When I got back home to Farmington I told my friends who didn’t believe me. So imagine my surprise, my first day of high school and there was the capsule. I walked up to it and examined it, by the construction knew it must have been the same one, how many of these could there be just floating around?

    I was saddened to hear, years later that not only was the planitarium gone but so was the space capsule.

    Mrs. Milliken had networked with so many people to bring many rare and collectable items to the school, Carl Sagan gave her a slide show copy of Cosmos. I wonder where they are now.

    Once while cleaning the planitarium I lifted a large glass plate that was covering a counter. Underneath the glass plate were items from the space program, there were patches, pictures and other flat items donated by various people. One thing under the glass was a swatch, about 4″x2″ of what was essentially high tech fly paper. A roll of this fly paper was brought to the moon, unrolled and left open for the duration of the mission. At the end of the stay the paper was rolled back up and brought home. As you can imagine on this roll was a film of micro meteors and dust from the moon and Mrs Milliken had secured a priceless piece of this history.

    As my friend and I were cleaning I moved this swatch and underneath was a film of dust that had come off the swatch and was now resting on the counter. I carefully, with my small finger, swept the moon dust into a small pile. I looked around for something to put the dust in but couldn’t find anything. My friend told me to just throw it away but I told him how valuable and rare it was and we couldn’t just throw it away. Not knowing what to do and being somewhat young and stupid I decided to inhale and swallow the dust.

    My friend asked my why I did it I told him I couldn’t bear knowing that it would just get lost somewhere forgotten so I figured this way, in some small way, I could tell my self some of it would stay with me.

  • August 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm
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    This is an amazing and beautiful memory. We were lucky to have such passionate teachers at that school. Thank you for sharing this.

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