Clifton McClure Space Hero and Personal Friend
By Glen May
I first read about Clifton McClure from a book ,"The Pre-Astronauts", by Craig Ryan ,back around 1996. Cliff flew the Air Force Manhigh III capsule, carried by a research helium balloon to 99,700 feet. Cliff and others like him saw space even before the Mercury Seven Astronauts and Russian Cosmonauts trained in their capsules, but the contributions to space exploration by Manhigh pilots and other Pre-Astronauts have largely been ignored.
I was moved by Cliffs mission more than any of the rest of them. Many things went wrong on Cliffs mission but he remained calm and even made suggestions on how future missions could be improved. Cliff went to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to be a part of the exciting space related research going on in the late Fifties. He was quoted as saying " I would have picked up garbage to be at Holloman". Cliff told me that was the most fun he ever had in his life.
I heard Cliff lived in Huntsville, Alabama and decided I wanted to call him and tell him he was one of my all-time favorite aerospace heroes. I did call Cliff and said exactly that, and he burst out laughing. I told him who I was and that I wanted to buy him a steak dinner to celebrate the memory of his Manhigh III mission nearly fourty years ago and he said he would settle for a sandwich. I met Cliff and his wonderful wife Bobbie in Huntsville and we had a Subway sandwich, and it was the best Subway I ever had. I stopped in to see Cliff and Bobbie from time to time on my pilgrimages to Huntsville through the years since then. It was great to have a hero who had time for me. Cliff would tell people about my few aerospace adventures when I was in his presence as if they were on par with his adventures and this felt great to me. Cliff passed away this year, and my trips to Huntsville will never be the same.
I think all of us that are involved in space development, as a hobby or as a career, have aerospace heroes. So many people contributed to opening up the space frontier for us and I believe they need to be remembered and told they are appreciated. Cliff taught me something about hero worship: that no hero wants to be worshipped but it is great to be remembered and thanked. I encourage those of you who have Space Heroes of Yesterday who are not in the big astronaut limelight, to give them a call and tell them how much you appreciated reading about their contributions. They might call you a nut, but they might also call you friend. I may be a nut, but my greatest aerospace hero called me friend.
Thanks, Cliff, for Your Friendship.
Your friend always,
Cliff and Glen meet in Huntsville
More to come