Death of Last Astronaut on Moon Reminds Us to Press Forward

No more than 80 Silver Robbins Medallions were flown aboard Apollo 17, inscribed with the names of crew members Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Harrison Schmitt. This example, from the personal collection of astronaut Alan Bean, sold for $59,375 at a May 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 16, 2017, Eugene Andrew Cernan, the last NASA astronaut to walk on the surface of the moon, died in a Houston hospital. His historic flight on Apollo 17 lasted from Dec. 7 to Dec. 19, 1972, and man has not been back since then. Cernan was 82 years old and the first astronaut to be buried at Texas State Cemetery.

Eight space missions visited the moon between 1968 and 1972 as part of NASA’s Apollo program. Each mission carried three American astronauts inside a spacecraft launched by a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 8 was used to test the spacecraft as it orbited the moon. Then, in a dress rehearsal prior to landing, Apollo 10 flew close to the lunar surface.

Cernan

The first of the six missions that successfully landed on the moon was Apollo 11 in 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in July of that year, with Armstrong the first to actually walk on the lunar surface. Just 27 daredevil astronauts made that same remarkable trip and a total of 12 walked on the cratered, lifeless surface.

The Apollo astronauts were blasted into space inside the nose cone of the largest rocket ever built, the Saturn V. It was designed by Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph at Huntsville, Ala., and remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket brought into full operational status. It was developed as “Operation Paperclip,” a special program using German rocket engineers and approved by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to leverage their expertise in building Nazi Germany’ V-2 rocket.

Von Braun had started in the U.S. Army after World War II and then transferred when the National Aeronautical and Space Administration was established in 1958 in response to the Russian Sputnik panic. He then became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where they designed the Saturn V. After President John F. Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon, von Braun and his team ensured that the United States would win the space race against the Soviet Union.

The giant Saturn V rocket – 40 feet taller than the full Statue of Liberty – consisted of three rockets in one. The first two stages lifted the Apollo spacecraft into space and the third stage put Apollo on course after reaching low Earth orbit. Apollo also had three sections: command, service and lunar modules. All were linked together for the 250,000-mile journey. Once there, the lunar module took two astronauts to the moon’s surface and back. All three astronauts then returned to Earth in the command module. Its conical shape allowed it to withstand the heat of reentry into Earth’s atmosphere for an easy splashdown.

Each night, the moon looms over Earth, peering down and wondering when to expect the next visitors. Perhaps it will be Mars instead. Space … the final frontier!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Our Planet is a Truly Remarkable Piece of Real Estate

A 1968 “Earthrise” photo signed by the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 crews sold for $16,730 at a November 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In a little-known experiment, a graduate student at the University of Chicago hooked up two test tubes containing water (the “ocean”) and a mixture of methane, ammonia and hydrogen (the “atmosphere”). A few days later, after a few electrical sparks to simulate lightening, there was a goopy broth of organic compounds … “life.” His professor, Nobel Laureate Harold Urey, reportedly exclaimed, “If God didn’t do it this way, he missed a good bet!”

This theory has since been dismissed since Earth didn’t have these inputs available that early.

The experiment happened in 1953 and more than a half-century later, there is still no certainty on how life actually began on this planet. Famous people like Lord Kelvin (1871) have suggested it came from outer space via aliens or comets. But that theory – panspermia – doesn’t answer the basic question; it just moves it to some distant location. But there is general consensus that life on Earth started about 3.5 billion years ago.

Rather than pursue how life started, NASA in the 1960s assembled a team to think about how to look for life … on Mars. British scientist James Lovelock decided to solve the problem by identifying the necessary features for life on Earth. He started with water, since all life depends on it. Then he specified that the average temperature must stay between 60 and 65 degrees to ensure it remained liquid, as it has for the past 3.5 billion years.

Next was salinity, since cells cannot survive levels above 5 percent and the oceans have remained at about 3.4 percent. Oxygen is another must-have element, but close to the 20 percent when it first appeared 2 billion years ago … 16 percent to 20 percent for breathing, but below 25 percent because at that level, forest fires would never go out.

Eventually, Lovelock suggested that the entire planet makes up a single, self-regulating being which he called Gaia. The very presence of life regulates the temperature of the surface, the concentration of oxygen and the chemical composition of the oceans.

Voilà … the perfect conditions for life.

However, Lovelock also warned that the human impact on the environment may disrupt this delicate balance. As early as 1935, another British scientist, Arthur Tansley, described Earth lifeforms, landscapes and climate as a giant ecosystem.

Personally, each time I see pictures of Earth taken from space – this astonishing blue orb suspended in space – it reminds me just how insignificant we are. Relative to the enormity of the ever-expanding universe, we live on a truly remarkable piece of real estate. I hope we can maintain the balance Lovelock identified. Moving isn’t an option … yet.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Apollo XI Reminds Us What’s Important, and Why the Stars Beckon

Historic First Photo of Earth from Deep Space Signed by all Twenty-Nine Apollo Astronauts
The historic first photo of Earth from deep space signed by all 29 Apollo astronauts realized $38,837.50 at a June 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Today is a special date.

On the night of July 20, 1969, thousands of people descended upon Central Park in New York and other public venues to bear witness to the greatest technological achievement in the history of mankind. At the long stretch of green known as Sheep Meadow stood three 9-by-12-foot television screens. At precisely 10:56 p.m. EDT, the fuzzy image of a man in a space suit moved down a ladder until the moment his boot struck the fine-grained surface of the moon.

Apollo XI was the amazing coda of the amazing ’60s. The story of the astronauts – Alan Shepard’s simple arc, the dramatic orbit of John Glenn, the tragedy that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – had run parallel with the decade’s other dramas. But the long series of space shots had become routine and many had begun to question the priority of space discovery in a time of so much domestic strife.

Apollo XI changed all that … for a short time.

Newspaper publishers ordered up their “Second Coming” type, as Time magazine described it. This was no mere piece of news; this was history, big enough to challenge some of the best stories in the Bible.

The plan to go to the moon had been hatched in a conference room of the Cold War, after Sputnik embarrassed American science in 1957, and moved into high gear when John F. Kennedy audaciously promised a moon landing in 1961.

Among those at the crowded Apollo XI launch site was the heroic 1920s pilot Charles Lindbergh, now 67, who later wrote to crew member Michael Collins (the one who didn’t walk on the moon): “I believe you will find that it lets you think and sense with greater clarity.”

Apollo 11 Color Photo, Crew-Signed on Mat
An Apollo 11 framed photo signed by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin realized $10,755 at an October 2009 Heritage auction.

It had only been 41 years since Lindy had conquered the Atlantic Ocean solo, and now mankind had conquered space. But the space program, like other artifacts of the ’60s, gradually evaporated, because no matter where you stood, the ’60s were messy and hard to understand clearly.

Yet from out there, in the dark eternity of the universe, our little home projected a picture of harmony, an essentially beautiful orb, and so utterly still.

Personally, just seeing Earth from space, so tranquil, helps me keep perspective on what is truly important. I do hope we keep reaching for the stars. Eternity is a long time.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Seventy-one Years Later, United Nations Still Ironing Out the Kinks

Apollo 11 Flown United Nations Flag Originally from the Personal Collection of Mission Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Signed and Certified
A United Nations flag flown aboard Apollo 11, from the personal collection of Buzz Aldrin, sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After years of conflict, devastation and privation, there was a shared determination to avoid another World War. Gradually, this determination evolved into action. The seeds had been sown in August 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, a statement that listed their postwar goals for international security.

These goals appeared again in January 1942 when the 26 Allied nations signed the United Nations Declaration, which bound them to a common purpose of victory over the Axis powers. It also resolved to protect liberty and human rights and to respect the self-determination of all people.

In April 1945, with the end of the war in sight, representatives of 50 nations met in San Francisco to write a charter for the new organization. The charter established the mission of the United Nations: to prevent war; to affirm fundamental human rights; to facilitate international peace and security; to promote improved living standards; and to support social progress and economic advancements.

Disagreements based on national interests plagued the discussions at the April conference, but they did not prevent the formation of the United Nations. On June 25, the delegates unanimously adopted the charter and the next day they all signed the document. The United Nations was officially established on Oct. 24, 1945.

The world had entered a new period of international collaboration … “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.”

Seventy-one years later, they are still trying to get some of the kinks worked out.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

55 Years Ago, Alan Shepard Became the First American to Travel Into Space

Historic First Photo of Earth from Deep Space Signed by all Twenty-Nine Apollo Astronauts
The first photo of Earth from deep space, signed by all 29 Apollo astronauts, sold for $38,837.50 at a June 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Space … the final frontier …

● The first U.S. space program was the Vanguard. Out of 11 attempts, only three were successful.

● The initial 1961 flight of Alan Shepard – America’s first astronaut – lasted only 15 minutes and 22 seconds.

● Virgil “Gus” Grissom made the second manned space flight, but his Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, sank on splashdown and Grissom was safely recovered. The Gemini capsule for his second flight was nicknamed “Molly Brown” after “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Sadly, Gus died in the Apollo 1 fire.

● The first Space Shuttle orbiter was scheduled to be named Constitution by NASA. However, after President Ford received 100,000 letters from Star Trek fans, the name was changed to Enterprise.

● There were six Apollo missions that landed men on the moon: 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Apollo 13 was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded and the astronauts were forced to return via the lunar module.

● Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left a plaque on the moon: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

What’s the Incentive for the Further Exploration of Titan?

CHESLEY BONESTELL Saturn Viewed from Titan, c. 1952
Chesley Bonestell’s oil on board Saturn Viewed from Titan, circa 1952, realized $77,675 at a May 2010 Heritage auction. Bonestell’s paintings are credited with helping to inspire the U.S. space program.

By Jim O’Neal

In addition to mighty Jupiter, there are three outer planets: Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. Astronomers generally call them gas giants, though they consist mostly of liquid and have solid cores.

The four have a lot in common including numerous moons, deep stormy atmospheres and rings that consist of rock or ice flakes. Today, we take a brief look at one of them, Saturn, since we’ve gained a lot of valuable scientific information about it in the past 10-plus years.

For starters, it is the second-largest planet (after Jupiter) and about 10 times the size of Earth’s diameter. It shines like a bright yellow star and its most famous feature is a magnificent ring system that is easily seen with a common telescope.

What makes Saturn even more interesting is information gathered from the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2004. On Jan. 14, 2005, a probe from Cassini landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The Huygens probe marked mankind’s first landing on a body in the Outer Solar System.

The mission was to monitor Titan’s atmosphere and surface.

Titan turns out to be one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve found to date, with a thick atmosphere and organic, rich chemistry. Cassini has revealed that Titan’s surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane (the main component of natural gas). It appears volcano-like with perhaps liquid water under an ice shell playing the role of lava.

It is analogous to a frozen version of Earth … before our cyanobacteria began pumping oxygen into our atmosphere. Scientists speculate there may be a huge liquid ocean beneath the surface. All we would need then would be to find there a few sunken Spanish galleons loaded with gold coins to spark a new numismatic frenzy!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

It’s Been 43 Years Since a Human has Been on the Moon

Apollo 11 Flown American Flag on a Crew-Signed Presentation Certificate
This Apollo 11-flown U.S. flag on a crew-signed presentation certificate sold for $71,875 at a November 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On July 16, 1969, three astronauts lay strapped on their backs in their space module atop a massive Saturn V rocket. Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were going on a trip into the Florida sky headed for a landing on the moon.

The Apollo space program had begun just eight years earlier in April 1961. On April 12, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first person into space and to orbit the Earth. That stirred President Kennedy’s competitive juices.

After Gagarin’s 90-minute orbit, JFK wrote to VP Lyndon Johnson – chairman of the National Space Council – asking: “Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a lab into space, or a trip around the moon … or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man?”

At the time, the American space program was not far behind – as Alan Shepard had traveled into space on May 5, 1961 – but lagged in the technology to reach the moon.

The Russians had already succeeded in launching three hard-landing rockets (unmanned spacecraft shot up with a goal of simply hitting the moon) and America was two years away from that.

So after Shepard’s feat, JFK issued his famous challenge while addressing Congress. “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

Back in Florida, Apollo 11 – with a mighty roar – lifted off into space to meet that challenge. Only 11 minutes after liftoff, it was in orbit with the three astronauts feeling the early stages of weightlessness.

Thirty-eight-year-old Neil Armstrong was the commander and would be accompanied by Aldrin on the moonwalk after the lunar module Eagle separated from the command module Columbia.

Michael Collins would not touch the moon’s surface, as he was responsible for making sure the Eagle launched and then re-docked for the journey back to Earth.

While only eight years had passed since JFK’s challenge, they had been difficult, turbulent ones. JFK was dead from an assassin’s bullet, as were brother Bobby and MLK Jr.

Riots in major cities and the Vietnam War had ripped at the nation’s fabric. The counterculture of drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll was still in full throttle. (We were in San Jose and mildly surprised by the daily chaos just 45 miles up Highway 101 in San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park were surreal.)

As millions of Americans watched Apollo 11 with awe and admiration, others felt it was a giant, expensive boondoggle designed to divert attention from widespread racial tensions and the 10 million people living below the poverty line.

Had America lost its mojo or were we entering a new, better phase? The jury was divided.

But nothing had distracted NASA except for a tragedy in 1967 when three astronauts on Apollo 1 died in a launch-pad fire. But they persevered and by July 1969 had made four successful manned flights, put spacecraft into orbit around the moon and tested the lunar module.

The Russian program unraveled when a chief scientist died and their highly secret N1 rockets exploded at least four times. Soviet politicians privately ceded the race to America and could only watch from the sidelines.

It took Apollo 11 three days to reach the moon and on July 19 the Columbia entered lunar orbit. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the Eagle and landed it on the moon.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” It was July 20, 1969.

There were four more manned missions to the moon. The last was in December 1972. Then the program was scrapped.

It has been 43 years since a human has been on the moon and we now rely on Ridley Scott (The Martian) and other filmmakers to fill the gap as we struggle with overpopulation, geopolitics and terrorism and a resurgence of racial tension.

Progress is difficult.

P.S. A surprising number of people (6 percent to 20 percent by annual polling) believe the whole moon thing was a hoax, anyway.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Edgar Mitchell Was An American Space Hero

lfOTM9ZQSHThe Intelligent Collector learned today that Edgar Mitchell, the sixth of 12 American astronauts to walk on the moon, died Thursday. Editor Hector Cantu interviewed Mitchell for our Spring 2008 issue, with excerpts re-published here to recognize and honor an American hero:

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As lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to walk on the moon. With Alan Shepard, he holds the record for the longest time on the surface for missions without the Lunar Rover – nine hours and 17 minutes. The 1971 mission, the third Apollo mission to land on the moon, had numerous other accomplishments: the first mission focused on lunar science, longest distance traversed on foot on the lunar surface, and the largest payload returned from the moon, 99 pounds. Mitchell remained with NASA until he retired from the Navy in 1972.

Q: How did walking on the moon change your life?
Mitchell: Walking on the moon did not, but seeing Earth from deep space in its place in the larger picture of the cosmos did. I realized and experienced at a visceral level that the molecules making up my body, the spacecraft, Earth and everything in and on it were made in an ancient generation of stars … and that everything is interconnected. It was a powerful epiphany that has caused quite a different approach to living for me.

Q: You returned from space more than 35 years ago. Are we as humans where you thought we’d be 35 years later, as far as exploring space and landing on other planets?
Mitchell: When getting my doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1960s, I thought [humans] might be ready for a trip to Mars by 1982. Clearly, that did not happen.

Q: What did you collect as a kid?
Mitchell: I was not a collector. My hobby was building model aircraft when I wasn’t working. [Today, I have a] collection of space flight memorabilia from my astronaut days, plus mementos from my travels to many parts of the globe during the past 40 years.

Q: What’s the most valuable item you had when you were growing up?
Mitchell: My pony. Following that, the calves that I raised, shown at the county fairs and sold at auction as a 4H Club member. We were a farm and ranching family.

Q: What kind of personal items did NASA allow you to take into space?
Mitchell: Any small, lightweight personal items for the family and friends like medallions, flags, rings, pins, broaches. For example, I carried for Gen. Omar Bradley his five-star collar insignia from World War II. And we carried a significant number of state and national flags for distribution to dignitaries and government officials.

Q: Explain the comments you’ve made about UFOs. What do you believe?
Mitchell: My own investigations, plus briefings by competent authorities at appropriate levels, allow me to know that we have been visited by alien beings. I have not been reticent to say that in appropriate circumstances.

Q: What is your passion these days?
Mitchell: My life is now about creating a sustainable future on Earth for my progeny and all life. We as a species are not currently being proper caretakers for planet Earth and will surely come to regret our short-sightedness in the near future, when it may be too late.

There Might be a Reason We Haven’t Met Little Green Men

Al Feldstein Weird Fantasy #16 Cover Original Art (EC 1952)
Alien life forms as envisioned by Al Feldstein for the 1952 cover of Weird Fantasy #16. This original cover art realized $50,787 at a May 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

I was discussing with friends the famous Fermi paradox, which raises the question: Why haven’t we detected signs of alien life, despite high estimates of probability – such as observations by the Kepler telescope of planets in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star and calculations of hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy that might support life?

Now, astrobiologists from Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Earth Sciences say they have the best answer: Because life on other planets would likely be brief and would become extinct quickly from runaway heating or cooling.

“The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens,” said Aditya Chopra, lead author of a paper published in Astrobiology. In fact, “early life is fragile, so we believe it rarely evolves quickly enough to survive. Most early planetary environments are unstable. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable.”

For example, about 4 billion years ago, Earth, Venus and Mars may have all been habitable. However, a billion years after formation, Venus turned into a hothouse and Mars froze into an icebox. Early microbial life on Venus and Mars, if there was any, failed to stabilize the rapidly changing environment, while life on Earth played a leading role in stabilizing the planet’s climate.

The authors name this near-universal early extinction the “Gaian Bottleneck,” which also leads to the prediction that the vast majority of fossils in the universe (found in future meteorites, for example) will be from extinct microbial life, not from multicellular species such as dinosaurs or humanoids that take billions of years to evolve.

So far, that is the case.

The aliens are silent because they’re dead.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

How an ‘Oops’ Turned Into a Popular Magazine Feature

Charles Lindbergh Signed Photograph
This signed Charles Lindbergh photograph realized $3,883 at a September 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1928, Time magazine was chagrined when they realized they had left Charles Lindbergh off the cover after he made his historic transatlantic flight.

So the editors came up with a novel provision and literally created a new feature: “Man of the Year.” Naturally, the first was Lindy, and it started an exciting new trend that also boosted sales.

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In 1920, The New York Times wrote a scathing editorial that scoffed at the idea of rockets being launched into space. They opined that “they would need something better than a vacuum against which to act.”

Forty-nine years later, after Apollo 11’s 1969 launch, the Times published a retraction. “It is now definitely established a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere.” The Times regretted the error.

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On Jan. 1, 1902, Michigan beat Stanford 49-0 in what would later become the Rose Bowl. This first game was called the “East-West” and Stanford was so beat up (physically) that they quit with eight minutes left to play.

The attendance was so poor (8,500) the promoters dropped football for the next 14 years. They switched to polo, chariot races, ostrich races and even an elephant-camel race.

The first official Rose Bowl was 1923.

That first Michigan team, dubbed the “Point a Minute Team,” won all 10 games with combined scores of 555-0.

I suspect this may have included the first serious college recruiting efforts. (Do you think?)

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In 1973, a Florida shipbuilder by the name of George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million. Four years later, he paid right fielder Dave Winfield $20 million for one season.

Last year, the team franchise was valued at $3.2 billion – second only to the Dallas Cowboys at $4+ billion.

In his initial press conference, Steinbrenner promised he would not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the team. (However, he did not specify how long this would last. My guess is sundown on day two.)

In Texas, that’s called the Golden Rule – “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].