The forgotten history of Whitman’s space program

Conor Bartol, Bad At Making Fake Acronyms (B.A.M.F.)

Illustration by Kimberly Auran.

On a brisk 1978 morning, four Whitman students boarded a rocket, The Lazy Duckling, on its maiden voyage to the stars. Their mission: to land on the moon.

The cream-of-the-crop of the Whitman Space Squad (often called WHIZZ) were undeterred by their experimental rocket, expertly fashioned of scrap metal and twine. They were unfazed by its fuel, a volatile brew derived from the Walla Walla sweet onion, nearly as potent as rocket fuel and ten times as flammable. They were unbothered by the fact that they were almost a decade behind the first mission to put a man on the moon.

As the countdown reached one, the rocket ignited, and thrust skyward… about three feet, exhausting its entire fuel supply and falling onto its side. The rocket was a mere twelve feet tall, and its four crewmates were too cramped to reach the controls necessary to prevent this crash. Three of the four vomited during the launch, the fourth having already thrown up in the bushes fifteen minutes prior.

The monumental fiasco of WHIZZ’s first and only mission resulted in the program’s unceremonious end mere weeks later. A few of its members would move on to other space programs, or even become astronauts. Others continued their work independently, but were met with little success, as further rocket tests got them a visit from some nice men from the FAA who told them in no uncertain terms to knock it off. Alas, WHIZZ was doomed to fade away and become little more than a rumor.

That was, until the American Association of University Professors’ recent investigation into the school’s finances uncovered the paystubs for WHIZZ employees back in the 70s, and the organization’s history was finally brought to light.

Despite its history of failure, WHIZZ has gained a cult following since students learned of its existence. Perhaps it’s the sense of fun space adventure, its odd name, or maybe it’s because everyone loves an underdog story. Whatever the reason, the renewed interest has caused the school to consider restarting WHIZZ. Perhaps one day it will return in all its glory, and a few brave students will take to the stars at last.