Off beat: After Armstrong’s final splashdown, a look at training for his first

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Before Neil Armstrong could land on the moon, John Rehr taught him how to land in a lake.

We told that story in March 2011. Following Armstrong’s funeral on Friday, it’s worth looking back at how a Vancouver resident helped American astronauts prepare for launch.

About 44 years ago, Rehr was an instructor at a water-survival school at Perrin Air Force Base in north Texas. Trainers increased the chances that military aviators could parachute from a damaged aircraft without killing themselves in the process.

“Pilots who ejected had a 22 percent kill rate,” Rehr said. Survival training cut the death rate to 2 percent, he said.

Their students covered the full range of pilots and air crews. “Anyone who flew,” the former Air Force tech sergeant said.

Eventually, that included astronauts. A NASA official told the trainers that some members of their next class were preparing to go into space. In two other survival classes, all the students were in astronaut training.

About 50 astronauts went through the Perrin course in 1968.

Rehr (pronounced “rare”) was able get the autographs of more than 20 astronauts, including one from Armstrong, who would become the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.

Dottie sends respects

Astronaut and former Vancouver resident Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger was recently on Twitter remembering Armstrong — the second role model she’s lost this summer.

In July, she tweeted about the death of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space: “She inspired many, including myself. An example of a life lived fully.”

The former Hudson’s Bay teacher (@AstroDot) also tweeted a work update last week. She’s involved in Active Response Gravity Offload System training, designed to simulate reduced gravity.

“Spent 2 hrs working in it and felt like I was at an asteroid.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.