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Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

“Conquering fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done in a lot of different places.

– Scott Carpenter, May 1st 1925 – October 10, 2013-

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com


One of only two remaining Mercury Program Astronauts from the 60’s, Scott Carpenter, sadly passed beyond the veil on Thursday October 10th 2013 following a stroke in September. He was 88 years of age. Carpenter was one of the earliest pioneers in the infancy of the Space Age. He was the 2nd American to cross the threshold into orbital space on his MA-7 “Aurora 7” spaceflight and the 6th man overall.  He also held the unique distinction of being not only an astronaut but an aquanaut following his NASA career in the US Navy’s various Sea Lab projects.

For each last step, there is a first step. Born in Boulder, Colorado, USA on May 1st 1925, Malcolm Scott Carpenter was impressed by planes at the age of 5 when his father took him to his first airshow. His love of flight grew as he continued to build and fly model balsa wood plane kits as a boy. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado, before entering flight school with the US Navy at Pensacola Florida and Corpus Christi Texas. After the Korean War where he flew aerial anti-submarine surveillance and patrols, Carpenter enrolled at Patuxent River’s Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Following this, he was assigned as an Air Intelligence Officer on the USS Hornet. During this time he received special orders to report to Washington DC for an unnamed meeting. That meeting led to his selection in Project Mercury on April 9, 1959, which was instituted as the newly formed NASA’s first step to catch up to the Soviets who had taken an early lead in the rapidly escalating Space Race.

What followed is fabled history. The exhaustive raft of testing of 110 candidates down to what are now known as the “Original Seven” and Carpenter formed part of that elite fraternity of Mercury Astronauts. Their every move was recorded and lauded by the public at large as the nascent American Space Program took its initial steps forward. Due to his communications and navigation experience Carpenter was back-up on his good friend John Glenn’s orbital flight. Upon launch, as Glenn cleared the tower, Carpenter’s words of “Godspeed John Glenn” were recorded and have echoed through the years of spaceflight history. Carpenter repeated this goodwill message when Glenn went into orbit again aboard the Shuttle in 1998.

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald "Deke" K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Gordon Cooper. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald “Deke” K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s own flight dubbed “Aurora 7” launched and completed 3 orbits of the Earth. His mission; to prove a human could work in space. This was an important link in the chain of events which ultimately resulted in a manned landing on the moon just 7 short years later. For the first time he demonstrated humans could perform tasks, experiments, communications, navigation and eat solid food in space. Due to some technical faults, inadvertent errors during the mission, all of which Carpenter compensated for, Aurora 7 came home safely but overshot the target landing zone due to fuel mismanagement during the mission. He was found by rescuers almost 5 hours late, 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, coolly relaxing in the life raft alongside his spacecraft.  Ever the gentleman astronaut he even offered his rescuers food and water from his survival kit.

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn's fireflies... Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn’s fireflies…
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

As with many space explorers who are comfortable with the risk of space exploration, Carpenter had remarked that his mission realised a long held dream and that “This is something I would gladly give my life for.” In today’s modern world of Google Earth and armchair exploration, we should remember that back then it took a special kind of person to ride fire into the heavens to expand knowledge at risk of their own life. Unlike many of his Mercury astronaut peers who were recovered and debriefed after their space shots relatively quickly, Carpenter had time for introspection and reflection on the events and meaning of his experience on Aurora 7. Carpenter was also blessed with a curious and philosophical mind. Peering through the small periscope of Aurora 7 into the endless night outside, Carpenter remarked,

“From that view … you are a long way away. Everything you see gives you satisfaction of the expectation which involves curiosity. The most important driver in everything we did then was curiosity. Can we make machines do this? Can we put our bodies through this? It’s revelatory. Addictive. Beautiful beyond description. To have been in space is very satisfying of one’s curiosity. It’s instructive. It’s marvellous.”

At the time, some may have perceived those comments and qualities to be extraneous for a test pilot / astronaut, favouring engineering rigour and zero margin of error during those early missions.  Consequently, Carpenter never flew in space again. In later years his curiosity and philosophical mind have become more appreciated by his peers.

Following NASA, Carpenter’s curious mind to banish unknowns led him to meeting with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He saw many parallels, between deep space and the deep ocean, with transferable skills, technologies and parallel experiences. But more personally for him, like with his Mercury flight, working beneath the waves to satisfy his curiosity would remove any “unreasoned fears”, just as he had done above the clouds on Aurora 7. As part of the Navy’s Sea Lab II experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days in spring 1965 on the ocean floor of La Jolla as an aquanaut, proving humans could survive in this environment.  At one point during his time under the waves, he even spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5 orbiting far overhead. Old Mercury Seven buddy Gordon Cooper was no doubt happy to hear him. His work on the ocean floor has yielded cross benefits for NASA too as Carpenter became the Navy/NASA liaison for underwater zero gravity training – or neutral buoyancy, which has become mandatory for NASA EVA astronaut training. For this work, Carpenter was awarded the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal.

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

In his later years after retiring from the Navy, Carpenter had remained active on various projects utilising his aerospace and oceanic engineering expertise. From enhancing ocean resource usage, to consulting on underwater, diving and submersibles, and lecturing on the future of technology developments and impacts Scott Carpenter had continued to actively contribute to the quality of our lives here on Earth.  Not stopping there, he had also authored three books, one of which is his memoirs “For Spacious Skies” which he wrote with his daughter Kris Stoever. Carpenter remained a staunch advocate of manned spaceflight, and pushing our exploration to Mars.

“We need a goal other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest, support and imagination of people who pay for spaceflight…We need to go to Mars… Mars is interim, but for now that is a goal that NASA and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.”           

Looking back, Carpenter remarked that he and John Glenn bonded over common interests, mutual respect and being Air Force boys. Upon hearing of his great friend’s passing, the last remaining torchbearer of that age, Mercury astronaut John Glenn paid tribute with his friend’s simple words and remarked “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.” Carpenter himself has said that he believes he is very fortunate to have lived life during a time when there were so many unknowns to be solved during this century. That had pleased him immensely as he was always a very curious person and he has had a lot of satisfied curiosity in his time.

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right). Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right).
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Meeting Scott Carpenter at Spacefest V in May 2013 in what turned out to be his twilight months, was a special privilege and for myself, the highest honour, to meet a member of the Original Seven. Meeting Scott himself, who truly understood the wider more nuanced experiences of manned spaceflight, the continuing importance of manned exploration and the questing nature of humanity, was even more special to me. The hallmark of his character, curiosity, still burned brightly in his alert eyes even though his health was visibly failing. I briefly asked him about what lessons he has taken with him on his explorations of the ocean and space into his life. Scott merely whispered, as if sharing a secret;

“Be led by your curiosity. And never forget the fun of learning and discovery. It can take you places you have never dreamed”.

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself. Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself.
Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Words from a curious but ordinary superman that will stay with me forever. May fair winds be at your back Star Voyager for you have returned to the place where we all came from. You are stardust.  We thank you for your bravery, your discoveries, your humanity and your continuing inspiration.

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com









ISON – Rockets to Space

The ISON project was founded by Jamey Erickson, John Heimkes and Andy Kvamme in Minneapolis, MN with the ultimate goal of building & launching an amateur rocket that can break the barrier of space (62 miles) and inspire the next generation of dreamers to start exploring again.

We’ve started a Kickstarter campaign chock full of great rewards, but ned your help to get us across the finish line.

Check us out on Kickstarter – http://svns.in/qc

You can also follow us on our site or twitter.


Lets go to space!

ATK hosts #DM3 Tweetup for 5-segment motor ground test in Utah

ATK hosts #DM3 Tweetup for 5-segment motor ground test in Utah

Can’t make it to GRAIL? Attend the #DM3 tweetup for the  five-segment ground test at Promontory, Utah, September 8. Send a DM to @ATKRocketNews or @ATKOutreach on Twitter if you’re interested in tweeting live from the Utah desert. Click here to learn more about the ground test.

Help me bring space to my school!

I, as many of you, was changed by a #nasatweetup experience. Even if I wasn’t strictly a part of it, I got to spend a lot of time with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I learned a lot. In the end, the experience sort of pushed me to start a project that I’ve had in my head for a while: bringing space outreach to my school.

(For those of you who don’t know I’m 16 years old, and I’m currently in 10th grade, which would correspond to being a junior in the US with the school system here, in Costa Rica.)

So, being a space geek I always end up talking about space. All the time. In every setting. Even in school. There I’ve realized some people find space interesting, and would like to learn more about it all, they just don’t have the resources, or they don’t know where to start. So I decided I would take on the challenge to open some sort of club, where I can bring space closer to my peers and hopefully get some more future scientists! Now, that’s my motivation, but I guess I’ll need some help!

I tried hard to think of something to do, and I came up with building a hypothetic colony somewhere in the solar system, not in a sci-fi way, but something “realistic”. For example, to decide where to “settle” we research (and ideally find someone that can give us a talk -even if it’s just via skype, or something- on the subject), and so on, with how to get there, how the sun works, and thus what the colony has to have in order to protect our hypothetical astronauts, etc. And then, at the end of the year we would somehow present our project to the rest of the school

I thought this would be an interesting project because it would get people interested in space, but also engaged and having fun! But if any of you have any better ideas, or you can think of something easier to get going, I’d appreciate your suggestions. And the main reason I’m writing this: If you think you can help me with a talk on pretty much any subject I’d really appreciate it! I am lucky enough to know so many smart people that know a lot about space, and I wanna share that with others…

So, for any suggestions, or if you think you can and want to help, please comment here, or DM me!


“Rocket Science” and a Successful Falcon 9 Launch

“Rocket Science” and a Successful Falcon 9 Launch

SpaceX added a very positive event to a line of problems and mishaps that occurred recently, from the failed Russian three-satellite launch to more delays in Discovery STS-133 launch, originally set for the end of October, now scheduled for Febuary.

All in all, these recent events show us that even after a space access system has been working for 30 years and more than 60 years after launching the first satellite, getting complex systems or people to space is still, as the saying goes, rocket science.

Read the rest on 


Congratulations SpaceX!

Sputnik – The Launch of Space

Sputnik 1 was launched 53 years ago, on October 4th, 1957. In many ways, it can be seen as the launch of the space age. Being the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, it started the space race which led to Buzz and Neil landing on the moon in 1969 and contributed to the demise of Communism.

Most of the people writing nowadays about space weren’t alive yet in 1957, myself included. As such, we cannot fully grasp the feelings that swept through the United States of America knowing a USSR made object was flying invisible and uninterrupted above its skies. However, from the events which proceeded it is obvious, to put it mildly, that it was a very big deal.

In the full blog post I drew parallels with the first Wright brothers flight in 1903, discussed satellites in our daily lives and CubeSats. I also supplied some useful links regarding this historic day.

Read the full blog post here: http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/10/sputnik-launch-of-space.html

P.S. You can still add entries to my Poll regarding the Discovery launch at http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/09/next-space-shuttle-launch-informal-poll.html. Thanks!

Atlas 5 to Launch Air Force’s Space Plane Thursday

(CAPE CANAVERAL, FL) — A prototype of an advanced space plane by the U.S. Air Force will make it’s debut on Thursday as it heads into space a top an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

The 29-foot long, 11,000-pound Orbital Test Vehicle (X37-B) is a white winged craft with a similar style as the U.S. space shuttle.

“The OTV has the potential to revolutionize how the Air Force operates in space by making space operations more aircraft like and adding in the capability for returnable plug-and-play experiments,” David Hamilton, Director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities office stated last week.

In 1999, NASA begun the X37 project, however the space agency handed it over to DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in September 2004. DARPA is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

DARPA, originally formed in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, is an office designed to prevent technological surprises against the United States, such as the Soviets launch of Sputnik in 1957.

The OTV project partnership between the military, DARPA and NASA was announced in October 2006.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-501 remains set to lift-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 41 on April 22 at 7:52 pm EDT (2352 GMT). The launch window closes at 8:01 pm.

This reporter has learned from a source that the Boeing-built X-37B will launch into a low earth orbit of about 350 miles high, and could stay aloft for over 100 days. The craft has the ability to stay aloft for 270 days, the Air Force stated to this reporter.

During the classified year ahead, the robotic spacecraft will be maneuvered around and will test it’s “advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics and high temperature structures and seals”, Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young reported.

The orbital vehicle will be powered via Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries.

Once the Air Force brings the reusable space plane home, it will reenter just like the space shuttle and will aim for a touchdown on runway 12 at Vandenberg, AFB.

The belly of the vehicle is protected with a black thermal protection system designed by NASA. The X37-B has a wing span of 14 feet, 11 inches from tip to tip.

Lt. Col. Troy Giese, the OTV systems program director said, “Upon being given the command to return to Earth, the X-37B will automatically descend through the atmosphere and land on the designated runway. There is no one on the ground with a joystick flying it.”

If weather or technical issues arise on landing day, then Edwards, AFB will be called up with it’s longer runway.

The question on the minds of most in both military and civilian uniforms are asking if this is a one time event, or the start of a second generation space shuttle.

The military was to have taken over shuttle Discovery in 1986 for DoD flights from Vandenberg. However fuel contamination issues and the Challenger break-up forced the cancellation of a military launch pad in California.


Following a successful flight, the next OTV flight is slated for mid-2011.


Story by Charles Atkeison




Review: “Space Tourists” provides a rare glimpse of Kazakhstan


Reposted from The Space Review, Monday February 1

Space Tourists Poster

Going into Space Tourists, a film that had its North American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary, I was expecting a barrage of X PRIZE Foundation footage and personal video shot by Anousheh Ansari on the International Space Station (ISS). Instead, it was clear from the start that Christian Frei’s space documentary was going something completely different. Anousheh Ansari paid $20 million for her dream experience aboard the ISS, being launched from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz rocket. As Anousheh elegantly states, “How do you put a price on a dream?”

Anousheh’s space mission wasn’t simply a tourist paying a lot of money to go to space, but she had a very profound and personal mission that wasn’t captured in the film. The film definitely uses Anousheh’s beautiful quotes from her experience, but the footage that was selected included mostly domestic chores and very little on the science that she was conducting. This selection was probably used to help contrast with another major part of this movie, the Kazakh scavengers of rockets. A secondary industry exists in Kazakhstan that I never thought existed. The documentary followed a group of metal salvagers on their journey to recover falling rocket stages that they fetch to sell the aluminum and titanium to China. This footage is so rare that it makes this movie a must-see for anyone in the space industry and anyone with an interest in cultural and historical impacts of space on small communities. Amazingly, portions of the second stages of the Soyuz rocket sometimes land in populated areas. The metals are sometimes considered a gift and they are used to repair holes in roofs—sometimes holes they created. The film also mentions concerns that the toxic propellants used in these stages may be adversely affecting the local environment.The movie starts with helicopter footage of Anousheh returning to Earth with a violent retrorocket blast from her capsule on impact, a measure used to soften the landing on hard Kazakh terrain. The story then shifts back in time to focus on photographer Jonas Bendiksen’s journey to the former Soviet Union. As a space enthusiast in North America, this is where I really started to appreciate footage of old rocket parts randomly scattered in small towns, used in playground rides and in statues commemorating the proud and growing space industry. Statues of Sputnik and paintings on old brick buildings dilapidated over time set the tone of the movie, indicating that the collapse of the Soviet Union was also the collapse of the space program. Footage of Baikonur Cosmodrome was eerie as it reminded me of the historic and rusty launch pads at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Boarded up buildings near the Russian launch facilities in Kazakhstan where employees once lived gave a sense of how big an operation was in play during the Cold War, and a rotting Buran (USSR’s space shuttle design, copying the USA’s Shuttle fleet) showed evidence of significant space program cutbacks.

Overall the movie had excellent contrasts between life on the ISS and workers in Kazakhstan and how in some cases they depend on each other in a strange symbiotic relationship. Another movie highlight was the old Russian space folk music used in the background that showed how deep into the culture space had once penetrated. The story did jump around a lot and perhaps stretched out too much in some parts, but getting to see such unique and rare footage was fantastic.Space Tourists makes many subtle points, but repetitive commentary on the financial need for commercial activities reaffirms a somber instead of exciting tone to the activities. The movie has additional stories of Microsoft Word & Excel’s chief architect Charles Simonyi training at Star City for his personal spaceflight while Anousheh is on the ISS. The movie then tries to look ahead at the future by following the former Ansari X PRIZE team Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA) during a balloon lift hardware test, and their intent to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE at the team summit that was held the International Space University. ARCA’s team lead and President, Dumitru Popescu, is passionate about space because “it’s fun” and that he is not that interested in being a “tourist” but wants to build his own hardware. Although the side story has cool footage and a personal look at ARCA, it wasn’t necessary for the story.

The Soyuz is the most reliable and robust launch vehicle ever built and watching scenes of its integration made it seem very routine and safe. Watching the rocket roll out on a train track, get tilted upright, loaded and launched gave me an overwhelming feeling of how routine space was becoming. After all, it’s only rocket science!

Ryan L. Kobrick is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) in Aerospace Engineering Sciences researching lunar dust abrasion funded by NASA’s Graduate Student Researchers Program. Ryan’s space CV includes three internships/contracts at the X PRIZE Foundation, four two-week Mars simulations at the Mars Desert Research Station, and a 100-day Mars simulation at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station with a crew of seven. Ryan is the Program Manager on the 2010 Yuri’s Night Global Executive, a member of the Executive Advisory Committee for the CU-Boulder chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (CUSEDS), and is the Director of Research & Development for the “We Want Our Future” initiative. Opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not represent those of CU-Boulder or NASA.



yesterday’s launch scrub for STS-127 due to weather, I was listening in
on some of NASA’s press conference on NASA TV. One of the reporters
asked about the weather criteria, if they were perhaps too strict now
that we have more advanced methods of assessing weather conditions than
we did when the criteria was developed, or something to that effect.

I don’t remember the answer Mike Moses gave, but the question made
me think. While it is very easy to get frustrated over strict weather
criteria when it hinders a launch and the weather is borderline, that
line has to be drawn somewhere. Pilots are all too familiar with the
concept of “get-there-itis,” which is used to describe the affliction
when someone is so fixated on getting where they are going that they
take unnecessary risks to get there. These risks might be with weather,
fatigue, or even mechanical issues.

I remember an experience many years ago as a student pilot flying
with my instructor from Pensacola back home to Tallahassee. We were
flying a 1966 Cessna 150 by VFR or visual flight rules, meaning we were
navigating by sight rather than instruments. The plane was not
certified for instrument flight, so that was our only option. VFR
flight requires certain weather and visibility conditions and we were
okay in Pensacola, but it didn’t look good in the direction we were
heading. We probably shouldn’t have left Pensacola when we did, but we
were anxious to get back so we took off and headed back home.

As we traveled, the clouds went from scattered to not-so-scattered
and by the time we got to Destin (about a quarter of the way home), we
were having to fly so low to stay beneath the ceiling we could
practically read the street signs. Fortunately, we were able to land at
Destin and wait out the weather, but many are not so lucky. So often
the desire to get somewhere overcomes rational decision making, leading
to the pilot’s demise. And pilots are only looking to get home or to
wherever they are going- imagine how much the get-there-itis is
amplified when the destination is a mission to space and people all
over the world are watching expectantly.

Just think- if the weather criteria for launch were not set so
firmly, it would be easy to rationalize launching when weather was just
a little beyond the guidelines.  If that works out without an issue,
then the next time it makes sense to allow weather that is a little
farther out of specifications, and so on. It is a slippery slope.
Without strict criteria, pretty soon we’d find ourselves taking
unnecessary risks. We can’t let get-there-itis cause us to make bad

I will admit that launch scrubs frustrate me just as much as
everyone else, and sometimes I want to yell, “Just light it off,
already!” But I also understand the reasoning behind it and that it is
the nature of our industry.  Ultimately, I think everyone would agree
that the safety of the crew is well worth the wait.

Back in the Day… (Chapter One)

Chapter One – Boondocking and the Co-op Rockets

Funny how small events can change your life, make such an indelible impression on you that they guide and shape you for years to come, and how circumstances often alter your dreams and aspirations, leading you in directions you could never have imagined.

Growing up in Inglewood, California, practically under the landing pattern of planes arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, I knew by sight the airliners of the time and the airlines they represented. DC-3’s from United, the beautiful Lockheed Constellation of TWA, the chubby Boeing Stratocruisers of Pan American and the DC-4’s and -6’s of airlines come and gone.

Just a few blocks south of my home on 113th street lay the city of Hawthorne, home of Northrop Aviation. Northrup Field was a favorite bike destination in those days, when as kids we could hope to see strange airplanes land and take off. Planes like the Northrop F-89, one of America’s first jet fighters. And, if truly lucky, we might even catch a glimpse of the most stunning airplane of its day, the magnificent Northrop XB-49 Flying Wing.

I was fortunate to witness a take-off of Jack Northrop’s pride and joy, and I remember it’s near vertical climb, the smoke pouring from the jet engines and the roar. Oh, that incredible roar of power. That night at dinner, I could talk of nothing else. I would become a pilot and fly the Flying Wing. No matter I was a skinny girl with glasses. No matter my parents were poor. Somehow, someday I would fulfill my dreams.

My father was killed during the Second World War, and his legacy to me as a surviving child, was access to a portion of his veteran benefits. Under the provisions of the GI Bill, veterans received a fixed monthly sum of $110 from which they could to pay for their tuition, fees, books, and living expenses in order to go to college. My stepfather worked for the US Post Office and money around our house was tight. Without those GI Bill benefits, college might have been unaffordable. Mom and Dad wanted me to go to a local state college, live at home and use that $110 a month for books and supplies.

I had other ideas!

I wanted to travel, see the world, and I still harbored a secret desire to become a pilot. I wanted to go away to college and to chart my own course. In high school, I became enamored of the sciences, particularly chemistry. Math however, was another story! Thank God I had fingers and toes. But undeterred by small details, I decided I would become a chemist or perhaps a chemical engineer.

New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, located in Las Cruces, New Mexico had a co-operative program for engineering students offered though the Physical Science Laboratory. PSL entered into its first contract with the Army Ballistics Research Laboratory on May 15, 1946 to supply services to the army at White Sands Proving Ground, the nation’s first test center for rocketry. (http://www.psl.nmsu.edu/about/history.php) Under the “co-op” program, students worked full-time, usually at White Sands and went to school part time for six months of the year. The following six months the students went to school on A& M’s campus full-time and worked part-time. Salaries earned were applied to tuition, room and board, books and other incidentals. I applied and was accepted, first being assigned to an Askania cine-theodolite tracking station at WSPG and later to the microwave propagation branch of the Army’s Electronic Research and Development Agency (ERDA).

Those of us fortunate to work “out on the range” filled our days with a little bit of work and a whole lot of adventure. Being assigned to a tracking station had its merits. If the station did not have a clear angle to photograph the launch or the flight of a missile, the crew “stood down”. One could twiddle one’s thumbs, drink coffee or sit quietly. Most however engaged in the time honored pastime of “Boondocking”. One or two folks would be selected, threatened with bodily injury or even paid, to stay behind at the tracking station to answer the phone on the off chance it rang. It hardly ever did!

The rest would head out into the boonies to get as close as possible to an active launch pad, hunker down and wait for the fireworks to begin. In those early days, when the button was pushed, rockets had a disturbing tendency to blow up! Those that didn’t explode, rarely flew straight and true. Bits of hot metal raining down or an errant flight path, sometime uncomfortably close overhead were always an adventure.

Corporal was a surface to surface artillery weapon and the first designed to be nuclear tipped. I remember a Corporal lifting off on a bright Spring morning, getting maybe fifty feet in the air, slowing nearly to a stop and dancing around on its tail of fire. Several of us were in the same gully and we didn’t know if the bird was going to recover, fall, explode or dance our way prior to its demise. All we knew for sure was that somebody was going to catch a whole lot of grief.

I got up and ran like the wind. Back in high school I was pretty speedy, but a fat little Army Captain, flew by me, huffing and puffing like a steam engine. He disappeared and I knew he had found a deep hole to hide in. I didn’t stop to ask if he wanted company, I just jumped in on top of him! That MGM-5 danced around long enough to put some distance between us and the launch pad and for the Captain and I to find suitable accommodations. When the bird finally blew up, I am sure there were quite a few fricasseed rabbits in the area. We didn’t stop to collect lunch.

One of the more embarrassing failures was precipitated by the launch of a Navy shipboard anti-aircraft missile called TALOS. We often joked that TALOS stood for “try and launch on schedule!” This particular bird launched, dipped low to the ground, about 10 feet as I remember, leveled out and headed up range. About two or three miles out, it changed its mind and turned 180 degrees. It flew hot and straight and true right back over the heads of the launch crew. It impacted quite
close to the Commanding General’s office at Headquarters, digging a substantial hole in the lawn. The entire flight, from beginning to end was faithfully documented by a tracking crew.

Co-op students on work phase were an inventive lot. With few homework assignments the weekends free to head for the Rio Grand and drink beer and we were left plenty of time to get in trouble,

Honest John was a solid fuel missile whose propellant was cast in stick form and then the individual sticks were packed into the missile’s body. These sticks were several feel long and with a shaped cross section about an inch and a half across. Small pieces could be lit with a match.

Not content with lighting and tossing small chunks of “John” fuel at one another, some enterprising soul invented the “Co-op Rocket”. Being long before the days of pop-top beer cans, a can opener, known back in the day as a “church key”, was required. Also needed was a stout nail. A can would be opened and with the contents disposed of (usually down the throat). A second large hole in the top of the can was opened opposite the first. A 16-penny nail was then used to puncture four holes equidistant around the base of the can, about a quarter inch above the bottom. The nail was given a sideways push after the initial penetration. This resulted in an orifice that pointed tangentially away from the axis of the can. The beer can was then filled with shavings of “John” fuel, and when packed fully, was upended on a small stick of fuel that served as an igniter. The fuel would burn, combustion gasses escaped through the two large openings imparting a great amount of thrust. Gasses would also escape through the four small openings and because of their tangential twist, a spin was imparted, thus stabilizing the flight (sometimes). The can would perhaps reach an altitude of three or four hundred feet before exploding!

Coors cans were said to fly the highest and farthest…

Flying the Co-op Rocket did not last long. The FBI got involved when somebody tried to bring a jeep load of Honest John propellant through the front gate and cart it to the college for safekeeping. His defense was the need for further flight tests to perfect the trajectory of the Co-op Rocket. Dorm rooms were searched, miscreants punished and the days of watching Coors cans rise majestically over the Rio Grand river came to an end.

Back in the Day… (Prologue)

They came from cities and towns, large and small. From the plains of
the Midwest and the hollows of Appalachia they came. East Coast, West
Coast and from everywhere between they answered the call.

Some had degrees with an alphabet soup of letters behind their names. Some had high school diplomas, some not even that.

Engineers, scientists, welders and pipe fitters, carpenters and chemists swelled the ranks…

They answered the call and the challenge issued by a young and charismatic President of the United States.

In a special address to Congress on May 25, 1961, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy stated:

“…I believe that 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 the Earth.”

And at Rice University in 1962 he reaffirmed his commitment to lead
this nation to preeminence in the manned exploration of space. He said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this
decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because
they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the
best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we
are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which
we intend to win…”

Some of us came from the aircraft industry, North American Aviation
in Los Angeles, McDonnell in St. Louis, Douglas Aircraft, Boeing and
Bell and Grumman on Long Island. Some from Chrysler and Bendix, others
from TWA and Pan Am, we were contractors and subcontractors and
employees of mom and pop companies, all part of the quest to put a man
on the moon and return him safely to earth.

We came from small towns with unfamiliar names, Seal Beach and
Huntington Beach in California; from Las Cruces, New Mexico, from and
Huntsville, Alabama and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi.

We all had two things in common. We were all committed JFK’s dream
and we all worked at the Cape during the wonderful days that were
Project Apollo. There are few of us left anymore and there will be
fewer still when we next set foot on the moon.
Sara Marshall on her wonderful website, www.insidetheapolloproject.com,
says, “Remember, the astronauts have the right stuff, but we engineers
have the REAL stuff”. So true! And everyone had a role to play.

We were the guys and gals, the “grunts” in the trenches so to speak,
who did the heavy lifting, and who made things work. We solved the
problems, wrote the equations and trod unfamiliar ground.

We flew the Saturn V

This is our story…