Vance Brand, Dryden acting associate director for programs and a veteran of four NASA space missions, is retiring.
Image above: Brand is pictured in his Apollo astronaut portrait. (NASA Photo)
Brand said he enjoyed his 13-year career at Dryden, which included stints as deputy director of aerospace projects, assistant chief of flight operations and acting chief engineer. His most recent post included the opportunity to get a big-picture look at Dryden's programs as well as its future - a future he said looks bright.
"I get satisfaction from seeing our people do a good job for Dryden and for NASA," he said. "It's rewarding to see people pull off difficult things in a great way."
Brand believes there are "great possibilities out there" for NASA. He expects the agency will find a way to explore the solar system and venture even further out into space. "It's hard to picture now, but there will be breakthroughs," he said.
Much like the so-called "sound barrier" was a limitation until Oct. 14, 1947, pierced by then Capt. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager in the Bell X-1, other limitations that exist today will fall in time through effort and perseverance. Brand believes Dryden will be a part of that effort.
"Dryden is well positioned to take part in expansion of flight in many ways, including flying at higher altitudes and speeds," he said.
"There are a lot of opportunities in the future for Dryden in space-related projects, aircraft projects and airborne science. We just have to continue to do great work and not become complacent."
Commanding shuttle missions
Prior to his work as a Dryden administrator, Brand was commander of three space shuttle missions and fondly recalls his adventures in space.
He first commanded space shuttle Columbia during STS-5 in November 1982, the first flight billed as an operational shuttle mission.
"It wasn't very operational," he recalled. "We had around 50 flight test objectives that were continued from the first four flights. It was operational from the standpoint that we had a crew of four instead of a crew of two and it was the first mission to deploy commercial satellites into geosynchronous orbit from a shuttle."
As with any job, Brand said there was a learning curve as people first get used to space flight.
"The first flight was really great. Each event was a new experience. You knew what to expect from simulation and training, but the actual flight was a little bit different and no matter what the objectives and milestones, you were busy all the time," he said.
No doubt that was true when he landed the shuttle at dawn at Edwards Air Force Base on his first mission, in 1982. A test required him to fly the orbiter manually through a roller coaster-like maneuver at Mach 18 as it descended from the atmosphere on re-entry. At that speed the orbiter was surrounded by a sheath of hot plasma that looked like fire. Although he was busy flying instruments to complete his task, fellow crewmembers told him during the maneuver, a shockwave of fire appeared to move off of the nose and attach itself to the front windows.
"When I completed the maneuver the shockwave 'walked' back to the nose, but the other two crewmembers had a little concern seeing the hot shockwave on the windows," he said. "Of course, visual surprises like that never happened in simulators."
Crew interaction and odd mission happenings were memorable. "I enjoyed watching other people first experience microgravity," Brand said. He also recalled a crewman on another shuttle mission when he commanded Challenger's February 1984 STS-41B mission, the 10th flight of the shuttle program.
"I would kid one crewman on orbit because he not only ate his packed meals, but he was always in the pantry getting more food," he said. "We all would kid him that he was going to run us out of food, which of course he didn't." Brand also recalled that the mission featured a spectacular space walk when Bruce McCandless and Bob Stewart maneuvered 100 yards out from the shuttle and back with manned maneuvering units strapped to their backs. They were flying in formation above the atmosphere at 17,000 miles per hour with nothing tethering them to the orbiter. But relative to the orbiter their speed was slow - only one or two miles per hour.
On the same mission, a crewman conducting an experiment with six laboratory rats had erroneously reported to Johnson Space Center that the rats had perished. Although the crew did not want to give mission control bad news, it appeared the experiment was over.
"They appeared to us to be dead when their cage lights were on, since they were just floating aimlessly around their cage in a weightless state. Actually, the rats only looked dead because they were asleep. We couldn't see them breathing, but when a light in their cage was turned off, the rats started moving around. We learned that rats are active mainly at night and sleep when there is daylight.
"At the completion of the mission, we returned to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to make the first shuttle landing there," Brand said.
His third and final shuttle mission was as commander of STS-35 in December 1990. He commanded Columbia's seven-member crew on a mission that included delivery of about 13 tons of X-ray and infrared telescopes to orbit, where four researchers made around-the-clock observations of some of the hotter astronomical objects in the universe.
As an astronaut, Brand's first space mission in 1975 was a big one. It was the first meeting of nations that were confrontational on the ground and were trying to achieve international cooperation in the peaceful silence of space. U.S. astronauts and Russian (then Soviet) cosmonauts successfully completed the first international rendezvous in space, 140 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.
Image above: Vance Brand (seated in the center) was part of the Apollo-Soyuz first meeting in space, commanded three space shuttle missions and served in administrative capacities at Dryden for more than 13 years. (NASA Photo)
The historic meeting in space was a triumph for multinational cooperation and appeared that it would lead to further cooperation in space, Brand said. The American astronauts included Brand, Apollo Commander Tom Stafford and Donald "Deke" Slayton.
"When we went to Russia for the first time in the early 1970s, it was the peak of the Cold War. We were a bit apprehensive but we didn't want to show it. We were met at the plane by smiling Russian people carrying flowers for us. After that, both sides were bending over backward to accommodate each other and make the cooperative flight work," he said.
The astronauts and cosmonauts found it easy to get along. They were not hampered by the political, cultural and language differences that had been creating animosity between their nations since the end of World War II.
"They all had a positive attitude, just like we did," Brand said of the cosmonauts.
Cooperation cooled when the Ford administration came to an end in the U.S., Brand said, but later presidential administrations engaged in partnerships with the Russians, including the Russian Space Station Mir and International Space Station.
Brand's storied career began with four years in the Marine Corps and he later graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, Md. He flew with the Lockheed California Co. in Burbank and Palmdale for six years. He then left Lockheed for a 41-year career with NASA that included more than a decade at Dryden.
Brand was an engineering test pilot on the Lockheed F-104. While in that post, he accepted an assignment as a test pilot and advisor to help the West Germans put together a flight test center at Istres, France. It was while working on that project that he saw an issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine that included a small article about NASA taking applications for astronauts during the buildup to the Apollo missions. He was one of 19 astronauts selected in 1966.
Honors he has received include two NASA Distinguished Service Medals; two NASA Exceptional Service Medals; the Federation Aeronautique International Yuri Gagarin Gold Medal; three NASA Space Flight Medals; the Harmon Trophy; and induction into the International Space Hall of Fame and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. He is a Meritorious Executive, U.S. Senior Executive Service.
Dryden Flight Research Center