I recently began writing this article about one of my favorite aircraft, the X-15 rocketplane, when I stumbled upon an important realization. I was planning to share lots of cool info about the ship — like how it was flown by astronauts like Neil Armstrong, dropped from a B-52 Bomber, and was able to climb to over 60 miles to the edge of space. Then it hit me that more important than my love of the X-15 is how I first discovered it. Honestly, I have my father, Willie B. Morris, to thank for the knowledge of it and so many of my childhood discoveries.
It was my dad who carried my three-year-old body on his shoulders to an empty lot in our Phoenix neighborhood to launch model rockets. It was he who woke me up to see spectacular meteor showers in the desert and TV transmissions from astronauts on the Moon. A few years later, he helped me build models of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the shuttlecraft Galileo from Star Trek. It was he who brought me a poster of the Space Shuttle almost a decade before it launched.
This week marked what would have been his 81st birthday. He died this past December after a prolonged bought with Alzheimer’s. He was a truly amazing man and a powerful force for progress and change.
I was pretty lucky to have a father who worked in the aerospace industry. Regardless of what he did throughout his career, he would often share his work pursuits with me and was always enthusiastic and encouraging of my interest in space and science fiction. One of my earliest memories was sitting on the floor with him to watch Gerry Anderson’s UFO.
My dad was the first African–American engineer to be employed by General Electric in the Southwest. As this was the early 1960’s, his placement was not without controversy and challenges. Yet, he and my mother persevered, and his career evolved to greater heights.
As an employee of Garrett Aircraft, my dad designed solenoids — high-tech valves — that were used to control coolant and other fluid levels in NASA spacesuits. He later moved into industrial relations and won numerous awards for his work in the community — first by helping to change Arizona law to give the disabled more access to public areas, and eventually helping thousands of inner-city youth obtain college educations.
The latter part of his career was spent with the Department of the Navy in avionics procurement. I bring all of this up because — in addition to his corporate / philanthropic work and helping me build Star Trek ships — my father also brought home a model of the X-15. It was the first ‘real’ spaceship / aircraft I ever owned.
It was during its assembly that my father told me, with pride, about Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. — the first African–American astronaut. You probably haven’t heard of him because he was killed during an F-104 training flight in 1967. An Air Force pilot with over 2000 hours in jets and Ph.D. in chemistry, Dr. Lawrence was instrumental in investigating the glide aspects of the X-15 for its return from sub-orbital flight.
This was just the tip of the iceberg of so many great conversations and insights Dad provided over the years. He would often tell me his dreams of what he called ‘push-button houses’ and flying craft that used the Earth’s magnetic field for propulsion—an idea that I still toy with.
He told me of his sadness that our society didn’t use maglev mass transit trains in cities (a project he worked on with the Bendix Corporation that eventually sat on the drawing board) and solar and wind as a primary energy sources for our civilization way back in the 1970’s.
The bottom line: regardless of how cool and interesting the X-15 was, what is most important is that my father took the time to introduce me to it.
Thank you, Dad, for all that you did to help me explore the world of science and imagination and for clearing the path for me to become the positive, curious, and creative man I am today. I also thank you for facing the serious challenges of racism, while serving on the front lines of the battle to open the doors of corporate America to people of color of all races and walks of life.
Again. Thank you. The existence of this very blog is part of your legacy.
And to all of the fathers (and mothers as well!) out there with young children, take note — you have no idea what dreams and goals you may be sparking into existence by the most simple acts of communication and exploration.
Feel free to comment! We welcome open and honest discourse regarding any article. But, you better bring your A-game with some real perspective, if you want to spark a dialogue. Rude, mean-spirited comments will be deleted! Thanks for visiting and becoming a part of our community!