Astronaut Rex Walheim has gone into space three times, but his brother Lance trumps him on experience when it comes to another kind of ride. Lance Walheim, the rose care expert for Bayer Advanced, rode on the Bayer Advanced Rose Parade float in 2007, his daughters rode when they were children, and a rose he gave his brother to take into space was on the 2009 float.
The brothers will ride together on the Bayer Advanced float “Garden of Imagination” in the 2012 Rose Parade. The float, with a rose garden in front rising to a multi-colored contrail from a rocket ship at the rear, is reminiscent of the days when the brothers Walheim worked together in the family garden and imagined different futures.
“We both spent a lot of time out in the backyard. Dad was a do-it-yourselfer,” Lance said. “Dad was also a pilot in World War II….He always wanted a pilot in the family.”
“I think Lance enjoyed the garden more than I did,” Rex said. “I was looking at planes while pulling weeds.”
Lance chuckled and said the family has pictures of Rex standing over everyone, watching. “Rex was always supervising,” he said.
Different paths to the Rose Parade
Lance became a horticulturalist, author, and specialty citrus grower on 17 acres in Tulare County, Calif., while Rex pursued engineering and an Air Force career. He has worked on several space missions as an engineer and astronaut, and was one of four crew members on Atlantis for the final shuttle flight.
As a seasoned Rose Parade hand, Lance finds riding with his brother to be a special experience. “We’re so proud of the accomplishments he’s made,” Lance said. “It’s so special to have an astronaut who rode on the last space mission on the float,” and that the astronaut is his brother makes it all the more meaningful.
“He’s almost 10 years younger,” Lance said. Rex quipped, “Better looking, too.”
“Garden of Imagination” is not the first time the brothers have worked together on a float. In 2008, Rex carried a dried rose that Lance had plucked from the Wrigley Garden at Tournament House. Lance said it was a last-minute idea to preserve a rose and put it up in space.
“The question was, how do we properly preserve it?” he said. “It’s so fragile.” Rex added, “I didn’t know if it would survive, because of the vibrations” and other effects of space flight.
The rose, appropriately named “Tournament of Roses,” survived, and was featured on the 2009 Bayer Advanced float “Garden of Oz” along with Dorothy, The Great Oz, and her companions on the journey along the Yellow Brick Road.
Lance still has it.
“I’ve got it packed and only take it out for special occasions. I keep it in the dark so the color maintains, and keep it packed with moisture,” he said.
Rex worked on the “Garden of Oz” float, too. “I got to go out and see how floats are made. They let me help with the construction, putting the flowers on. I got a kick out of it. I hope my boys get to work on the float.”
And what does he think of the engineering that goes into a Rose Parade float?
“It’s amazing. It really is incredible how they make those floats come to life. The order of magnitude is different from any other parade in the country. I’m overwhelmed to look and see the detail and precision. Not just the engineering—the design and army of people who construct it.”
In the garden and in space
Your Tournament of Roses Examiner took a few minutes to pick the brain of horticulturalist Lance. The author of more than 30 books on gardening, including the best-selling Roses for Dummies, and frequent guest on local and national TV and radio shows, he was asked what someone who (unintentionally) kills plants should read.
“I’m a senior editor of the Sunset Western Garden book. When it comes to gardening in the west, that’s really the bible, that’s really the book to start with. Then once you get into that, go into special books,” he advised.
Rex said, “I understand, I’m the same way.” He said he’s fortunate to have an expert for a brother, and he calls on Lance when his garden is having problems.
With the end of the space shuttle program, there has been discussion as to what will come next. Rex is working on that next step into space, NASA’s Deep Space Exploration System. While the system is being designed, a destination has not yet been chosen.
“That’s part of the problem we’re working through,” Rex said. “Number one is, how do we get to the space station? Some commercial companies are vying to build capsules to go back and forth. That frees up NASA to go beyond—to the moon, Mars, asteroids. There’s no reason for commercial companies to do that.
“We’re trying to work out where we’re going first—an asteroid, the moon, Mars. But we need a heavy lift vehicle that can get to any of those places. There’s still flexibility, but at some point, we have to choose a mission.”
Rex is working on ground systems, the rocket abort system, and spacesuit design. The current EVA (extra-vehicular activity) suits are basically the same as the ones created 30 years ago, Rex said. They are meant for zero gravity, not walking, and they need to be a little more flexible.
“I don’t know if I will get a chance to fly again, but I enjoy being part of the program, on the ground or in space,” he said.
The theme of the 123rd Rose Parade and 98th Rose Bowl Game is “Just Imagine…” The events take place on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012 to avoid interfering with worship services on Sunday. The Tournament of Roses is a celebration that lasts several weeks in the fall and winter, with the high points being the Rose Parade presented by Honda and the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. Keep following your Tournament of Roses Examiner for the latest news and for upcoming announcements.
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