Space Shuttle Memories: Becoming An Advocate

July 21, 2011

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

In the fall of 1995, I left NASA. I was still working in the aerospace industry, just not the space portion. I continued to monitor the happenings at NASA and always prayed for the best for everyone working the projects. From my new position outside looking in, I continued my love affair with space. I tried to watch every launch and every landing. I kept in touch with my friends in Houston and had them send me mission patches to add to my collection.

I have always advocated for the space program, not just because of the adventure, but because of the benefits that naturally come from exploration. We have had great advances in material science, medicine and even heat transfer from our experiences in space. The space program is expensive, but it produces products and knowledge that benefit many people and disciplines. Space travel can grab the attention of children and adults, sometimes the whole nation or the whole world at one time. Unfortunately it can also become routine. That is when budgets are cut and people stop watching, reading or caring. That is what happened in January of 2003.

On January 16, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the one hundred and thirteenth mission (STS-103). I watched the launch, but pretty much ignored the rest of the mission. My brother in law called to ask me if I was watching the landing, that is when I turned on the news and knew immediately that another shuttle and another crew had been lost. When I had worked at NASA the single most dangerous part of all missions was launch. That is when a controlled explosion was used to put the vehicle into orbit. Coming down was easy, slow down and let gravity suck you in, aim for the runway and land. I had been away from the program for more than seven years and did not personally know any of the astronauts lost, but it was still like loosing members of my family.

It was shortly after the return to flight of STS-114 in July of 2005 that I decided how I was going to support the space program from a distance. One of my co-workers’ wife is a teacher at a local middle school. Part of there curriculum includes a journalism segment where the student right about famous events in history; Columbus reaching the Antilles, Washington winning the battle of Yorktown, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the first landing on the moon. I established a K-12 program where I go and talk to the students over a full day of classes. I try to explain the inch by inch method of achieving a goal, we did not just suddenly land on the moon, a lot of work had to be done to get there. More important, we continue that progress today, with potential for each of those young people to have a great affect on the history of humanity.

Every year I speak with these kids and have their attention throughout the day. Some of it is that I am not their normal teacher, some is the fear of misbehaving while their teachers are watching, but some of it is actual interest. Space is cool in every generation. I tell them silly stories about astronauts, I tell them the serious nature and danger of space flight by discussing candidly the Challenger and Columbia accidents. I also do a demonstration of size. I have cardboard constructions of the Mercury and Gemini capsules. I put one volunteer in the mercury mock up, it is very tight. I then put two in the Gemini mock up, also a tight fit. I give one a rope and open the “door” and have them step out. This is to demonstrate how hard it would have been for the craft bound astronaut to get a disabled space walker back into the craft.

So as not to bore them, I break into some video and artifact demonstrations with plenty of time to ask questions and look at all of the space stuff I have collected over the years. Most often the kids ask about the space ships. How big they were (I have a poster for that), how cramped they were (more than just Mercury and Gemini), what the Soviets had. For space within the craft, I showed the Mercury by putting a cone around a single chair and the Gemini by putting a cone around two chairs close together. The Apollo could be shown by having a cone around three chairs close together (there is space behind the chairs for more room). The Soyuz could be shown by having three chairs in a sphere. They had room overhead and beneath the chairs making it a little roomier than the Apollo. The Apollo usually had a Lunar Lander attached when housing three astronauts so there was additional space there. All of these would be considered sub-compact cars when compared with the luxury of the Space Shuttle.

The Space Shuttle has two decks with ample space around the chairs when they are installed. Only the commander and pilot seats are permanently attached. The decks are tall enough to stand up in and when in orbit, you can float into every cubit inch of that volume. When you add a Space Lab module in the payload bay, it is pretty much a resort hotel in space. The space station is even bigger, with private quarters for crew members to sleep and get away when necessary.

I will continue my advocacy for the space program. I am disappointed that the decision has been made to retire the Space Shuttle before a new vehicle is ready. This is the same mistake made in the transition from Apollo to Shuttle. I do not like being dependent on other countries to keep our Space Station fully crewed. I never want to allow another country to overtake the United States in space technology. As the Shuttle program comes to an end, I do feel sadness and even disappointment. I felt this same way when the Apollo program ended. But I am also optimistic. The Space Shuttle moved us forward in so many areas, from Avionics to Medicine to Astronomy. I can only dream about what we will do next. For now, I await with anticipation the next space craft to launch our imagination.

 

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Space Shuttle Memories: Leaving NASA

July 20, 2011

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

Many things had changed by 1994. The shuttle program was marching along with successful flights following successful flights. I had gotten married and had two children and a house. Things were looking good, but at work not really moving up. Every so often I would regret my decision to work on the STSOC contract rather than join NASA directly. Since I was still working at the same NASA site I had cooped with, I visited with the people I had worked with and looked at job options. The political climate was changing, and budget cuts were driving more “efficiency” at NASA. That meant that the contractors, like Rockwell and Boeing, had to lay people off without reducing the work that had to be accomplished.

I was a simulation engineer in a group that had already been reduced down to ten people. All of the lower performers had already been let go, we were down to the core of people who could do the job well. We were tasked with reducing our head count by 10%. I was the only white male left in the group, and even if I had been obviously better qualified than other members of the team (I was not), the corporate members of the STSOC team had been sued multiple times for racial and sexual discrimination practices in hiring and employment. I went searching for a new job.

I found one only about forty feet from my desk. The Mechanical Engineer for OV-95 (the STS of the SAIL) and OV-63 (the GTS of the SAIL) was retiring. I took his place. Each Orbiter Vehicle had a Mechanical Engineer and an Electrical Engineer assigned to plan, and carry out modifications to thier space craft. The duties were separated by the tools needed to perform the task. If the task required standard tools such as a wrench or screw driver it was a mechanical job. If the task required a specialized tool such as a pin extractor or a soldering iron, it was an electrical job. That meant installation, airflow and power were my concern, wire bundles and computer connectors were the electrical engineer. I sat next to and worked with the electrical engineer every day. He was an older man who had been hired as an electrical technician when the assembly of the SAIL had started in 1976. My boss had moved to Houston to supervise that construction. As THE Mechanical Engineer, I was protected from down sizing.

The fiscal year defined as 1995 (October 1994 to September 1995) was one of the fasted paced years of my life. When I had been a simulation engineer, I had noted that after each flight there had been a bevy of activity in the rig on off hours, often preempting testing and getting me off a second shift or two. In the hardware team, we had bursts of around the clock activity to get those modifications completed. If there was not testing, large amounts of money was considered lost. There were only six missions during that fiscal year, more I do not think I could have handled. We swapped out the General Purpose Computers, added the first Global Positioning Satellite receiver and planned the installation of new color displays. The shuttle was moving from the cutting edge of the 1970’s to the tried and true technology of the 1980s.

Seeing that the attitude at NASA was changing from exploring the new frontier with bravado, or proving out the newest technology as fearless test pilots, to basically repeating the same tasks with the same tools told me that my part of the space program was at an end. It would take 15 more years before the shuttle program did actually grind to a halt, but I did not want to be the one turning out the lights when everyone else was gone. In October of 1995, I left NASA, I left Houston, I left Texas. I have always looked back with a sense of pride for what I did accomplish, but never with regret. I now stand outside of the space program and what I see is still grand. I will not say that the experience did not live up to my expectations, it was different. Many things were not as glamorous as imagined, but the humanity that makes up the space program, both here in the United States and in the World in general, is inspiring.

 

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Space Shuttle Memories – Engineer at NASA

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

The year 1986 was very eventful for me. I was going to graduate from the University of Texas with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. I had more that a year of experience from working three tours as a coop at NASA and my prospects could not look brighter. Starting in January, things got interesting. I had only had one interview when the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost and all shuttle missions were grounded. I had several interviews cancelled as support contracts for the space effort were delayed. Then the congress started pushing back the military build up that President Reagan had been driving, so more interviews got cancelled as aircraft orders dwindled. Things were looking bleak from the employment point of view.

I had two job offers when I graduated; one from my coop division at NASA and one working for what was then Rockwell Space Operations Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of North American Space Craft Corporation. Both jobs would support the Space Shuttle, with the NASA job also supporting the Space Station. The other job paid more and also offered more opportunities. For better or for worse, I chose to work AT NASA not FOR NASA.

I was working on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC, pronounced STEE-sock). STSOC was manned with people from many companies, the biggest partners being Rockwell, Bendix and Unisys. I worked supporting the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL). While I was there, the SAIL consisted of two engineering articles, the Shuttle Test Station (STS) and the Guidance Test Station (GTS). The STS was a full mock up of the shuttle (less wings and engines) with every piece of electronics, cabling and hardware in place. The GTS was only a cockpit. We simulated or stimulated every function of the Shuttle. Every “vehicle” that had a set of General Purpose Computers (GPCs) was given an orbiter designation. The Challenger was OV-099, Columbia was OV102, the STS was OV-95 and the GTS was OV-63. Many of the OV designations were planned but never built. The challenger was never intended to be a flight vehicle, but the simple addition of engines allowed NASA to have one more flying ship to complete their task.

My arrival back at the Johnson Space center on the opposite side of the table of the NASA personnel who I had worked with the year before, also marked the return to the original numbering scheme of shuttle launches. I started working on STS-26. I was in the Simulation group responsible for the math models that simulated or stimulated the various avionics that control the Shuttle. We could provide electrical inputs that would simulate what the avionics would experience in flight, or we could simulate the entire piece of equipment. There were many math models, from main engine thrust, to aerodynamics, to the Remote Manipulator System, to the Inertial Measurement Units. I worked on most of these models throughout my carrier. The SAIL was used to verify the software loads for each mission. We provided a real time simulation of all shuttle functions. Astronauts, usually not the ones assigned to the mission as they were busy with other training, would fly our rig and evaluate the operations. In this way I met even more of the astronauts and became friends with some.

The SAIL worked two 8 hour shifts every week day, with graveyard and weekends for maintenance to fix, clean and install equipment. During missions, we were on call around the clock, receiving downlink data during launch and landing to be an extra set of eyes on the performance of the vehicle. As a simulation engineer, I had to work on the models and support the testing. Our work area was not in the control center, it was in the bowels of the computing lab. We monitored strip chart recorders to make sure both the shuttle software and our simulation were working properly. My time as a simulation engineer in the SAIL encompassed the missions STS-26 through STS-68 (the 65th flight).

When I was young, I had dreamed about flying in space and all the wonderful places we would explore. That dreaming seemed to end when NASA moved its focus from the Moon to near Earth orbit. During my time working what could be described as the first half of the shuttle program, I was part of a re-expansion of the exploration mission. There were missions to Venus, Jupiter, and around the Sun. There were also the deployment of some of the great observatories; the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) and the Broad Band X-Ray Telescope (BBXRT). Although it was a job, it was still an adventure.

 

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Space Shuttle Memories – Design Projects

July 19, 2011

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

My third and final coop tour was with a different group within the same division at NASA. I moved to a hardware group to get some experience actually designing things. I shared an office with several other engineers. One of these engineers had the duty to make sure each astronaut had a fully functioning calculator for each trip. They used Hewlett Packard 41C calculators, the best on the market at that time. He made sure each one had fresh batteries and extra batteries in the carrying case. It just so happened that I had an HP41C for my college work. Unethical thoughts raced through my mind as I looked at that box of perfectly good batteries that could never be used for another space flight. Either too bad for me, or luckily for me, the calculators used by the astronauts were specially made for extra long life batteries, batteries that would not fit in my “normal” calculator.

I was allowed to work on many small projects. On mission STS-51B (the third flight of 1985 after STS-51C and STS-51D) with the Space Lab as the payload, there was a concern about noise. This Space Lab did not have additional space for the astronauts to move around in and there was a recording system inside the shuttle that had loud fans for cooling. Sound absorbing foam was put around the cabinet hold the recorder, but it’s location at the passage between the upper and lower decks meant that there was nothing on one panel. I worked on a foam insert for that panel that would not interfere with the passage between the decks. I got to watch them freeze my foam in liquid nitrogen so that it could be milled like a piece of wood. I wrote the instructions for installing before flight and removal after flight. Even though only a few people knew what I had done, I had a real feeling of accomplishment.

I also made molds to mass produce sensors for measuring the volume of blood in the astronaut’s legs. The theory was that during launch, a certain about of blood rushed to the lower extremities, the legs. If the change of volume of the leg were measured, the danger to that astronaut could be gauged. It was a simple system with a single transmitter taped to one side of the leg and two receivers on the other side. Sound waves could accurately measure the distance and using the assumption that the leg was a cylinder, the volume change could be measured. Up until I was asked to make the molds, these sensors were assembled at the University of Kentucky. As the Astronaut corps grew and the need for many more sensors came about, the professor at UK opted out of the building business. Again, my engineering curiosity was satisfied as I watched a ceramic die eat away at an aluminum block in an electrically charged oil bath.

Another project involved making a laundry basket to put all of the loose articles in until it was time to clean up. It was a simple net with a tension gap (two tight ropes that could be pushed apart to get your hand in that would snap back to closed when you pull your hand out). It only flew once. It seems that a lot of things were put into it during the flight rather than being put away. So much so, that there was a lot of work to do before re-entry to get all of it stored properly. Astronauts are just like the rest of us kids, we don’t want to clean up when there is fun stuff to do.

The neatest part of this last activity was that I got to work closely with Astronaut Judy Resnik. I really liked working with Dr. Resnik. She was always helpful in our efforts, recognizing that I was still a student, but that I did have some experience that I could leverage into completing tasks and working independently. I was saddened when she was lost on STS-51L, commonly known as the Challenger Disaster. I knew other members of that mission as well. Their loss was a loss for the entire space program.

I was in school when the Challenger was lost. I had an orbital mechanics professor who was rather abrupt, as his German upbringing would make him. He would come into class, set his brief case on top of the pile of homework we had stacked on the desk and start teaching. Just before the bell, he would open that brief case, put our graded homework on the other corner of the desk and put our newest effort in his brief case. If you were not early, you homework was not graded. On the morning of January 28, 1986, the professor walked in without his brief case and just stood in front of the desk. After a few moments, showing emotion we did not think he had, he stated “Seven people I consider friends have just died.” Then he walked out and we all went looking for a television to figure out what had happened. The University of Texas had a contract with NASA to validate all of the orbital mechanics calculation for each flight, and our professor was the leader of that project. He had met and worked with every astronaut who had ever flown in space. He was right, we had lost seven friends.

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Space Shuttle Memories – Back at NASA

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

I returned to NASA for a second Coop tour to the same group I had originally worked with. This time I focused on a satellite retrieval mission, STS-51A. While I was at school, NASA had changed the numbering system for Space Shuttle Missions. They changed right after STS-9, which could have suggested that they did not want double digits, but the new system used double digits plus letters. The coops joked that it was to avoid the unlucky number 13. In fact we hung up a sign on building 13 reading 41C, the new designation for the original mission 13. NASA announced that the numbering change was to remove the question of order and accommodate a second launch site. The numbering system used the last digit of the year, the launch site number, and a letter giving the sequence for that year. Site #1 was Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida. Site #2 was Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This system does not really hold up well. Using the last digit of the year suggests that you only plan on flying (or using this numbering system) for ten years. There was never a Space Shuttle mission launched from California. The order was merely shifted from a numeric to an alphabetic sequence.

So we had a new numbering system, and we were trying to get as many missions flown per year as possible. I was working on the planned first flight of 1985. The idea of this mission was retrieve two satellites that had failed to reach orbit. This was a great thrill. I was working side by side with old time Space Engineers and Astronauts. We designed adapters to grab the satellites and secure them in the shuttle bay to bring them back to Earth. Here is a summary of the planned events. An Astronaut (Joe Allen or Dale Gardener) would fly out to the satellite on the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), a jet pack, with a probe, called the stinger. The stinger was basically a toggle bolt that would be put up into the failed rocket nozzle and clamped on so that the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (RMS), the arm, could grab it. After it was grabbed by the arm, the astronaut would break loose of the stinger and return to help put a bridge over the top of the satellite to give another hand hold for the arm. Once the bridge was on, the arm would change locations to hold the satellite from the top while astronauts would put an adapter on the bottom then the whole thing would be put into the payload bay. The activity would be repeated for the second satellite.

Let’s go back to the start of the activity. An astronaut would fly up to the satellite and put a probe into the rocket nozzle. This is the business end of a rocket that failed to ignite when commanded to do so, but could still be “live”. An astronaut’s space suit is designed to keep air in and enough of the hostile environment of space out long enough for him or her to perform some activity outside the relative safety of their ship, it is not designed to take a direct blast of a rocket.

The team designed all of the hardware needed. I provided clearance drawings to make sure all of the equipment would fit and the tasks could be performed. I also helped develop some of the training material. My name is now part of the NASA permanent record as Dale commented during training (I paraphrase) “there isn’t as much room as Martin’s drawings showed.”

Not all went as planned. I was back in school by the time the launch occurred. Another Coop finished the task and gathered some mementoes for me that I have framed and hanging in my man room. I watched as Joe caught the first satellite as planned, but then things went poorly. There was an appendage on the satellite that we had failed to account for that prevented the use of the bridge. This meant that Joe had to hold the satellite while Dale put on the adapter. Joe is possibly the smallest male astronaut (small in stature, not in character). In space you can move immense objects, it is just a matter of overcoming momentum very slowly. Joe had to hold on as Dale tightened bolt after bolt so that the satellite could be secured in the payload bay. It was amazing to watch and more amazing that they succeeded. It went so well that NASA chose to capture the second satellite even knowing that the adapter would have to be put on manually again.

It was an honor to be part of that mission. The crew and other members of the team were wonderful to work with. We all looked at the task and new we could do it, from the Ph.D. to the Navy Captain to the coop. We even designed t-shirts for the team, a catcher’s mitt extended from the space shuttle payload bay catching a satellite. This was also my first experience with quasi-secrecy. Although the mission was not classified, we did not want the whole world to know every detail of our efforts. Some of my drawings ended up in Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine. Outer space blue covered the header line with my name, the date and my NASA division, but it was definitely my drawings. In the article, details of our discussion were also revealed. This really annoyed the team leader, but nothing could be done about it.

Articles in this series:

Space Shuttle Memories – A Dream Realized

July 18, 2011

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

My dream of working on the Space program finally came true when I was given the opportunity to participate in the Cooperative Engineering program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This opportunity came as I sat in the Cooperative Engineering Office at the University of Texas. I went to work in the Man Machine Interface Division. I was there just after the launch of the first American woman, Dr. Sally Ride, into space on STS-7.

The Man-Machine Interface Division worked on the human factors considerations of space flight. We used a computer program called Panel Layout and Integrated Design (PLAID). This software package allowed cutting edge depiction of hardware by drawing hidden line removed perspective models. This was black lines on white paper. The worst graphics on computer games today would put that package to shame. We typed in all of the vertices and arc data and previewed the drawings on a Techtronics display, green lines that required a button push to clear the screen when you wanted to draw the next picture. We provided drawings for the astronauts to see what would be in the payload bay and what they could observe. These drawings were used for training and to help managers and customers visualize what was going to happen during the mission. We also supported the Space Station proposals that were presented during the Reagan years.

I primarily worked on STS-8, which at the time was cutting edge because it was the launch of the first African American into space. Today, that seems odd, since we as a culture have moved so far away from physical looks rather than ability defining the opportunities presented. Guion Bluford is one of the nicest, most optimistic and most encouraging people I have ever met. During this time, I met several astronauts as well as people who had been involved in many of the earlier manned flights.

The next mission was STS-9. The primary payload was the Spacelab, a laboratory in the payload bay. Since not the activities would be in the lab, there was little need for training pictures of the payload bay. This is when we really got involved in the Space Station concept effort. We worked on the interior designs of the various modules as well as overall structure. The module layouts were to validate that all of the equipment and personnel would fit and function. The overall structure pictures were for training, what would the astronauts see as they approach the station during assembly. Of course those initial concepts are just a memory of or hint of what is in the final designs that have been assembled. I went back to school and dreamed of making a huge impact on the space program and bragging to my class mates about how cool my Co-op experience had been.

Articles in this series:

Space Shuttle Memories – A Boy’s Dream

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Editor’s note: a few weeks ago, Martin Kelly and I were discussing the end of the space shuttle program.  Both of us have a fascination with space exploration, although his knowledge of the topic makes mine seem miniscule in comparison.  During the discussion, it was suggested (I forget by whom) that he write a series of articles about his memories of the space shuttle and his own experiences working alongside NASA personnel – to run during the days of the final mission.  I now turn the floor over to Martin.  – Kosmo.

The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

Although I was old enough to watch, I do not remember the early missions of NASA. I was born in 1964, which put me after the Mercury and Gemini missions. My first solid memory of the United States Space Program was being woken up by my parents to watch the first moon landing. It was a grainy black and white picture and I was mesmerized. I stayed up watching long after my brothers and sister went back to bed and even after my mother and father fell back to sleep. It was June of 1969, I was almost five years old, and I was sure that I was going to be an astronaut.

I watched every broadcast from NASA, every special on PBS and read every magazine and newspaper article I could find. I credit the space program with both my ability to read and my continuing passion for reading. I was fascinated that the moon was mostly nickel and wanted to know what that metal could be used for. I wanted to know how the astronauts trained. I wanted to see the next mission, but mostly I wanted to know what we would do next.

When I say “we” I mean the United States of America along with a few trusted allies; the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This was the 1970’s, the cold war and Vietnam. The Soviet Union was the enemy at every level, including space, the only exception being Pavel Chekov on Star Trek, and I was not too sure about him either. The Apollo-Soyuz project was a necessary evil, but was a win for us as the Astronauts piloted their vehicle with the adaptor module attached to dock with the Soyuz, the Soviet Cosmonauts could not get it done. This effort along with Skylab seemed to be a pull back from the great reach to the moon, and in a way it was.

Werner von Braun had a space travel dream that he brought with him from Germany. He wanted a space station to launch other missions to the moon, mars and even further. That plan would save significant costs in energy by starting from Earth orbit rather than from sea level. The plan was temporarily bypassed to get to the moon before the Soviets. Now that the race was won, the old school space men tried to drive back to that plan. The problem is that with the race won, the funding was reduced. At the same time the von Braun crowd were gathering the leftovers of the Apollo program to get the first American Space Station in place, the politicians were throwing every penny they could find into a giant leap in technology that would become the Space Shuttle.

Many people believed at the time and still believe today that the Shuttle was supposed to save the Skylab. Even if the Shuttle had launched in time to rendezvous with the Skylab, there was never any adapter designed or funded that would have allowed attachment to or boost of the Skylab. The Shuttle program was separate from and competing for funding with the Skylab program. I watched all of this haggling through high school. It helped to shape my political values and drove my continued interest in space. If it were not for the un-manned NASA activities during the same time period (Pioneer, Voyager and Viking) I could have become disheartened with the political intrigue and apparent lack of vision in the U.S. space program. The problem that I saw was that there was no continuation plan as the Apollo program shut down.

I was almost out of high school and planning a career as an astronomer when the first space shuttle launch occurred. I had watched the drop tests using the Space Shuttle Enterprise, which had no engines and was lifted and dropped by a modified Boeing 474 jumbo jet. I still do not understand why Star Trek groupies pushed so hard to name that vehicle Enterprise since it would never fly in space, but they did and they succeeded. The drop tests were interesting from an engineering point of view, but seeing the flame and watching the Columbia launch into space was just breathtaking. Many of my readers may not understand just how much better television quality is now compared to the early 1980’s but that was still dramatically better than what was available twelve years earlier when man first stepped on the moon.

The first Shuttle launch was a first in many ways. The biggest first was that a vehicle was launched with men on board with out completing an unmanned test. When John Young and Robert Crippen climbed on board, they were indeed sitting on top of a bomb on national, or rather world wide, television. This could have been the single bravest act ever captured on film. The mission was only two days, but it was considered a complete success. The Space Shuttle was the most complex machine ever built and it worked the first time.

The engineering part of my brain really enjoyed the experience of first flight. The adventurer in me protested that we were limiting ourselves to near Earth orbit activities. Where was the return to the Moon, manned flight to Mars, the colonization of the Moon? It seemed that all our frontier spirit had been dropped for technological gadgetry. Entering college, I was still looking at Astronomy as my field of choice, but the scholarship money was in engineering. The opportunities to become an Astronaut were actually expanding as NASA grew the corps. For me, the opportunities were limited. My eyesight was such that the rules for becoming an Astronaut would have to be really relaxed for me to be selected.

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