Space Shuttle vet and UNC-CH alum dies

Challenger postcard with cancellations stamps noting the cards trip in space.
From North Carolina Collection Gallery. Gift of William and Virginia Powell.

UNC-CH alumnus and former NASA astronaut William “Bill” Thornton, who used his own inventions to measure and combat the ill-effects of microgravity while on board two Space Shuttle missions, has died at the age of 91. 

Born in Faison, N.C., Thornton received two degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill–a B.S.from in physics in 1951 and an MD in 1963–before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.  He was selected by NASA to be part of its second group of scientist-astronauts known as the XS-11 class in 1967. NASA told the group that they would likely wait for some time before heading into space. 

Portrait of William Thornton from 1951 UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook
Portrait of William Thornton from 1951 UNC Yackety Yack.

Sixteen years passed before Thornton launched on the first of his two Space Shuttle flights as a mission specialist aboard the Challenger on August 30, 1983.  Thornton was added to the crew primarily to observe their susceptibility to space adaptation sickness (SAS), a condition that affects the vestibular system as the human body adapts to microgravity.  Thornton’s work on the 1983 flight led him to invent a treadmill for use aboard the Space Shuttle.  The 1983, six-day STS-8 mission also deployed a weather and communication satellite and carried more than 260,000 stamped envelopes.   

On April 29, 1985, Thornton again launched aboard the Challenger for his second space flight.  The seven-member crew worked in two teams around the clock on more than a dozen experiments in the Spacelab module.  They conducted experiments using the first laboratory animals in space and exercised on the space shuttle treadmill invented by Thornton.     

Thornton served 27 years with the space agency before retiring in 1994. During the course of his two expeditions, he logged 13 days, one hour and sixteen minutes in space.  For his service to the nation’s space program, Thornton received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and two NASA Space Flight Medals. 

The Pepsi – UNC Connection

Fans of the sugary beverage known as Pepsi-Cola should note it was just 120 years ago this month that the beverage was “Born in the Carolinas,” as its logo claims. In August 1898, pharmacist Caleb Bradham renamed his healthy and refreshing ‘Brads Drink’ to ‘Pepsi-Cola’ and international enterprise began.

Rectangle postcard
Postcard of ‘The Home of Pepsi-Cola at New Bern N.C. – built by us for our own use’, 1920s. Durwood Barbour Collection of NC Postcards (PO77)

Bradham, from Chinquapin, NC, attended UNC in 1886, leaving for medical school in 1889. He became a pharmacist in the growing coastal town of New Bern, opening Bradham’s Pharmacy with an in-store soda fountain in 1892. Bradham enjoyed making delicious drinks as well as making medicines, and his pharmacy quickly became a staple of downtown. Bradham focused on making a safe drink from natural ingredients (his original recipe didn’t even have caffeine) believed to help with digestion. He was inspired by the Greek word ‘pepsis’ meaning ‘digestion’ and changed the name to Pepsi-Cola in August 1898.

square pin-back button
Carolina-focused advertising pin-back button, 2000s.
NCC Lew Powell Collection, (CK.1287.1745)

His Pepsi-Cola Company was worth more than $1 million by 1915, but tragedy was just around the corner. By the 1920s, World War I was over, but supplies, like sugar, were expensive. In 1923 Pepsi-Cola Company declared bankruptcy. Purchased by a Wall Street Banker forjust $30,000, Pepsi would never again be under North Carolina ownership. Although financially crippled, Bradham’s connection to UNC continued. He sponsored the Bradham Prize for scholarship at the School of Pharmacy until 1930.

Rectangle Pin-back button
Pin-back advertising ‘Pepsi Fest East’ for Pepsi memorabilia collectors, 1996.
NCC Lew Powell Collection, (CK.1287.2154)

Pepsi-Cola moved to Richmond, VA after Bradham’s ownership, but the company continues to highlight its North Carolina roots. “Born in the Carolinas” is one of the official trademarks of Pepsi-Cola in its regional marketing strategy. Pepsi has also provided sponsorship to NASCAR and to North Carolina driver Richard Petty. Greenville’s PirateFest is co-sponsored by Pepsi, and Pepsi Fest collector events are held in North Carolina. The nation’s largest privately-held manufacturer, seller and distributor of Pepsi is claimed by Raleigh’s Pepsi Bottling Ventures. New Bern hosts the Birthplace of Pepsi, a private museum that celebrates the site of Pepsi’s beginning.

Round pin-back button
Pin-back featuring two North Carolina-born companies. Food Lion was founded in Salisbury, NC in 1957.
NCC Lew Powell Collection, (CK.1287.2985)

The NC Collection Gallery in Wilson Library holds a variety of Pepsi-related items and artifacts. A small exhibit noting the 120th anniversary of Pepsi-Cola features some of these artifacts. The cabinet to the left at the entrance of the Gallery will now be used for small changing exhibits highlighting various events in North Carolina History.

  • – Bob Schreiner, NCC Gallery

Artifacts of the Month: WUNC-TV Jacket and Banner

If you’ve turned on a TV in North Carolina, you are probably familiar with our state’s public television station, UNC-TV.  The network’s original station – WUNC-TV, Channel 4 in Chapel Hill – signed on the air January 8, 1955.  Initially operating on three different campuses (Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Greensboro), the station would continue to expand in geographical reach and content development.

For more than 60 years, WUNC-TV has brought arts, culture, history, and science programming into the homes of North Carolinians.  The NC Collection Gallery is pleased to add two new artifacts documenting the station’s past:  a late-1950s WUNC-TV jacket and an original Channel 4 banner.

1950s WUNC-TV jacket
1950s WUNC-TV jacket
Channel 4 banner
Late 1960s Channel 4 banner

The first WUNC-TV broadcast in 1955, and its staple content for years, was college basketball.  These early games were shown on television, but people would watch while listening to the radio for the commentary.  By the 1960s, WUNC-TV was covering the ACC Basketball Game of the Week.  The station converted a Trailways bus donated from the Town of Chapel Hill into a mobile remote unit, making it possible to cover events outside the studio.

Charlie B. Huntley from Greensboro, NC (UNC class of 1971) entered UNC in 1967 and was recruited that same year to join the Department of Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures (later incorporated into the UNC School of Journalism).  Having been inspired by watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1963, Huntley jumped at the opportunity to become a cameraman with WUNC-TV.  Huntley divided his time between the studio, his house on East Rosemary Street (shared with other members of the WUNC-TV Channel 4 student news team), and being on the road with a WUNC-TV camera.

Channel 4 student employees, ca. 1970
The core group of the Channel 4 team and Rosemary Street roommates, Sam Brooks, HB Hough, Bill Hatch and Charlie Huntley, ca.1970
Huntley shooting on location
Huntley shooting on location

Huntley remembers traveling an untold number of miles on that Trailways bus all over North Carolina.  Just to make sure their presence was known, the team would attach a large green banner with the Channel 4 logo to the side of the bus.  The banner was sometimes used as a backdrop during satellite broadcasts.

While working in the WUNC-TV studio then located in Swain Hall, Huntley found an early WUNC-TV jacket in a janitor’s closet and felt a connection to his predecessors.  The rayon bomber jacket was made in Greensboro and was worn by early WUNC-TV staff while on-location filming around the state.

Huntley holding Emmy Award
Charlie Huntley in 1992 with his Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Technical Direction/Camera/Video for a Miniseries or Special for his work on Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park

As Huntley’s time at UNC began to come to an end, he decided to keep the banner that was no longer being used by the station, as well as the jacket that was worn years before he even thought of coming to UNC.  His experience as a student staff member at WUNC led to a long and successful career as a professional cameraman in New York, with 134 film and tv credits, 54 Emmy nominations, and 4 Emmy wins.  Huntley speaks of his time at UNC and WUNC-TV with affection, referring to his friends and colleagues as “family” and appreciating that he was a part of “a wonderful combination of friendship, passion, and talent.”

The Gallery is proud to add these artifacts into our permanent collection to help interpret and preserve the history of WUNC-TV.

Channel 4 alumni
Channel 4 alumni