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Our History

Our History

USS Wernher von Braun

 

With Huntsville, Alabama’s history in the space program, you would think there would have been a Star Trek fan club here decades ago. After all, the United States rocket program was started here in Huntsville with the Redstone Arsenal. Led by German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the rocket program eventually evolved into the space program with the design and development of the mighty Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon. So Huntsville has a proud place in the history of the space program.

Our own history didn’t begin until November 21, 1992. A group of fans attending a Star Trek convention in Nashville, Tennessee decided to form a fan club in north Alabama. They chose to affiliate with an international Star Trek fan association called STARFLEET, due to the influence of meeting the crew of then shuttle Alacrity in Memphis, TN. The Commanding Officer was Commander J. Mark Coughlin and Executive Officer was Lieutenant Commander Catherine ‘Kit’ Ramsey.

They began holding their own activities and events, growing as a club. Then on December 24, 1992, our little group of friends were launched as the shuttle Wernher von Braun, named in honor of Mr. von Braun. Since our mothership was the USS Triumph (NCC 26228 was chartered in Miami, Florida), and since we were their first shuttle, our shuttle designation begame NCC 26228/1. Our motto, “The Dream Began Here”, refers to Huntsville’s space program heritage. Over the next few months, the shuttle continued to grow as a chapter in training, performing various social and community service activities.

Finally, on September 25, 1993, the USS Wernher von Braun was commissioned as a full chapter in STARFLEET. We were the 33rd Galaxy class starship in STARFLEET, and the 199th chapter to be formed. But unlike most ships, we were bestowed with a special Naval Construction Contract number: NCC 72069. This is actually a very special date: July 20, 1969, the date mankind walked on the moon. Captain Catherine ‘Kit’ Ramsey served as Commanding Officer, and Commander Jim Martin served as Executive Officer.

1993 was the year we established ourselves as a fan organization. We based our structure upon the Star Trek TV show. We had a Commanding Officer, an Executive Officer, and several Department Chiefs. Each department focused on a different aspect, whether it be Security (event safety), Engineering (prop building), Operations (fund-raising), and Medical (recruiting) among others. The Communications department under Commander Cliff Collier established a lovely, tabloid sized, monthly newsletter called the Subspace Static. We also established logos for use on name-tags and T-shirts.

1994 continued our growing phase. By the end of the year, we had almost thirty local members, about half of which were also STARFLEET members. Attendance at meetings and activities was averaging around twenty people. We accomplished some marvelous things during this period in our history. We made several charity donations, such as to the Alabama Council for the Blind. We did various community service work, such as helping with the annual Panoply arts festival. Led by our Security Department, Panoply has been one of our most visible, successful, and ambitious events. We did fun things too, such as model rocket launches, social dinners, movie gatherings, and convention road trips.

1995 was when real world obligations began to take their toll on membership. People either got busy or moved away, unable to participate as much as they would like. We continued with our usual activities, such as Panoply and conventions. In August, the publication of the Subspace Staticresumed with a new editor. At STARFLEET’s International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Kit Ramsey was promoted to Fleet Captain for her continued hard work with the ship.

1996 was the year everything changed. Captain Richard L. Trulson was appointed as the new Commanding Officer in January. With that, came several changes and consolidations in the Department Chiefs. The Subspace Static went to a quarterly schedule and a new monthly news postcard, the Mission Briefing was introduced. On top of that, STARFLEET suffered at the international level due to mismanagement. We continued our usual local events, though participation wasn’t as good as hoped. We were thrilled with the launching of our first shuttle on March 25, 1996 in Decatur, AL. The shuttle Alabama was under the command of Commander Bonnie Flanagan. Commander Henry Vaughn was appointed as the ship’s new Executive Officer in June. By-laws were finally adopted and the year came to a close with Richard being promoted to Fleet Captain in December.

This year also celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek in grand fashion: Paramount sanctioned the mother of all Star Trek events in Huntsville, which was renamed Star Trek, AL in honor of the occasion. Both the Von Braun Civic Center and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center were filled to capacity to host Star Trek 30: One Weekend on Earth on September 7 and 8. Stars from all four series were present, including all of the original series cast members. We participated not only as fans, but also as volunteers to help make the event successful. And finally on November 22, Star Trek: First Contact premiered as one of the best movies in the series. It was a busy year indeed.

1997 was rather calm compared to the previous year, though there were a few shining moments. The Star Wars trilogy was re-released on the big screen with new additions. In March, the von Braun won several Region 2 awards including Newsletter of the Year for the Subspace Static and Officer of the Year for Security Chief Dustin Williams. New versions of the T-shirts and name-tags were also designed and produced. Commander Russ McNutt became the ship’s new Executive Officer in July. And our second shuttle, the Celestial under the command of Commander Rebecca Self, was launched on August 18 in Leeds, AL.

1998 started poorly when our first shuttle, the Alabama, was disbanded due to the lack of interest and time of their crewmembers. Fortunately, the year improved at the annual Region 2 Summit in March, where we won several awards. Richard was also appointed as the Region 2 Vice-Chief of Computer Operations. At STARFLEET’s International Conference in Lubbock, Texas in July, our newsletter won several awards including Outstanding Presentation. The shuttle Celestial commissioned as a full starship on July 27, 1998. We wish the USS Spiritwalker, NCC 31097, well on their journey.

We celebrated the von Braun‘s Fifth Anniversary as a STARFLEET chapter with a cookout at XO Russ McNutt’s house on Saturday, September 26. Twenty-three people helped celebrate including crewmembers from the USS Spiritwalker and shuttle Draco. Annual ship awards were given and Richard received a plaque for his 3 years of service to the ship. At the end of the year, however, Richard declined to run for CO again, citing exhaustion and the possibility of moving away as his reasons. Russ McNutt was the only one to be nominated in the elections, and he passed his vote of confidence to become CO.

1999 started off with Russ assuming command of the ship and receiving a promotion to Captain. Don Daniel, our Science Chief, was appointed acting XO. At the annual Region 2 Summit in early March, the von Braun won several more awards, as did our former shuttle, the Celestial. In July, Richard became the Region 2 Chief of Computer Operations.

We were saddened in June at the loss of one of the original Star Trek stars. DeForest Kelly will be forever remembered fondly as Dr. Leonard McCoy. We were hurt again more personally when former crewmate Mike Ray was killed in an explosion at the pyrotechnics manufacturer where he worked. Another former crewmate, Mike Brookshire was also severely injured with burns to the majority of his body. Fortunately, Mike has recovered almost completely. The crew held Ebay auctions to help raise funds to support them. Another crewmember, Jim Dykes, was at the facility when the explosion occurred, but was uninjured.

The year was brought to a close on a grand scale. An all-day Star Trek: Voyager video marathon was held on Saturday, November 13. The general public was invited to this free event, which included free drinks, snacks, and door prizes. As a result, we had over 25 people there throughout the day, and at least a half dozen there at any one time. Announcements appeared in the paper and TV news casts; one station even joked on air about not being sure if they could stand 12 hours of Star Trek or not. The most exciting event occurred when WAAY interviewed Richard for a brief segment on the 10 o’clock news.

2000 arrived without a major catastrophe from the Y2K bug thankfully. Richard assumed command once again as CO and Russ returned to the XO position. A former independent TV station affiliated themselves with UPN and built a new transmitter tower, which allowed north Alabama residents to finally see Star Trek: Voyager. Though we continued our usual events throughout the year, our involvement with Panoply was cut back further. Several crewmembers attended various conventions such as DragonCon and ConStellation.

Unfortunately, bad luck and health problems struck the crew again during the summer. Former crewmember Tom Perry was severely injured in a car wreck. While he survived, he remains paralyzed from the chest down. Shortly thereafter, former Operations Chief Billy Helms suffered some health problems as well, but is doing better now. Thankfully, the year was brought to a close on a happy note with the wedding of Don and Joanie Daniel. Don has served for years as our Sciences Chief and Joanie became our Medical Chief.

2001 started off the true new millennium and was filled the highest highs and the lowest lows. Several crewmembers from the von Braun‘s past returned to join us, including Damian Williams and Henry Vaughn as the Security and Engineering Chiefs, respectively. We held a Voyager series finale party at Russ McNutt’s house. Our biggest event of the year was participating in an outing to the US Space and Rocket Center on Saturday, June 9. With all of Region 2 invited, about 35 crewmembers from over 8 different chapters participated. Afterwards, almost everyone attended the reception that our ship hosted. That was followed by a great article in the in the Madison Spirit section of the August 15 issue of the Huntsville Times. In addition to an interview with Richard, several crewmembers were photographed at the Space and Rocket Center.

Like the rest of the world, the crew was saddened and shocked by the events of September 11. Our prayers and well wishes went out to the rescuers, survivors, victims, their families and friends, and the nation. Because so many other worthy charities were able to do a better job at raising more money and support than anything our ship could hope to do, we didn’t do anything as a ship. Instead, the crew was encouraged to help any way they could as individuals, either by donating blood or money, or simply keeping those affected in their prayers. The destruction of the Twin Trade Towers will forever remain etched in our memories.

Perhaps the best way to overcome such a tragedy is to not let terrorism ruin our lives, and to return to everyday life as much as possible. Therefore, we went on with our plans to celebrate 35 years of Star Trek on Saturday, September 29. We watched episodes from all the series that dealt with the original Star Trek, as well as the premiere of Enterprise. We followed that by participating in the Region 2 Science Month on Saturday, October 13. We observed the cave and cave life theme by going to Cathedral Caverns just east of Huntsville. Don Daniel, who served as our event coordinator, received a special science Commendation from the Regional Department Chief of Sciences. Unfortunately, sad news arrived on November 10 with the sudden death of Kenneth Kimbro, a former crewmember.

2002 started poorly for our crewmembers. Ronald McNutt (father of XO Russ) suffered a mild stroke and Joey Sloan received a slight tear in the cornea of his right eye. Thankfully, both men have recovered from their injuries after a brief stay in the hospital. Then on January 29, both feet of crewmember Richard C. Trulson (father of CO Richard L.) were severed completely off when a heavy, large, metal equipment case fell on his ankles. Due to the severity of the injuries and his diabetes, the doctor performed a clean amputation just below his knees in mid-calf so he could heal properly. After a month’s stay in the hospital and rehab, Richard returned home and is learning to walk again with his prosthetic feet. His spirits remain very high and he continues to serve as an inspiration to those around him.

Several crewmembers again received awards at the Region 2 Summit in March. Richard L. Trulson and his mother, Loretta, also provided food to help the 2003 Summit Committee in their role as Hospitality Suite hosts. For the first time in the ship’s history, the crew voted to not help at the annual Panoply arts festival due to our diminished role. Jennifer Vaughn, Henry’s wife, was appointed as the new Operations Chief.

One of our most enjoyable meetings was held on June 2, when we made aliens creatures out of craft materials. Several crewmembers attended various conventions, including what was probably the last Vulkon in Atlanta (May 24-26), DeepSouthCon (June 14-16) in Huntsville this year, the usual ConStellation (October 18-20) in Huntsville, and the annual STARFLEET International Conference (August 1-4) in San Jose, CA. We attended several movie outings including a special viewing of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones at an IMAX theater.

Perhaps our biggest event of 2002 was the AeroSpace Day held on July 20 at the Trulson family home and aircraft repair business in Ardmore. This free event went from 3 pm till 9 pm or so, and was open to the public and other STARFLEET chapters. We had 10 crewmembers attend along with about 15 people from the general public. We had confirmed reports of listings in the community event sections of the local paper and TV stations. Later in the day, we carpooled to the Alabama Welcome Center located one mile south on I-65. The Welcome Center has a Saturn 1B rocket on display, where we posed for a group shot.

Throughout the day, we created rockets and aliens out of craft materials and launched model rockets. Several kids and even a few young at heart adults got to launch some of the rockets. We even had real airplanes available for guests to look at and climb in. We also had an Apollo capsule museum replica and a K’Nex Saturn V rocket model, the latter brought by Ron Zuckerman. Loretta fixed a spaghetti dinner with a salad bar for everyone, but all crewmembers brought drinks and snacks to share. We closed the day with fireworks.

The rest of the year was filled with the usual hodgepodge of activities from video parties to movie outings, and from dinner nights to picnics in the park. Another big event occurred on September 21: we observed this year’s Region 2 Science Month theme of “Water Life” by going to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We didn’t take as big advantage of the December 13 premier of Star Trek: Nemesis as we should have, even though it probably will be the final movie featuring the cast of The Next Generation. On December 28, we brought the year to a close with a party at the Zuckerman family home to begin our year long celebration of our tenth anniversary. This party commemorated our launching as an official STARFLEET shuttle ten years ago on December 24, 2003. We were especially pleased to have the von Braun‘s first CO, Kit Ramsey, in attendance.

2003 marks the Tenth Anniversary of the USS Wernher von Braun. We started with a bang as co-hosts of the annual Region 2 Summit, which was held right here in Huntsville at the Tom Bevill Center on March 7-9. Our chapter had the most crew present with 12 current crewmembers. We had several former crewmembers present as well, though most of them are now part of other chapters. For many of the crew, this was their first Summit. In addition to Richard’s year long involvement with the 2003 Summit Planning Committee, Dawn Zuckerman and Jennifer Vaughn really helped by co-hosting panels. We won several awards as well. Richard also issued several commendations and promotions to several crewmembers for outstanding performance at the Summit and throughout the past year or so.

The declining economy and war in Iraq put a damper on many of our events. However, our crew expanded a little bit on Thursday, July 3. Jonathan Charles Anthony Vaughn was born , at 8:02am, and weighed 8 lbs., 13 oz. at 20″ long. Henry and Jennifer Vaughn, our Chiefs of Engineering and Operations, are the proud parents of the first baby born aboard the von Braun. Congratulations to them! Richard was able to attend the annual STARFLEET International Conference in Greensboro, NC on August 1-3.

The biggest event of the year was “A Salute to Star Trek” on Friday, October 3. This free event was held at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library from 6 pm till 9 pm. While this was technically part of the library’s “A Century of Flight” celebration, our crew was instrumental in its success. In addition to putting them in contact with their featured guest, we put in dozens of volunteer man-hours in preparation for this event. Crewmember Laura Peterson also donated tons of merchandise from her Sci-Fi Collectibles business to be used as prizes.

The auditorium was filled with about 125 guests. The featured speaker was Next Generation screenplay author Lee Shackleford. Several people also got to participate in a live reading of one of Lee’s unaired screenplays. The free “alien” food was a big hit as well. We were able to have a table filled with flyers, newsletters, and other information about our chapter, which resulted in a dozen people signing up for more information.. There was also a trivia competition and a costume contest, which included our own Catherine Ramsey and Wayne Cole, our Picard look-a-like. This event turned out to be one of the most successful events we’ve ever participated in.

We concluded our Tenth Anniversary year-long celebration on Saturday, October 25 from 12 noon till about 7 pm. A pork BBQ lunch started off the festivities, with baked beans, potato salad, and coleslaw sides. There was also a variety of cakes, cupcakes, cookies, drinks, and other snacks to choose from. All activities were held at CO Richard L. Trulson’s family home and business in Ardmore, AL. After lunch, we launched several model rockets, one of which we suspect left orbit.

However, the most anticipated launch involved a model rocket shaped like the Enterprise, NCC 1701-E. It flew beautifully, but the parachute didn’t deploy. It broke into several pieces, but should be repairable. We then came inside for crafts and to watch videos. Our first CO, Catherine “Kit” Ramsey, led a toast, and Richard followed with one of his own. While it may not have been as big as some events, we still had a wonderful time. In the end, that is what matters most.

We would like you to be part of our future history.