On Oct. 1, 1958, the 170 NASA Headquarters employees gathered in the courtyard of their building, the Dolly Madison House, located across Lafayette Park from the White House, to hear the agency’s first Administrator, T. Keith Glennan, proclaim NASA open for business. At the beginning, NASA had 8,000 employees absorbed from the 43-year-old National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, three laboratories (now renamed research centers), and two stations. Among those employees who “punched the time clock” on NASA’s first day are several hardy individuals who still proudly wear the NASA badge or work for NASA contractors. These are the stories of NASA’s 50 year men and women.
NASA's AMES RESEARCH CENTER
JOHN W. BOYD
By Glenn Bugos
On the shoulders of giants - Jack Boyd was inspired by an Isaac Newton quote.
On Jan. 15, 2007, John W. “Jack” Boyd celebrated the anniversary of his 60 years of service to NASA. Only eight years with the University of Texas system keeps that from being continuous service.
Virginia Tech graduated 11 aeronautical engineers in 1947. Nine went to work at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Langley Laboratory, one went into industry, and Boyd went west to the NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory. “Mountain View [Calif.] sounded nice. That’s about all I knew about the place,” he said. Boyd was welcomed into one of the most superb groups of aerodynamicists ever assembled during one of the most thrilling times in the history of aeronautical science. Walter Vincenti was his branch chief and Harvey Allen his division chief. Al Eggers, Dean Chapman, R.T Jones, Doris Cohen, Milton Van Dyke, Elliott Katzen, Jack Spreiter, Wally Davis and Charlie Frick were among the giants of that Ames High-Speed Research Division.
Aircraft and spacecraft fly better because of Boyd's research work in the Ames 1-by-3 foot and 6-by-6 foot wind tunnels. His specialty is research into swept wings, conical camber, canards on supersonic aircraft and shaping space capsules to fly through non-Earth atmospheres. In 1963, when the engineering genius Harvey Allen decided that he needed a technical assistant to grasp all the new scientific work emerging at Ames and champion it into comprehensive research programs, he called on Boyd. In the late 1960s, Boyd served as Ames’ point person with NASA Headquarters in creating new research programs.
When Allen retired, and the center was looking for a new director, Allen asked Boyd to “show this kid around.” The “kid” was Hans Mark, who became center director as well as lifelong friends with Boyd. Boyd’s responsibilities grew to include deputy director for Aeronautical and Flight Systems at Ames, deputy director of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, acting deputy director and associate director of Ames, then associate administrator for management at NASA Headquarters.
Boyd never failed when tasked to handle some of the most sensitive issues of intra-agency cooperation – the consolidation of NASA’s helicopter research program, preparing Dryden as a shuttle landing site, making affirmative action work for the agency, completing NASA’s advanced secure-computing facility, working with defense agencies on classified research and leading NASA to implement the reorganization and reforms of the Packard report on federal laboratories (a 1983 report of the Federal Laboratory Review Panel).
When serving as assistant to the chancellor of research for the University of Texas system, Boyd continued to dedicate his time to the mission of the agency – of accelerating world-class research and, in his teaching and by example, of inspiring the next generation of explorers. In his second career at Ames, Boyd danced along the dotted lines of the organization chart, starting in educational outreach, then serving as executive assistant to the director, with a primary role of advisor, teacher and mentor. He always relished showing people around the center.
Today he enjoys three jobs – as senior advisor for history, center ombud and senior advisor to the center director. He continues to do what Harvey Allen once recognized he did so well, listen to the people of Ames, appreciate the excitement they feel for their research, encourage them to hone it to fiscal realities, forge cooperation wherever possible, keep meetings focused, and constantly align the corporate culture of NASA with the strategic vision of the center and agency. His willingness to give others credit has made him powerfully effective. His optimism has been contagious. His heartfelt belief in the past and present greatness of Ames has inspired those who work there to make its future ever better.
In a letter to Robert Boyle dated Feb. 5, 1675, in explaining how he relied on the work of Kepler and Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton wrote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Those at Ames know Boyd is fond of that quote. NASA has literally seen further into the nature of the universe than Newton ever could have imagined seeing with his glass telescope. And NASA has seen so far because people like Boyd have helped us to develop giants, and to truly appreciate the giants upon whose shoulders we have stood. Boyd is one of those giants.
By Glenn Bugos
Multiple contributions -Buzz Slye has worked on everything from aerodynamics to image processing, remote sensing, and computer display software.
Robert “Buzz” E. Slye started working at the NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in June 1957 as a 22-year-old summer student. He had served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Yale University while earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He deferred his active duty for a year while he earned his master's degree in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University. However, the Air Force changed its commissioning requirements in the fall of 1957 and asked Slye to do his Air Force duty on assignment to Ames.
Alfred Eggers and Clarence “Sy” Syverston led the 10-by-14 inch supersonic wind tunnel where Slye did his summer work, and they were happy to convert his summer position into a permanent post as research scientist. Slye worked with them as they refined the aerodynamics of lifting bodies such as the space shuttle orbiter. In 1960, Slye and his colleagues moved into the newly-opened 3.5-foot hypersonic tunnel where they explored the aerodynamics of rockets and re-entry capsules.
In 1963, Slye followed Syverston into the Mission Analysis Division. That division reported to NASA Headquarters and included about 50 Ames scientists focused on fundamental studies of how to get humans to the moon and Mars. Slye became an expert on trajectory analysis and figured out how to put trajectory data on an IBM 650 computer based at the Ames Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel. During the next decade, Slye’s fundamental research group was reorganized.
When the Advanced Concepts and Mission Division in which he was working was disbanded in 1975, Slye moved into the Technology Applications Branch and devoted the next three decades of his career to the display of computer information. For the past two decades, he has worked with the Ames Ecosystem Science and Technology Branch, helping with image processing, remote sensing and computer display software. He worked in a variety of special projects to image tropical rain forests, agricultural lands and the oceans. Most recently, he worked on the sensor carried aloft by an Altair remotely piloted aircraft, which is able to find forest fires when they are still small, then pass the location along to the U.S. Forest Service. Today, at 71 years old, Slye plans to continue to help make sense of Earth from above.
NASA's DRYDEN FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER
By Gray Creech
At home in the air - Famed NASA X-15 test pilot Bill Dana.
Checklist pages floated mid-air, suspended as if by magic. NASA X-15 test pilot William H. “Bill” Dana looked past them, focusing on the instrument panel to keep the rocket plane on track as it crested at an altitude of 59 miles before re-entry began.
Dana is a well-known, respected and much-loved figure at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and in the aerospace community. He served as a research test pilot and later chief engineer at Dryden from 1958 until 1998, when he retired after almost 40 years of distinguished service to NASA. He has continued working as a contractor at Dryden, supporting the center’s history office on various projects and publications. The start date for Dana’s storied NASA career is easy to remember: he began work at NASA on the agency's first day of operations, Oct. 1, 1958. As a NASA research pilot, working with the likes of fellow X-15 pilot Neil Armstrong, Dana was involved in some of the most significant aeronautical programs carried out at Dryden.
Dana was a project pilot on the hypersonic X-15 research aircraft and flew the rocket-powered vehicle 16 times, reaching a top speed of 3,897 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 307,000 feet, nearly 59 miles high. He was the pilot on the 199th and final flight of the 10-year program.
“The horizon appeared as a ring of bright blue around the shell of the Earth, with darkness above,” Dana remembers. “I knew I’d gotten all the altitude I needed to qualify as a space adventurer!”
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Dana was a project pilot on the manned lifting body program, which flew several versions of the wingless vehicles and produced data that helped in development of the space shuttles. Before his assignment as chief engineer, Dana served as assistant chief of the Flight Operations Division, commonly known at the center as chief pilot. He also was a project pilot on the F-15 Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control research project, and a co-project pilot on the F-18 High Angle of Attack Research Vehicle project. Dana flew the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration F-16 aircraft and many others. As a capstone to his illustrious flying career, Dana finally was recognized as an astronaut in August 2005, nearly 40 years after his pioneering flights more than 50 miles above the earth.
NASA’S GLENN RESEARCH CENTER
By Doreen Zudell
From slide rules to computers - Aeronautical engineer Bernie Anderson.
Bernhard “Bernie” Anderson remembers when a slide rule was considered a state-of-the-art tool. Now he utilizes sophisticated computer software to help NASA discover new approaches to achieving technology breakthroughs.
“While our tools and testing methods may be considered archaic by today’s standards, we relied a lot on our intuition,” said Anderson, who came to NACA in 1955 fresh out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Anderson started as an aeronautical engineer under the supervision of Dr. Abe Silverstein, who would serve as director of NASA's Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center from 1961 to 1973. Anderson laid out test plans and set up hardware for engine inlet testing in what would later be named the Dr. Abe Silverstein 10-by-10 Supersonic Wind Tunnel.
“My early work centered primarily on advancing engine inlet technology,” Anderson explained. “Some of my projects included work on military applications such as the B-58 bomber and the YF-12 fighter.”
About 25 years ago, Anderson traded his slide rule for a computer and began designing new inlet concepts for various projects using computational fluid dynamics. Many of his designs have been turned into hardware that was tested in the wind tunnel. Along the way he earned numerous awards, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.
While Anderson’s early days with the agency revolved around discovering new and exciting possibilities in engine design and testing, his more recent excitement comes from using ever-advancing computer technology to produce designs much more effectively than ever before.
“In these times of limited resources, NASA’s improved tools and knowledge will enable us to efficiently advance aeronautics research,” Anderson said, “and I plan on staying around for a while to see it.”
By Sally Harrington
Still going strong - Sixty-year NACA/NASA employee Dick Cavicchi.
On NASA’s first day, Richard “Dick” Cavicchi already had 14 years of service with the federal government – four years in the Army and ten years with the NACA.
On July 7, 1948 – “the last year the Cleveland Indians baseball team won the World Series,” Cavicchi was quick to point out – he began his career at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland doing turbine aerodynamics research. “The Germans had started using jet planes during World War II, but the Unitd States was just getting into jet engines after the war. The turbines I was working on were for jet engines,” he recalled.
In NASA’s early years at the Lewis Research Center, Cavicchi and 23 others attended two years of full-time training in nuclear physics and nuclear engineering in preparation for designing nuclear rocket engines intended to go to Mars.
Over the years, he has worked in ground power and rotor dynamics. Presently he works in computational fluid dynamics. The focus of his work may have changed, but two things that have not changed are his interest in baseball and his interest in keeping active.
“When I was young, I played on basketball and softball teams here. I also played trumpet in a band on lab,” Cavicchi said. He was active in the running club for years, and today he is seen riding his bike to and from work as he has done since 1964.
Since 1982 he has been competing in track and field, swimming and bicycling events in Senior Olympic competitions and has won many medals. Cavicchi is not alone in these activities. His wife, whom he married in 1954 – “the year the Cleveland Indians won 111 games, the most games won by a team in either league up to that time,” is a Senior Olympic swimmer.
Cavicchi’s blue eyes twinkled as he said, “I’ve outlasted all the directors of this lab from Edward R. Sharp through Julian Earls.”
Asked when he might retire, Cavicchi said laughingly, “When the Cleveland Indians win the World Series again.”
By Kathleen Zona
Sticking around - Earl Hanes is working to enable future lunar and Mars exploration programs.
What do a large piece of petrified wood (BC), a hassock that doubles as a fan (circa 1940), and a ceramic heater (2002) have in common? They are all unique possessions that have stood the test of time and together with Earl Hanes reside in his office at NASA's Glenn Research Center. Hanes has stood the test of time as well, having begun his work at Lewis by entering an apprentice program at age 16 in 1953! Hanes had aimed for a job at NACA’s Lewis Research Center since age 13, and West Tech High School’s shop classes hooked his interest in engineering by exposing him to open houses and other events at this facility. During and after graduating from the apprentice program, he attended Baldwin Wallace College and Ohio State University.
From a start in mechanical and electronics engineering, to nuclear, physics and chemistry research, Hanes has gone on to help establish world-class laboratory facilities for advanced ceramic materials research.
One of his proudest memories is when John Glenn circled the Earth, because “research we did enabled us to put a man into space.” He also recalls when Director Ed Sharp would come through the various buildings talking to the employees, one time bringing along famed aviator Jimmy Doolittle.
Hanes' current research is on ceramic composites, solid oxide fuel cells and nanotube technologies. He believes that these materials will be prominent in getting us back to the moon and Mars. Hanes plans to stick around to see all the changes coming, for at least a few more years, or until that hassock fan comes back in style.
By Jenise Veris
Endless energy - Robert C. Hendricks conducts research, writes papers and travels the world on charitable missions.
In June 1957, as NACA’s Lewis Research Center was shifting toward an expanded role in space research, Robert C. Hendricks was transitioning as a mechanical engineering graduate and newly commissioned U.S. Air Force officer beginning active duty in NACA’s Rocket Branch.
“I was recruited to help solve combustion problems on the X-15 rocket engine, part of a classified program managed by Langley and supported by the Air Force and Navy,” Hendricks explained. “My research culminated in the successful operation of the liquid oxygen [LOX] ammonia man-rated rocket engine and my commitment to the Air Force.”
Eager to tackle the next challenge, Hendricks developed critical cryogenic heat transfer data for liquid hydrogen fuel used for rocket engines. This new enabling technology aided Lewis’ work on Centaur and directly affected the Apollo program. It is now used in all LOX-hydrogen engines, including the space shuttle main engine and crew and cargo vehicle (J–2X, S) engines.
Hendricks cites NASA visionaries Robert Graham, John Evvard, John Sloop and Abe Silverstein among the dynamic leadership that enabled his early accomplishments.
“I was intense and eager to get things done,” Hendricks recalled. “Graham was my supervisor and such a clear thinker. He helped me to be patient, while constantly working to open doors.”
Among the many awards Hendricks received for his significant contributions is a 1985 NASA Exceptional Scientific Research Medal for “immeasurable contributions to NASA’s hydrogen-oxygen chemical rocketry technology.”
Currently a senior technologist and research engineer in the Research and Technology Directorate, Hendricks performs basic and applied research in fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In addition to writing more than 300 papers, Hendricks continues to make significant contributions in research related to turbo pump seals leading to the creation of design codes and the agency’s seal program. He also has performed important jet engine characteristic work related to heat transfer, and, more recently, to alternative fuels.
Hendricks’ dedication to research benefiting aeronautics and space exploration is equaled in his passion to protect the Earth and its inhabitants. He is involved in several conservation efforts and annually travels to different locations around the world, building and repairing structures such as churches, schools and homes to help those less fortunate than himself.
Hendricks’ energy, interests and breadth of research have not been harnessed by time. “I’m driven by the applications of my research,” Hendricks said.
By Jan Wittry
Building a better bearing - Erwin Zaretsky helped develop rolling-element bearings currently used in commercial and military aircraft engines.
When Erwin Zaretsky interviewed with the NACA in 1957, he was looking for a temporary position. About to graduate college as a mechanical engineer and U.S. Air Force officer, he was scheduled for active duty later that year.
Little did he know that after a year and a half of duty in Asia, the Air Force would station him right back where he was when he left -- at NASA's Lewis Research Center. In 1960, Zaretsky completed his active military service and joined NASA’s civilian staff as a materials research engineer.
“The depth of technical expertise here was immense,” Zaretsky said. “The people were outstanding, the work was a challenge and we were making contributions that had an impact.”
One of his biggest contributions was improving rolling-element bearings for aircraft engines. In the 1950s, experts predicted that the speed and temperature of aircraft engine bearings would increase dramatically during coming decades. To address the predicted increase, Zaretsky and his colleagues set out to develop ball and roller bearings that would run faster, withstand higher temperatures and last longer.
“By 1973, we achieved bearings temperatures up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. They operated two times faster and lasted 40 times longer than when we started,” Zaretsky said. “All that technology is flying in commercial and military aircraft today.”
Today, Zaretsky is chief engineer in the Materials and Structures Division. He has developed patented technology, earned numerous awards, published two books and more than 180 papers and traveled all over the world as a speaker.
“It’s been a nice experience,” Zaretsky said. “I don’t think I could have done that anywhere but NASA.”
NASA's JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
JOHN R. CASANI
By Erik M. Conway
Planetary troubleshooter - When things go awry with planetary missions, John Casani is there to provide solutions.
JPL’s John Casani retired in 1999 – for about a week. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s most experienced project manager and general all-around troubleshooter was recalled to help figure out what had happened to JPL’s lost Mars Polar Lander. He has not left since.
A Philadelphia native, John received a classical education at St. Joe’s Prep, which meant he studied no science or technical subjects at all. When he got to the University of Pennsylvania, he became a liberal arts major.
His academic career in the liberal arts lasted two years. At the end of his sophomore year, Casani decided that he was not going to be very employable and wanted to join the Air Force. His father vetoed that idea, and instead he decided to switch majors. His roommate was an electrical engineering major, so John switched to electrical engineering, figuring they would study together.
It was a great plan, except his friend flunked out and never returned. John finished the degree anyway, in 1955, and after a frigid winter at the Rome Air Development Center in upstate New York, upon a friend's advice he headed to the University of Southern California, where he lived in his fraternity’s chapter house while looking for work.
He interviewed with JPL’s Jack James, head of JPL’s Section 17, which dealt with guidance and control, and for another job with North American Aviation’s Navajo missile project. North American offered him more money but, “Every day,” John recalled, “Jack James called me on the pay phone at the frat house or sent me a telegram. I finally wound up coming here.”
JPL was an Army facility at the time, developing two short-range ballistic missiles and a radio inertial guidance system for the Army’s intermediate range ballistic missile system. John first went to work on the guidance system for Redstone Arsenal’s Jupiter missile. But after the Soviet Sputnik surprise and JPL’s launch of Explorer 1, he was assigned as the payload integration engineer for Pioneers 3 and 4. These lunar flyby probes were so small he carried them to the University of Iowa in a suitcase to have their instruments calibrated.
After the Pioneers, Casani became head of the design team for the early Ranger and Mariner spacecraft. He was spacecraft manager for the Mariner 1969 missions to Mars and again for the Mariner Venus-Mercury mission, launched in 1973.
These early Mariner missions gained Casani an enduring legend. Early Mars missions, particularly Russian, but also JPL’s own, seemed to be jinxed. They kept having severe problems, and all the Russian missions failed. In 1964, Casani had a conversation with a Time magazine reporter about this. He recalled that there was a lot of speculation about possible dust belts, or micrometeoroids or radiation as the potential causes of the problems. The reporter asked him what he thought was going on. Casani said, “What, like a space monster eating them up out there?” And the reporter said “You mean a Great Galactic Ghoul?”
Everyone forgot about the Ghoul when JPL’s spacecraft returned the first-ever close-up images of Mars. But four years later, JPL had two more Mariners enroute. “Mariner 7 went bonkers,” Casani said. “All of the sudden the Great Galactic Ghoul was back. Schoolkids started sending me drawings and pictures. One of our contractors made me a painting.” The team saved Mariner 7, but the Ghoul was now fixed in people’s minds. After the Mariner Venus-Mercury mission, Casani became the manager of the Guidance and Control Division. In 1975 he took over the Mariner Jupiter-Saturn 1977 mission, immediately lobbying for a new name: Voyager. These were JPL’s first outer-planet missions, and JPL’s longest-lived, as well, still operating today. The two Voyager spacecraft marked JPL’s first use of onboard computers, with six processors handling attitude control, sequencing and command execution, and science data processing. “It was a big step up in technology,” he remembered.
This first extensive use of software control also helped result in a launch scare with Voyager 2. During the Titan III Centaur’s ascent, as the launch vehicle performed a programmed roll maneuver, the spacecraft appeared to suffer a major attitude control anomaly. The fault protection software tried to fix it by switching out the gyros and other various pieces of equipment. The result made it look to the flight team like they would lose Voyager 2 before it even had left Earth. Once released by the launch vehicle, however, the spacecraft operated perfectly.
Nothing actually had been wrong. The launch vehicle roll rate was high enough to saturate the roll channel gyro, which was interpreted as a hardware failure. The fault protection system functioned exactly as it had been programmed, and the system responded correctly. The development team had tested the system up to the maximum rates anticipated in space but not to the much higher roll rate of the launch vehicle. “It hadn’t occurred to us to test the spacecraft’s response to the launch rate conditions. If we had, we’d have caught the problem before launch. All we had to do was change the software’s settings, which we did before launching Voyager 1," Casani said. “Test as you fly” became one of Casani’s dictums.
After Voyager, Casani became project manager for the Galileo mission. A Jupiter orbiter mission, Galileo had a tortured evolution. It was canceled and resurrected more than once, and had to be redesigned a couple of times because NASA could not decide whether it should fly on the space shuttle or on an expendable launcher. It finally was launched by shuttle Atlantis in 1989, reached Jupiter in 1995, and operated there until 2003.
Since 1989, Casani has had several senior management jobs at JPL and has functioned as a roving troubleshooter as well. After his one-week retirement in 1999, he led a team to NASA’s Johnson Space Center to resolve a safety-related concern that could have caused the loss of the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, then headed JPL’s internal investigation of the loss of the two Mars missions in 1988, led the development of JPL’s Flight Project Practices, and was project manager for Project Prometheus until it was terminated in 2005. He currently is trying to streamline JPL’s implementation of export requirements.
By Erik M. Conway
The human computer - Susan G. Finley was hired to perform trajectory computations for rocket launches by hand.
Susan G. Finley, NASA’s longest-serving woman, was hired as a “computer” by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in January 1958, one week before JPL launched Explorer 1, America’s first satellite. Her initial job was performing trajectory computations for rocket launches by hand. She had a number of career changes at JPL as digital computers eliminated the need for hand calculations. She is now a software tester and subsystem engineer.
One of her earliest memories at JPL is of the flight of Pioneer 3, launched on Dec. 6, 1958. She was called in to calculate velocities from telemetry data when the digital computer that was supposed to do it failed. “I punched this data into the Frieden [calculator] as Al Hibbs relayed it to me from his telephone connection with the receiving antenna. I went home around 6:00 a.m. after everyone realized that it hadn’t reached escape velocity, so it wasn’t going to leave orbit. My husband was up watching the news. They had a little blackboard with the numbers on it I had calculated. I said ‘that’s my number!’”
She left JPL twice during the next few years, first to support her husband’s education, and then, after a brief period back at the lab, to have children. She returned permanently in 1969. Through most of the 1970s, she worked on a variety of advanced mission studies, calculating trajectories and orbits for a variety of potential future missions. By the end of the decade, this work, too, was being taken over by electronic computers.
In 1980, she began writing software for the Deep Space Network (DSN). The Deep Space Network, operated by JPL for NASA, tracks and receives data from all United States and many foreign interplanetary spacecraft. Finley’s major software effort was for the “Delta DOR” upgrade, which improved navigational accuracy by using quasars as fixed reference points in space. Delta DOR stands for Delta Differential One-way Range. Then she coordinated DSN support to the two joint USSR/France Vega missions to Venus and Halley’s comet. In the late 1980s, she became a task manager for another upgrade to the Deep Space Network. This improved its utility for very long baseline interferometry, a technique that links several radio antennas into a single, much more powerful one. She enjoyed this project – except for the budgeting.
In the early 1990s, Finley returned to software. She performed many tasks during the next 15 years, but one stands out in her memory – software she helped develop for the Mars Exploration Rover missions. These used a “semaphore-like” communications method during their plunge through the Mars atmosphere. The spacecraft’s transmitter sent back specific tones, or musical notes, by radio after each phase of the descent. Finley’s software received the signals from the DSN and interpreted them so the projects’ engineers would know what was going on. This task took her out to the Goldstone and Tidbinbilla stations during the landings, so she missed all the press attention the missions received.
She laughed, “They’re always focused on the control room at JPL. People really doing the work don’t get on TV.” Finley currently is involved with developing an improved version of the semaphore software for the Mars Science Laboratory mission in 2009, in addition to her subsystem and software testing duties. In her half century at JPL, she has most enjoyed “being part of exploring the universe, space, our solar system.” Finley still enjoys her work, and she has no plans to retire “unless things start to get really boring.”
By Erik M. Conway
Image enhancer - Bob Nathan found a niche in developing processing techniques to improve images from planetary spacecraft.
A native of San Francisco, born in the year of Lindbergh’s transatlantic crossing, Robert "Bob" Nathan attended the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in math and chemistry, and came to the California Institute of Technology in 1952. “I was very impressed with the pictures of atoms and molecules on the walls of the chemistry lab,” he said, so imaging was what he decided he wanted to do.
He completed his doctorate in 3-D crystallography in Linus Pauling’s laboratory in 1956. This work involved rigging an IBM computer to do Fourier transforms; eventually, the Electrical Engineering department at Caltech asked him to run their computer lab. He took the job, moving to JPL in 1959.
JPL’s first spacecraft cameras were analog, sending back television-like images. “I only knew digital,” he said, so the first thing he did was convert the pictures to digital so he could work on them. “They were awful! Dark, noisy, really distorted.” He developed image processing techniques to improve them. For the Mariner series of planetary spacecraft, JPL switched to digital cameras, making his work somewhat easier. He eventually worked on the imagery for all of the Ranger, Surveyor and Mariner series of missions.
Despite all this activity, Nathan saw himself as an outsider. He was never considered part of the imaging instrument or science teams; instead of helping to develop the cameras, he only was asked to help fix the images later. It was a hard sell to get image enhancement accepted, he said.
Nathan still really wanted to do medical imaging, and in 1969 he managed to win a grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop medical imaging technology. This was controversial at JPL, which, despite a mid-1970s drive to expand its research focus into civil applications, still saw itself primarily as a spacecraft laboratory. The NIH suddenly left the imaging field after five years, though, so he had to find something new to do.
He set out to develop a special microchip for image enhancement. In the mid-1970s, semiconductor devices with many individual components engraved on a single chip (“integrated circuits” was the common name) were just becoming possible, and Nathan designed one specifically for image enhancement. This sped the process tremendously, helping reduce the workload in JPL’s Image Processing Laboratory. In 1985, he received a major NASA technology award for this development.
Nathan then drifted over to defense imaging work at JPL. Military funding was a growth area at JPL in the 1980s, and funding was much easier to get, he remembered. “But it isn’t work I can really talk about.”
Nearly 80 years old, Nathan only works at JPL part time now. He’s currently helping develop a new kind of mirror for space telescopes that consists only of a ring. Not using a full disk saves a great deal of weight, and thus cost, to launch into space. And, he said, you do not lose anything because all the useful information in a traditional mirror is contained at the edge anyway. His semi-retirement also is allowing him to participate in biomedical research again, too, studying aging.
His biggest disappointment has been the failure as of yet to find life beyond Earth. He even chased UFOs for a few years, but quit because they all turned out to be frauds. He still hopes that life is out there somewhere.
NASA's LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER
By Lindsay Crouch
A different kind of harvest - Bill Kinard dropped his plan to sell farm tractors when he began his 52-year research career with NACA/NASA.
Bill Kinard’s plan was to return to Ninety-Six, S.C., and sell farm tractors. He was 23 and needed to complete two years of service to the Air Force before doing so. His assignment: travel to Langley Field in Hampton, Va., and work for NACA. Little did he know that he still would be working in Hampton 52 years later … and loving his career with NASA.
“When I got my orders,” said Kinard, now chief scientist for NASA’s Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) program, “I thought this would be a group of old men sitting around a table, advising people on airplanes, which I knew nothing about. I had no idea how I’d fit in.”
At NACA, Kinard measured, in the transonic speed range, the drag and stability of the B-58 bomber – just a concept airplane at the time. Airflow in the test sections of conventional wind tunnels of that period choked as supersonic speeds were approached – wind tunnels with slotted test sections that would solve the choking problem had not been invented yet. To make transonic measurements, airplane models were launched with rockets, and the aerodynamic characteristics were measured in free flight as the models accelerated and decelerated through the transonic speed region.
“This was sort of a rapidly changing time,” said Kinard. “People were beginning to look to space. The United States was trying to design ballistic missiles, so the interest was in hypersonics and re-entry. The next project I had was to fly a four-stage re-entry rocket to measure heat transfer.”
Kinard next became involved in meteoroid flight experiments and conceived the idea for the Meteoroid Technology Satellite. This was the first time anyone had flown a multi-wall meteor bumper concept in space and demonstrated that the concept provided very effective shielding against impacting meteoroids. Every large spacecraft since, including the International Space Station, has used multi-wall meteor bumpers to provide protection.
“During this time, the early work was really supporting the Mercury,Gemini and the Apollo programs,” recalled Kinard. “Following that, the idea was that maybe we’d put a man on Mars, so there was a lot of work looking at that. We then did several experiments to fly out through the asteroid belt and see what the hazard was there.”
Prior to the measurements Kinard’s team collected, there was no certainty that a spacecraft could survive through the asteroid belt. “So we didn’t fly men out there, but we did fly unmanned spacecraft." With that experience, he was able to tell Time magazine in February, 1973. “We’re firmly convinced that the asteroid belt presents little hazard for future spacecraft going to explore the outer planets.”
Next, Kinard became project manager and later the chief scientist of the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) project. In the early planning stages of NASA’s shuttle program, he recognized the scientific potential of the shuttle’s unique capability to deploy and later retrieve payloads from Earth orbit. He managed the design and development of the LDEF and was responsible for developing and integrating the 57 experiments incorporated into the facility.
Kinard recalled the retrieval of LDEF in January 1990 as one of the highlights of his NASA career. “When we retrieved LDEF, this was really the first time people had seen a spacecraft that had been out in space for an extended period of time and to see what the space environment does to it,” he recalled. “When we got it back in the lab and looked really closely, we could see all the effects – the extreme ultraviolet had darkened the paint and made plastic materials brittle; micrometeoroid impacts had produced craters; atomic oxygen had eroded materials away. Looking at the synergistic effects of all these things on one spacecraft was very exciting. It was probably the major milestone.”
The initial findings from LDEF directly influenced the science in another NASA milestone – the Hubble Space Telescope. “The Hubble Telescope was in the building adjacent to us in final preparations for launch,” said Kinard. “Some of the managers came in, and they saw things on LDEF that had weathered that they had already installed on Hubble. There was a lot of fast work to make changes and ensure that the Hubble was going to survive.”
Kinard’s experience with the LDEF project eventually led to his current research project: the MISSE program, which is providing the insight needed to develop materials for future spacecraft. His team already is discussing the possibility of exposure experiments on the lunar surface.
“During the two years that I was first here, the plans were laid out for NASA,” said Kinard. “It was just a lot of fun. There was a lot of opportunity and I thought – you know – I could always go back and sell tractors. I’ll just stay for a few years and play and then I’ll go to work.”
“I’ve always enjoyed it; it’s always been one challenge after another,” reflected Kinard. “I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, and that’s why I’m still working today. I’ve always said that the day I don’t want to come into work, I won’t come in anymore. That’ll be the end of it.”
By Kathy Barnstorff
Poker face - Bill Scallion’s poker games with Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton were a fun diversion from his work organizing Mercury spaceflight practice runs.
His resume spans six-and-a-half decades and reads like a chronicle of NASA research, but Bill Scallion refuses to dwell in the past. Instead he is working to make the 2009 Mars Science Lander mission a success. The Arkansas native who grew up in Mississippi began his career as a cross between an artist and an engineer. After graduating from high school in 1941, he worked in Panama as a draftsman/engineering aide for the Panama Canal-Panama Railroad Company.
World War II helped shape Scallion’s fascination with aviation. He served in the U.S Army Air Forces from 1943 to 1945, graduating from military flight school with single-engine and instrument flight ratings. At war's end, he went to Auburn University, Ala., on the G.I. Bill. With a degree in aeronautical engineering, he joined NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1949.
At Langley, Scallion worked as a test engineer on helicopters in the facilities’ Full-Scale Tunnel. He also helped test models of high-speed submarines and generic airplane models, providing design data to manufacturers who were working out the challenges of breaking the sound barrier. With NASA’s formation, Scallion was assigned to the Space Task Group, Project Mercury, working on simulations and practice runs before the first human spaceflights. “We simulated worldwide orbital ground stations, simulated a four-orbit mission real-time. It takes four-and-a-half hours to do that,” said Scallion. “It’s like putting together a TV show. You’re producing something. You have to write scripts and send them out.”
The lead “actors” in those scripts were the original Mercury 7 astronauts. “I worked with all those seven astronauts, knew them all personally, played poker on the airplane with Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton,” reminisced Scallion. “The rest got into F-102s and flew down to the Cape, but they’d get on the airplane with us out here at base operations, because they knew we had a poker game going. It was fun playing with them. Wally Schirra was one of the most personable people I ever met.”
Working on the space side, Scallion collected data on everything from re-entry radiation heating to space shuttle wind tunnel tests. He is particularly proud of a space shuttle bailout study. “We had a big three percent model of the shuttle orbiter and put an exit door in it,” he said. “We modeled little men and scaled them in mass and inertias, so they came out and behaved just like the real ones would. During wind tunnel tests, we took more than 12,000 feet of film. I sat down for several months and read that film because I wanted to know how fast you had to come out of there to make it. You know that bar that comes out of the shuttle door that they can bail out on … that was developed based on what we did. I feel real good about that, that the shuttles are flying with that.”
Scallion returned to help the shuttle program after the Challenger and Columbia accidents. But most of his research efforts in recent decades have been spent on X-vehicles, such as the X-33, the X-37 and the X-43. “I like to work problems,” he said. “No doubt about that. It’s been very interesting.”
By Chris Rink
Charting a technological revolution - Gale Wilson’s work has helped improve the quality of space telescope mirrors and spectral analysis of the Earth from space.
For most of his first year as a government employee, R. Gale Wilson was on leave without pay. Hired in 1957, Wilson was a summer engineering aide in NACA's Langley 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel Section, under a program for physics majors. In 1958, Wilson joined Langley’s Solid State Physics Section.
Initially, Wilson researched the reaction of ceramic materials under rapid heating to high temperatures. This evolved to the use of composite materials and, as expected, they were more effective as heat shields for spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere. He developed new Langley facilities and test techniques and modified existing ones for high-temperature testing. And for the highest temperatures, Wilson applied arc-imaging instrumentation and generated some of the first data on high-temperature properties -- data that were essential for the analysis and design of heat shields for Mercury, Apollo and Viking spacecraft. Offshoots of some of these materials now provide protection for the space shuttle on re-entry.
In 1970, Wilson helped develop a method applicable to in-orbit testing of large telescope mirrors. This work showed that a classical method of visually checking the imaging quality of a telescope mirror could be used to obtain accurate quantitative evaluation of the imaging accuracy. The optical expertise acquired from this project proved invaluable in later research projects contributing to current Earth remote sensing technology.
Wilson recalled that in the mid-to-late 1970s a great interest developed to do research with the space shuttle that could not be done in ground laboratories. This eventually led to his co-investigator role on the Feature Identification and Location Experiment (FILE) to test a method for orbital classification of the Earth’s primary surface features. The experiment showed that with only two spectral bands, four feature classes could be classified: bare land, water, vegetation and clouds, snow and ice as a group. This also was considered groundbreaking work in spectral analysis of the Earth from space.
Of late, Wilson has continued some work in remote sensing with the FILE technology carried over into small satellite experiments. His fiber-optic studies supported efforts in the optical fiber communications industry to improve coupling links within systems and provide manufacturing simplicity, cost reduction, and long-term reliability and stability. His current research applies a powerful general-purpose optical design and analysis software program for a study on a miniaturized, forward-looking Doppler-lidar instrument for sensing turbulence and icing conditions ahead of aircraft.
“It’s gratifying to be responsible for 35 reference publications, to be in the Optical Society of America’s reviewer database and to be recognized with seven NASA Special or Group Achievement awards,” said Wilson. “This half-century span has seen mind-boggling technological creations and innovations in rockets and satellites, the Internet, computers, lasers and fiber optics, electronics and optoelectronics, aviation, automobiles and medicine. A NASA career within this technological revolution was destined to be a truly exciting one!”
NASA's JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
By Catherine E. Borsché
Opening up shop - Harold Ferrese played a key role in the opening of the Johnson Space Center.
Back when NASA's Johnson Space Center was nothing but a field of prairie grass feeding longhorns, Harold Ferrese already was making a name for himself in the aeronautics industry.
It can be said that NASA did not find Ferrese, but Ferrese helped found NASA, or at least a part of it. He joined NACA in 1950, working at Langley on administrative and supply clerk duties. Ferrese came to Johnson in 1962, when it opened as the Manned Spacecraft Center. “I often tell people I opened up the center,” he said, laughing, noting how prior to the center’s groundbreaking he helped set up shop. “We used to have the headquarters downtown,” Ferrese said. “Then we moved from there to off of Telephone Road.” Some of Ferrese’s fondest memories were of JSC’s temporary headquarters, as there he worked with the “Original Seven” astronauts. Ferrese also had the pleasure of working intimately with NASA's first flight director, Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr., whom he would update weekly through telephone conversations. As the fledgling agency was just getting its foothold on the space frontier, Ferrese had the chance to procure some interesting items that started NASA on the road to bigger things.
“In 1967, I was told to go look for a World War II M109 electric truck,” Ferrese said. “And we went up to Harrisburg, Penn., to look for one.”
That search was just the beginning, for he was able to locate one and work with the Pentagon to have it shipped down to Johnson. But before he could have it shipped down, Ferrese had to get a crash course in learning to drive the M109 over the Virginia hills. Then he was sent on another search, but this time for a generator and a carrier for the generator. Ferrese was able to procure these items in California and Florida and also have them sent to Johnson. Once everything was in place, he put it all on a trailer and had it delivered to Flagstaff, Ariz. These items would serve as the forerunner to putting together a mobile camera to see liftoffs in action.
At Johnson, Ferrese currently is the facility manager for three buildings and manages the construction projects for five buildings on site.
“I’m also a fire warden, safety representative … everything between the floor and the ceiling – that’s me,” Ferrese said. He even has the distinction of being at the very first Johnson safety meeting held in 1962 at Ellington Field, Texas.
But Ferrese has his own theory as to why he has been able to thrive at the agency, and it is based on a valuable lesson his father taught him upon graduating from high school.
“My father worked in a clothing business, and we all had to learn the business – my two brothers and myself,” Ferrese said. “And my father told me, ‘We don’t own the business, but we do work for somebody. Treat it as your own business and you’ll never have any trouble.’ And that’s what I’ve done all this time. “One supervisor said to me one day, ‘What do you do to my people?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he answered, ‘When they get your jobs, they argue and fight over them. They want your jobs,’” Ferrese said.
And a lot of Ferrese’s popularity is due to the fact that he has the mindset of always greeting people with a friendly “good morning,” offering people who come to his office a cup of coffee and allowing those who know how to do the job to just do what they do best.
“If NASA wanted to let me go, I’d fight like heck,” he said.