One and a Half Kennedy Men Host DC Gala for NASA

TSM consultant, Jacqui Steele McCall and Founder, Ivor Dawson pose with party hosts, Teddy Kennedy Jr. and Teddy Kennedy III. Party photos by Landen McCall

On May 25, 2011, the Kennedy family threw a party in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Traveling Space Museum was there! It was exactly 50 years ago to the day that President John F. Kennedy convinced a joint session of Congress that America should shoot for the moon. To celebrate that original vision of space exploration, members of the Kennedy family and NASA’s family staged a free concert and later, a private party up in the Kennedy Center’s Atrium for friends.

Situated high above the “Space Philharmonic Orchestra” on stage, a giant TV screen showed vintage grainy video of JFK addressing Congress back in 1961 as the concert began. This was a good excuse for Conductor, Emil de Cou to kick things off with Aaron Copland’s towering “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The orchestra segued into “Mercury” --the third movement from “The Planets” by Holst’s as the audience saw one ancient Atlas rocket after another leaping off the launch pads. By the time Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony began, I had become good friends with my coincidental row neighbor -- NASA’s celebrity rocketeer, Jesco von Puttkamer.

For you civilians out there, Herr von Purttkamer was the renowned protégé of Wernher von Braun brought to the States to help build the Apollo moon rocket. Star Trek fans know him as a close friend of Gene Roddenberry and the technical advisor on “Star Trek: The Motion Picture!” He was also one of the first rocket scientists to participant in a Star Trek convention. I’ve heard many stories about Jesco from Nichelle Nichols who is also a close friend.

NASA’s Jesco von Puttkamer, Nichelle Nichols and Ivor Dawson

The Kennedy family was well represented during the concert beginning with JFK’s sister, Jean Kennedy who introduced NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden to the stage. Bolden in turn, introduced several astronauts present in the audience including Buzz Aldrin and NASA’s Associate Administrator, Leland Melvin.

Former astronaut and NASA Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin with Ivor Dawson

“Somewhere” from West Side Story was sung by 100 local high school students situated across the stage and down among the audience in the isles. The performance proved to be a moving tribute to the author and JFK friend, Leonard Bernstein. The music took me back to when I first discovered Bernstein (and his mentor, Aaron Copland) as a youngster growing up in the Bronx. When Bernstein became the youngest Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, it was like he was elected President of New York! Ironically, few of the performers were old enough to remember Bernstein --let alone the triumphs and tragedies of Camelot. There was at least one ‘Shark’ wannabe present--from up in the Bronx --who definitely did.

The surprise of the evening was an unscheduled performance of Maiden Voyage by jazz great, Herbie Hancock! Although his biggest hit was the spacey sounding Rockit, Hancock confessed to only recently witness his first shuttle launch this year!

The highlight of the program was Nichelle Nichols singing the familiar Star Trek TV series theme music written by Alexander Courage. It was a delight to hear the rarely heard lyrics written by Gene Roddenberry. Ms. Nichols’ falsetto notes soaring over the orchestra brought the audience to their feet!

NASA Deputy Administrator, Lori Graver brought out the Soldiers’ Chorus of the U. S. Army Field Band whose performance of Vaughn Williams’ Serenade to Music reminded us of the heroes who we lost aboard Apollo I and the two shuttles: Challenger and Columbia.

Buzz Aldrin ended the concert program by conducting the orchestra in a rousing production of Stars and Stripes Forever. In what was both a figurative and a literal passing of the baton, Buzz handed off the conductors’ duties to a young Teddy Kennedy III, (the late Senator, Ted Kennedy’s grandson) who proved to be quite an accomplished musical maestro!

“Rockit” man, Herbie Hancock chats up Nichelle Nichols

Watergate Hotel in the background as seen from the Terrace.

After the concert, Ted Kennedy Jr. and Ted Kennedy III, son and grandson of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, hosted a swinging open bar soiree up in the Atrium of the Kennedy Center attended by many of the NASA brass and co-workers.

“What’s in this?” seemed to be the most asked question regarding the variety of hors d'Oeuvres served. Enjoying at all was Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bolden who posed for pictures with Nichelle Nichols and Herbie Hancock. Buzz Aldrin chatted up Jesco von Puttkaner over cheesecake while other friends spotted that evening included NASA Dryden’s Center Director, David McBride, NASA Goddard’s Deputy Director, Dr. Christyl Johnson and Lewis Braxton III, former Deputy Director at NASA Ames.

Keeping the partygoers on course was my good buddy, NASA’s Chief of Protocol, Glenn Posey.

Rounding out Team TSM at the party is our newest team member, Jacqui Steele McCall of Gray Alyse, a DC consultant firm. Jacqui, a former senior staffer for Maryland Senator, Barbara MiKulski, Is a pretty fair party giver herself. We expect her to throw a party or two in the DC area on behalf of TSM soon. Prince George’s County, DC, Baltimore –here we come!

By Ivor Dawson