NASA’s 50-year legacy of pioneering the future is as much the product of quietly persistent innovators and unsung heroes as it is of the agency’s more high profile representatives. The following profiles represent just a sample of people who have made a difference in the agency’s history.
Betty Love: A living link to the early X-planes
By Christian Gelzer
Honors for X-15 work - X-15 research engineering technician Betty Love (on right) joined her husband, X-15 project manager Jim Love and test pilot Bill Dana for a ceremony honoring the program’s success in California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s office (1969). From left, state assemblyman Kent Stacey, Judi Dana, Bill Dana, Gov. Ronald Reagan, Jim Love, Betty Love and state senator Walter Stiern.
Betty Love came to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High Speed Flight Research Station at Muroc Air Force Base, now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 1952. In a sense, she has never left.
Unlike most of the employees at the NACA station at the time, Betty was a native Californian. She grew up not far from what is today NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, and can remember family bonfires on Rosamond Dry Lake and trips by car across Rogers Dry Lake at night in 1942.
Love began working as a “human computer” barely six years after the first contingent of NACA engineers and technicians arrived at the remote desert base. Her job was to take film from an X-plane after a research flight, time code the traces on that film, turn that data into numbers and graph the numbers so the engineers could see what the strain gages registered or how much the control surfaces had deflected.
She started as a GS-1 – the lowest rung on the government pay scale – and recalled that “It was several years before my two-week paycheck would equal $100.”
Working conditions were not what most people expected, although Love was not surprised. “The wind blew in the winter, and it was cold and dusty,” she recalled. “The wind blew in the summer, and it was hot and dusty.” Each morning as the human computers came to work – they were all women – they used their government-issued dust broom to sweep the dust and sand off their desks. “It was like a library,” she recalled.
“No one spoke to anyone [except] in hushed tones. We were allowed to get coffee twice a day. The engineers had a lot more fun in their offices.”
Love's work gradually began to change. Instead of just reading traces, she began to receive special instructions with her film: look for amplitude, or count the frequencies. In 1954 she was taken out of the computers’ office and put in a room with four engineers who worked on structures.
“I still had my Friden calculator,” she added, but she began reducing data just for those engineers. Moreover, unlike her previous workplace, “I could ask what I was doing, what it was going to be used for, and I did ask lots of ‘whys.’” No longer just a computer, Love was promoted to aeronautical research engineering technician. Along with the title came new responsibilities. “I worked on all the research planes from the X-1 and the D-558-II to the X-15 and the XB-70,” she remembered.
When telereaders came along, her work became somewhat less laborious. She could now mark film traces with a foot pedal while entering the data on a keyboard, instead of writing the numbers by hand in columns. The cards were then loaded into a sorter that generated the graphs. Before long, Love was writing short computer programs to reduce the data more directly. Not surprisingly, she was given the first programmable desk computer the center purchased. Later in her career with NASA, Love co-authored several technical papers and served as third author on others. She never found her years at the center tedious or unrewarding, and it was often hard to leave work on time.
“The car pool used to give me fits,” recalled Love of the early years, since she was invariably the last to reach the car, and the others in the pool were eager to get home. Until, that is, “Neil Armstrong joined the car pool; then they left me alone and got all over him for not being ready at four o’clock.”
Love technically retired in 1973 but continues to be invaluable as a volunteer in Dryden’s history office – a living, on-going link to the earliest years at the center, smoothly bridging the NACA and NASA periods.
John Houbolt: Advocate for Lunar Orbit Rendezvous
By Kathy Barnstorff
Vindicated - Langley engineer John Houbolt never backed down on his bold moon landing proposal.
Prior to the establishment of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., was home to the Space Task Group that conceived and directed America’s first human-in-space program, Project Mercury. It was at Langley that a young engineer named John Houbolt fought a successful battle to promote lunar orbit rendezvous as the way to go to the moon.
Lunar orbit rendezvous, however, was not an easy sell.
Initially, the great minds of American space science, including Wernher von Braun, favored a huge rocket and direct flight to get to the moon and back. “It was as big as an Atlas vehicle and, we know today, to launch that vehicle at Cape Canaveral [Air Force Station, Florida] takes 3,000 men and a very complicated launch site control center,” said Houbolt. “But they were going to send a vehicle the size of Atlas to the moon with absolutely zero help and land it backwards. I said ‘It cannot be done.’”
Instead Houbolt proposed sending a craft up into space that would orbit the moon and include a smaller vehicle that could land there and return to the “mother ship.”
“I said you must include rendezvous in your thinking, to simplify, to manage your energy much better,” recalled Houbolt. “That is, to manage the way the vehicles behave in a simpler way.”
The Langley engineer had figures to back up his claims, but he encountered great resistance.
“It actually turned into a two-and-a-half- year fight to convince people, because they wouldn’t even listen to it,” commented Houbolt. ‘They wouldn’t even study it. They were so much against it. Why was there so much resistance to it? That’s a good question, and the only thing I can come up with is the syndrome of NIH … not invented here.”
Houbolt eventually won, and Langley went on to build many of the tools that supported Houbolt’s idea, including the rendezvous docking simulator used in the Gemini and Apollo programs.
And, on July 20, 1969, the day men landed on the moon, where was John Houbolt? The Langley researcher who fought for lunar orbit rendezvous was in Houston -- in Mission Control.
“I had the privilege of sitting there and watching the whole mission, and when the landing took place and the touchdown was made … all of us stood up and started clapping,” said Houbolt. “But, at the same time, we weren’t speaking, because we didn’t want to miss a fraction of a second of history being made. And von Braun sat in front of me, and he did the okay sign and said, ‘Thank you, John.’ That was one of the biggest rewards I’ve ever had.”
Roy G. Bryant: He Mothered NASA’s Mother Ship
By Gray Creech
Jack-of-all-trades - Roy Bryant viewing an aircraft takeoff (1962).
In aviation, pilots tend to receive the recognition for their skill and bravado, while engineers, technicians and maintainers – the enablers of flight – are usually overlooked. However, the contributions of these non-flying personnel are essential to successful flight research.
Starting off as a young aerospace engineer in the late 1950s, Roy Bryant’s career encompassed such aeronautics projects as the X-15, JB-47A, the F-100, F-107A and the Daedalus human-powered aircraft.
Bryant got his start in October 1957 as an engineer in the Special Projects office of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ High Speed Flight Station, now NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Within a couple of years, Bryant was part of NASA’s famous X-15 hypersonic flight project, serving in the mission control room during flights, doing everything from logging pilot comments to providing calibrations for X-15 flights. He was known as a veritable jack-of-all-trades.
During the mid-1970s, he was the project manager on the YF-17 fighter and oversaw the center’s fleet of F-104 Starfighter research and chase aircraft. He spent nearly 30 years as the project manager of NASA’s B-52B mother ship, an iconic aircraft that launched many of the most significant aerospace vehicles in history.
Prior to his death in 2005, Bryant was asked what contributions he recalled most fondly. His focus remained on others to the end. “I was here in January 1960 for the first X-15 flight and in November 2004 for the last X-43A flight, and for all of the flights in-between,” said Bryant. “Pride, dedication and innovation have been the key elements of the people who maintained these vintage aircraft to support the many projects that have kept the United States at the forefront of aerospace development for the past 45 years.”
Nancy G. Roman: Pioneer of NASA’s Space Astronomy Program
By Edward S. Goldstein
Start from scratch - Nancy Roman, with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory, started and organized NASA’s astronomy program.
In 1959 the Washington Star newspaper profiled Nancy Roman, the lady who single-handedly ran NASA’s fledgling astronomy program. The paper glowingly praised the University of Chicago-trained astronomer, who already was advocating plans for launching orbiting astronomical observatories, and who, a few years later, wrote a study predicting that an orbiting telescope could see a “Jupiter-sized planet around Alpha Centauri.” But true to the era’s social stereotypes, Roman was described as a “career girl” and was pictured at home “kneading dough” for one of her “delicious dinners.” This emphasis did not concern Roman. Her focus was always on the distant galaxies, which in a simile to describe our expanding universe, are often pictured as raisins in a rising loaf of bread.
As a woman, launching a career in astronomy was certainly a challenge. Roman recalled that her Dean of Women at Swarthmore College “was strongly against any woman going into science or engineering.” But she did receive encouragement from a physics professor “who came up to me in lab one day and said, ‘You know, I usually try to convince women not to go into physics, but I think maybe you might make it.'"
Working as a researcher for the Naval Research Laboratory, Roman attended a 1959 talk at NASA’s Headquarters by chemist Harold Urey about the possible origins of the moon. While there, NASA’s space science director Homer Newell asked her to start the agency’s astronomy program. “I had left teaching, which I enjoyed, because I realized I couldn’t get tenure at a research university,” recalled Roman. “I finally decided that the challenge of starting with a completely clean slate and mapping out a program that I thought would influence astronomy for 50 years was more than I could turn down. And I think it has influenced astronomy for that period.”
Roman provided leadership for NASA’s first successful astronomical mission, the Orbiting Solar Observatory-1, which was launched in March 1962. She then led the planning and oversaw missions as diverse as geodetic satellites, the three Orbiting Astronomical Observatories (including Copernicus, which gave astronomers their first opportunity to make long-term observations unimpeded by Earth’s atmosphere), the two Small Astronomical Satellites (which studied the sky with X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes, and included Uhuru), three Orbiting Solar Observatories (which studied the sun and the solar wind), and the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), along with astronomical observations with balloons.
From NASA’s infancy onward, Roman strongly advocated astronomer Lyman Spitzer’s concept for placing a large observatory in space, an idea that eventually became the Hubble Space Telescope. The road from Spitzer’s concept, first presented in 1946, to the launch of Hubble in 1990 was long and arduous. Roman remembers contesting plans hatched in 1962 by NASA’s human spaceflight program to launch a large telescope on a Saturn V rocket and have “a man riding along with a telescope and looking through it.” Roman noted, “I finally convinced them that this was the last thing astronomers wanted. Not only didn’t they look through telescopes on the ground … and besides which, a man wiggles, and that sort of makes it hard to stabilize the telescope.” Roman then worked patiently with the scientific community to make realistic plans for the Hubble, with a 2.4-meter telescope, which was smaller than what many astronomers wanted. When the Hubble finally launched and initially suffered optics problems that were subsequently repaired, Roman said “I wondered had I really oversold the Hubble. I have to admit that since, I have been convinced that I didn’t,” she laughed.
In her career, Roman also was asked to brief members of the astronaut corps, including the Apollo 11 crew, about astronomy related to their missions. “I told them that they would have a much darker sky, that they’d be able to see much fainter stars than they could see from the ground, and of course, that they could see the southern stars as well as the northern stars,” she recalls. She later worked with the three Skylab crews, whose missions included stellar and related observations.
Roman is most proud of her work on the International Ultraviolet Explorer, a collaborative project between NASA, the United Kingdom Science Research Council and the European Space Agency. The International Ultraviolet Explorer was the first space observatory to be operated in real time by astronomers using ground stations at Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Md., and in Spain. Astronomers made more than 104,000 observations of different objects including planets, comets, stars, interstellar gas, supernovae, planetary aurora, galaxies and quasars. “It was used for 16 hours a day from Goddard and for eight hours a day from Spain,” she said. “More than 3,000 refereed scientific papers came out of the satellite, and the data is still being used. I think I’m most proud of it because it was a project I really had to work for. It was not one that was so obvious that the astronomical community would have been up in arms had it not flown. Moreover, the X-ray astronomy community, which was politically much stronger than the optical community and ultraviolet community at that time, was strongly opposed to it because they felt it was taking money from X-ray astronomy.”
In December 1985, the International Astronomical Union announced the naming of an asteroid discovered at the Goethe Link Observatory, Indiana University, after Roman. While she has not seen her namesake astronomical body, Roman says she was thrilled by the honor. Today Roman is still active, and often participates in forums designed to encourage young girls to reach for the stars.
Emmett Chappelle: The Products Of An Inventive Mind
By Dewayne Washington
Hall of famer - Last year Emmett Chappelle was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Having 14 U.S. patents to your name is one indication that a life’s work devoted to technical innovation has borne fruit. But for Emmett Chappelle, who retired from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as a research scientist, his selection as one of 2007's inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, provided a welcome confirmation of his status as one of NASA’s great innovators. He also has been recognized as one of the 20th centuries’ top 100 African American scientists and engineers.
Chappelle, joining three other living inductees at the official announcement, was recognized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work with lyophilized reaction mixtures. His work revealed that a specific combination of chemicals caused all living organisms to emit light. Through his discovery, Chappelle facilitated important findings within the fields of biology and chemistry, leading to the development of remote sensing of vegetation health through laser-induced fluorescence. He also developed innovative techniques used to detect bacteria in urine, blood, spinal fluids, drinking water and foods. Chappelle’s work hastened the development of laser-induced fluorescence as a means to detect plant stress. This technique allows scientists to ascertain crop health and measure productivity based on the amount of light crops emit, creating data that can be used to improve food production through effective planting, irrigation and fertilization patterns.
His first introduction to NASA occurred in 1963, when he was hired to do research while a senior biochemist at the Hazelton Laboratories in Falls Church, Va. In 1966 Chappelle joined Goddard as an exobiologist and later as an astrochemist. “I really enjoyed my time at Goddard,” Chappelle stated after his induction was announced. “The people made it a great place for me to do my research, and I really appreciated that NASA recognized the importance of my work.”
Wen Painter: From Ranching to Research
By Beth Hagenauer
Lifesaver - Wen Painter, here with colleague Tom McMurty and Ames guest pilots next to AD-1 research aircraft.
“I didn’t like riding horses or milking cows, but I did like airplanes.”
Those words reflect the childhood of Weneth D. “Wen” Painter, former NASA flight controls engineer, who was raised on a cattle ranch near Mills, Neb.
As Painter entered first grade, World War II began, and Nebraska had 11 training bases filling the skies with aircraft. Always a curious child, Painter remembers his grandparents holding him up to peek inside aircraft cockpits.
Painter earned his private pilot’s license at 17. He entered the U.S. Air Force just as the truce for the Korean War was signed. Although he did not fly, Painter served four years, then earned an engineering degree from the University of Wichita, Kan. During his final year of studies, Painter met Dr. Don Kordes, who was recruiting engineers for what is now Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert. He joined the center’s engineering staff in 1963.
In his work, Painter focused on flight control systems on NASA’s lifting bodies. These unique research vehicles, with unconventional aerodynamic shapes, were designed to validate the concept of flying a wingless vehicle back to Earth from space and landing it like an aircraft at a pre-determined site. The original idea of lifting bodies was conceived about 1957 by Dr. Alfred J. Eggers, Jr., then the assistant director for Research and Development Analysis and Planning at Ames. Painter’s handiwork can be found in the M2-F2, HL-10 and X-24A research vehicles. His technical support was essential to the first flight of the HL-10 on Dec. 22, 1966. An unforeseen design flaw caused the airflow to separate from the craft’s two elevons at positive angles of attack, rendering the elevons virtually useless for roll control. NASA pilot Bruce Petersen struggled with the almost uncontrollable aircraft during its 3-minute, 6-second ride to a 342 mile per hour landing on Rogers Dry Lake. From the control room, Painter offered tips to Petersen as he attempted to stabilize the aircraft.
“He got it down safely, but it was terrifying for all of us,” Painter remembers.
Other engineers wanted to refly the mission in an attempt to duplicate the problem, but Painter refused to allow it until a fix was found. He was supported by former center director Paul Bikle, who commented that if “Wen Painter doesn’t sign off the flight paperwork on the HL-10, it doesn’t fly.”
Painter said that he would never forget May 10, 1967, when good friend Petersen was landing the M2-F2 and it began to cartwheel. What saved Petersen’s life was that the cockpit, by design, was reinforced with heavy steel for ballast rather than the typical lead weights.
The results of the F-8 supercritical wing flight research, for which he was project engineer, can be seen in the wing design of most airliners flying today. This research, involving a new tailoring of an airfoil design to delay the formation and reduce the strength of the shock wave over the wing of an aircraft breaking the sound barrier, have improved the cruising speed, fuel efficiency and flight range of subsonic commercial aircraft.
Though technically retired from NASA, Painter still comes to Dryden several times a week to provide engineering support for a contractor. He is reminded of his lifting body days each time he passes the HL-10, now mounted on a pedestal just outside the center’s main gate.
Shelby Jacobs: Accepting the Challenge
By Sonja Alexander
Camera designer - NASA contractor Shelby Jacobs flanked by STS-26 astronauts Dick Covey and David Hilmers. To the right is Carl Anderson, Jacobs' co-worker at Rockwell International.
As the United States was entering the space race in the late 1950s, the nation also was about to forge new frontiers in the great public struggle for civil rights. The “Jackie Robinson” phenomenon had occurred in athletics during the late 1940s and 1950s, but not in the aerospace industry. The themes of America’s reach into space and the beginnings of the civil rights movement intersected, when determined African-Americans overcame the doubts of many others that they could participate meaningfully in science and technology careers.
Shelby Jacobs, like so many black people during this time, was met with social barriers. Though at first it seemed quite an uphill battle, with an uneven playing field, Jacobs persevered and went on to help NASA make space history.
Despite being told by his high school principal that there were “no black engineers” and encouraged to pursue other work, Jacobs took those words as a challenge and was glad that he did. He went to the University of California in Los Angeles, majoring in mechanical engineering, and was subsequently hired by Rockedyne in Canoga Park, Calif., where he made detail and assembly drawings for the Mercury and Atlas projects. He subsequently transferred to North American-Rockwell, in Downey, Calif., where he worked on the Apollo/Saturn and space shuttle programs. For the shuttle he was the project manager reporting to the vice president of the program for external tank systems interface hardware production (provided to Martin Marietta by Rockwell). He is most proud of his role in the design, installation and testing of the camera system, which flew on the unmanned Apollo 6 flight in April 1968. The film of the separation between the first and second stages of the vehicle is one of the most repeated images in space history. Jacobs recently learned that a fellow native of his home town – Santa Clarita Valley, Calif. – John Reid, among the first black helicopter pilots in the Navy, was on the recovery crew assigned to remove Apollo 6 separation film canisters from the Atlantic Ocean.
In looking back on his decision to pursue engineering instead of recommended trade work, Jacobs said, “I thought it better to prepare and not be able to achieve career goals than not prepare and live to regret it.” He added, “I am eternally thankful to NASA, Rockwell [now Boeing] among others for the many wonderful opportunities from which I derived such great benefit over a long 40-year career in aerospace."
Steve Bales and Jack Garman: Wonder Boys of the Apollo 11 Flight Control Team
By Craig Collins
Cool heads - Heroes of the Apollo 11 landing: Steve Bales at mission control (Top) and Jack Garman (Above) receiving an award from Alan Shepard with George Low looking on.
Americans who know a bit about the Apollo Space Program may recall that the first manned lunar landing – during the Apollo 11 mission – was a split-second away from being aborted. Twenty-six-year-old guidance officer Steve Bales was a key flight control team member who kept his cool while the onboard computer in the lunar module sent out a series of alarms.
As the lunar module Eagle made its approach to the surface of the moon, a yellow caution light came on inside the cockpit, on the computer control panel. It was coded 1202, an “executive overflow” alarm, which meant the computer was having trouble completing its work in the cycling time available.
As NASA legend has it, Bales, who had the authority to issue a Go or No Go decision on the landing – continued to issue a confident “We’re Go!” throughout the remaining seconds of the descent, even as the 1202 and a similar alarm, the 1201, sounded intermittently. When the lunar module made its landing, it had seconds of fuel remaining before it would have to abort.
The icy calm of Bales is a dramatic, iconic moment in NASA history, but as you peel back the layers of preparation that led to those moments, the story becomes almost astounding.
Bales – who later accepted the NASA Group Achievement Award from President Nixon on behalf of the entire mission operations team – credited his quick decision to an even younger whiz kid, John R. “Jack” Garman, 24 years old, an expert in the guidance computer software. It was Garman who, a few months before Apollo 11, gave the simulation supervisor, Dick Koos, the idea of testing the reaction of flight controllers to computer error codes. He also supported flight controllers in Mission Control as a backroom advisor on computer systems. By the time the actual landing was being attempted by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Garman knew almost instinctively that a single 1202 or 1201 alarm did not mean the mission had to be aborted; it simply meant the computer was struggling to keep up. As long as the alarm did not become continuous – meaning the computer was not getting any work done and vital tasks were neglected – it would not prevent a landing.
And it was Garman to whom Bales turned when the 1202 alarm went off. “Quite frankly,” Bales later recalled, “Jack, who had these things memorized, said, ‘That’s okay,’ before I could even remember which group [the alarm] was in.”
For his part, Garman gives credit to Flight Director Gene Kranz – known to most of America as the fiery character played by Ed Harris in the film Apollo 13 – for his memorization of the alarm codes: “Gene Kranz, who was the real hero of that whole episode, said, ‘No, no, no. I want you all to write down every possible computer alarm that can possibly go wrong.’” Garman did, along with the correct reaction to those alarms – and kept this handwritten list under glass on his desk.
Kranz’s order had come on the heels of a stinging embarrassment dealt to the flight control team during its final simulation, traditionally a kind of “graduation day” in which the team celebrates its grueling routine by practicing a successful landing. This time, two weeks before the launch date, Koos had instead thrown a series of program alarms at them – incredibly, 1201 and 1202 alarms. Bales looked at the alarms and called an abort. “We aborted,” Kranz said later, “and I was really ready to kill Koos at this time, I was so damned mad … but Koos comes into [the debriefing] and he says, ‘No … You should not have aborted for those computer program alarms. What you should have done is taken a look at all of the function. Was the guidance still working? Was the navigation still working? Were you still firing your jets?’”
Two weeks later, when the 1202 alarm sounded, even though Bales didn’t remember which one it was, a critical decision rested with two young men whose ages combined to equal 50.
“You don’t realize until years later, actually, how doing the wrong thing at the right time could have changed history,” Garman once said – before passing credit along to somebody else. “So it was very good that there were people like Gene Kranz and Steve Bales and others who kept their heads.”
Dr. George Carruthers: Lunar Observatory Developer
By Edward S. Goldstein
Lunar observatory - Dr. George Carruthers with the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph.
Dr. George Carruthers, who grew up dreaming of space while reading science fiction and Buck Rogers comic books, and (slightly later) more realistic astronomy books, is representative of the many Apollo era scientists who made the most of opportunities to turn our first six human lunar explorations into more than flags and footprints.
Today, on the moon’s Descartes highland region, in the shadow of the lunar module Orion, sits the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph, the first moon-based observatory that Carruthers developed for the 1972 Apollo 16 mission. Working for the Naval Research Laboratory, Carruthers had three years earlier received a patent for a Far Ultraviolet Electrographic Camera, which obtained images in electromagnetic radiation in short wavelengths. In 1970, using a sounding rocket, he made the first detection of molecular hydrogen in space. And in 1972 he led a team that responded to a NASA announcement of opportunity to develop the first and thus far only lunar astronomical observatory. The Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph used a 3-inch diameter telescope to photograph Earth, various nebulae, star clusters, and the Large Megellanic Cloud. In developing the observatory, Carruthers’ team surmounted a number of challenges of instrumentation and design to create a 50-pound, gold-plated camera and spectrograph apparatus that recorded radiation from the upper half of the UV spectrum. He and his team had to ensure that sensitive coatings used in their instrument were not exposed to water vapor. Carruthers also noted that the opportunity to place an instrument on the moon, let alone space, was unique “because in the 1970s time period they didn’t have much in the way of orbital missions.”
Carruthers also developed a rocket instrument that obtained an ultraviolet image of Comet Halley, and an instrument with two cameras, with different far-UV wavelength sensitivities, used on the STS-39 space shuttle mission in 1991. He has worked most recently on UV imaging of Earth’s polar auroras and of the faint photochemical luminescence found in the upper atmosphere, with an instrument, Global Imaging Monitor of the Ionosphere (GIMI), on a Department of Defense satellite, the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (ARGOS), launched in 1999. This was the first of his instruments that used radio transmissions of images to the ground, rather than using film.
Today, Carruthers teaches an Earth and Space Science course at Howard University sponsored by a NASA Aerospace Workforce Development Grant.
While obviously proud of his work on humankind’s first lunar observatory, Carruthers would like people to recall how his research was aided by the opportunities NASA presented to scientists to put their instruments on sounding rockets. He would like to see NASA remember that not all of its great science comes out of large-scale missions.
Jack A. Kinzler: The Man Who Saved Skylab
By Craig Collins
Mr. Fix It - Jack Kinzler thought of an easier way to accomplish the difficult Skylab repair mission.
Nobody better illustrates the youthful, can-do exuberance of NASA’s early years than Jack Kinzler. Stumped for a way to get his new model of the Mercury capsule at Langley Research Center fitted to an Atlas rocket in Cape Canaveral, the whiz kid got some rope and tied it down on a mattress-padded flatbed truck for the journey from Virginia to Florida.
For nearly 20 years, Kinzler, who never earned a four-year college degree, worked as a modelmaker, toolmaker and machine-shop superintendent for the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics. He took his reputation as a fix-it man to the Space Task Group and later became chief of the Technical Services Center – an all-purpose machine and tool shop – at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Among the innovations spawned in Kinzler’s shop at Johnson were the flexible rubber boot between a space capsule and its re-entry heat shield that softened ocean landings, the plaques placed on the lunar surface by each of the Apollo moon landings, and the hand-held maneuvering unit used by Ed White in the first spacewalk by a U.S. astronaut during the Gemini IV mission. Kinzler himself, dissatisfied with the plan to have an American flag displayed prominently on the side of the lunar module, devised a permanent fixture: his 3-by-5-foot freestanding flag, stowed on the underside of the module’s ladder, was unfurled and driven into the moon’s surface by each of the lunar landing crews, though the Apollo 12 crew was unable to deploy the telescoping bar that extends the flag outward.
Kinzler also helped design the special six-iron club head that Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard fitted to the handle of a lunar sampling scoop to make his two famous golf drives. But the achievement that earned him NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal was accomplished within a period of 10 dramatic days in May of 1973.
During the launch of the Skylab Space Station on May 14, 1973, a meteorite shield prematurely deployed and created atmospheric drag, which set off a disastrous chain reaction: the meteorite shield was ripped off, along with one of the solar panels, and another solar panel was jammed partially shut by the debris. As Skylab reached orbit, it had very little power, and its laboratory area was exposed directly to solar heat. The temperature inside the laboratory would conceivably rise higher than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, spoiling the on-board film and foods and making the station uninhabitable.
The launch of Skylab’s three-man crew, scheduled for the next day, was postponed as troubleshooters throughout NASA puzzled over how to salvage the $2.6 billion outpost. While many focused on the idea of repairing the shield from the outside by a spacewalking repairman, Kinzler looked for a simpler solution. “I found there was a sally port – that’s a camera port, 8 inches square, right on the side of the spacecraft – where the heat shield had ripped off,” Kinzler later recalled. He immediately had the thought: “Why don’t we use this sally port opening to deploy something from the inside?”
Kinzler quickly sent technicians on three errands: driving to a Houston sporting-goods store to buy four telescoping fishing poles; acquiring a 24-foot square of parachute silk; and ordering an 8-inch diameter tube from the metal shop. Kinzler built his prototype – a parasol that could be pushed through the camera port and unfurled by activating springs and telescoping tubes – and demonstrated it to higher-ups on the floor of a space center hangar. “It laid right out on the floor,” Kinzler said. “Talk about impressive. They said, ‘That’s it!’”
After docking with the space station on May 26, the crew of Skylab 2, Pete Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz, entered the laboratory and inserted a slender 4-foot long container into the camera port. They pushed through the shield, an aluminized 24-by-28-foot Inconel parasol, and deployed it. The temperature inside soon dropped to 70 degrees, and the crew began its scheduled experiments in relative comfort.
Kinzler’s greatest source of pride was that the parasol was conceived and executed almost entirely by government employees. “We stayed awake and worked for six solid days, around the clock,” he said. “We had a hundred employees working on this thing, and we did everything. We made all the parts. We demonstrated how it’s to be done. And we completely pulled that thing off without any outside help.”
Harriett Jenkins: Creator of Opportunity
By Sonja Alexander
Ready for duty - Dr. Harriett Jenkins being sworn in by NASA Administrator James Fletcher in 1974 as the agency's assistant administrator for Equal Opportunity Programs.
As we remember and honor NASA’s achievements, we should also note how the agency dealt with and succeeded in integrating its workforce, contractors and researchers with minorities, women and individuals with disabilities, and also included them in supervisory and managerial positions at NASA.
NASA had to be brusquely reminded of these responsibilities in the early 1970s by Dr. Ruth Bates Harris, then NASA Equal Employment Opportunity officer, and by Congressional Oversight Committees, at a time when the agency was downsizing and had fewer opportunities to make new hires.
To respond to these challenges, NASA Administrator James Fletcher appointed Dr. Harriett G. Jenkins in 1974 as assistant administrator for Equal Opportunity Programs. She worked with his deputy, Dr. George Low, and with succeeding NASA leadership teams for 18 years to increase diversity in the agency’s personnel, research and technical programs.
NASA was successful in bringing about change because it applied to these human resource challenges the same managerial concern and diligence that had been applied to its technical, scientific and engineering programs and projects. Managerial strategies included the establishment of an Equal Opportunity Council which would ensure that actions were implemented successfully at each center, and which was composed of deputy center directors, center Equal Opportunity officers, NASA personnel director, and NASA Special Emphasis officers. Center self-evaluations were conducted: and hiring goals (not quotas) were established for integrating the workforce. The senior managers of NASA received and monitored monthly reports of the equal opportunity progress of each center. Research centers were established among competitively selected minority universities; and because women and minorities were historically scarce in science and engineering disciplines and resource pools, the underrepresented groups were encouraged to apply for and participate in numerous NASA programs and initiatives.
During her tenure at NASA, Dr. Jenkins received numerous agency honors, including its Distinguished and Outstanding Leadership medals, as well as the Federal Presidential Meritorious and Distinguished Service Medals. She left the agency in 1992, and directed the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices for the United States Senate until 1997. In 2000, NASA honored Dr. Jenkins by establishing the Harriett G. Jenkins Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program, which competitively selects 20 outstanding college graduates each year for assistance with their pre-doctoral education for up to three years. Since its beginning, 35 fellows have received doctoral degrees and 33 fellows have received master's degrees.
John W. Kiker: The $19 Million Man
By Craig Collins
Why not piggyback - John Kiker proposed carrying the shuttle orbiter on top of a modified Boeing 747.
When John Kiker moved to Houston in 1960 to join the group of engineers who would form what we now recognize as NASA’s Johnson Space Center and its Mission Control Center, he was a man apart from the whiz kids who made up a large part of the staff: he already had been working in the field for 15 years, designing deceleration systems for aircraft of all types, and helping with airstrip modifications that enabled the Air Force’s earliest atomic bomb test runs.
At Johnson, Kiker designed the parachute and descent systems for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and he assisted in designing the landing and docking systems for the lunar module and the Apollo command module. By 1971, he was chief of the Mechanisms Branch in the Spacecraft Design Division.
Kiker always was ready to share credit for ideas that worked, but the one for which he is best known within NASA is one he developed entirely on his own, and for which many of his colleagues at first questioned his sanity.
During the 1970s, NASA engineers began debating designs for the space shuttle. A big concern of planners was how they would get the shuttle back to its launch site at the Kennedy Space Center if it had to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a far away point. One concept called for the orbiter to be self-propelled, with deployable engines stored in the payload bay. But studies exposed the idea as impractical – any engines that could serve this purpose, along with their fuel and control systems, would consume most of the orbiter’s available storage space. A number of alternative ideas were suggested, including the ferrying of the orbiter on an aircraft carrier.
Only a person with Kiker’s experience, it seems, would have been able to conceive of the simplest, most workable solution. “I thought, ‘Gee, what can I do?’” Kiker recalled in a 1999 interview. He reflected on his career as a model-builder whose specialty had been making modifications to aircraft. “I looked back, and there were quite a few airplanes – the British had a couple of airplanes, a bomber that would take a fighter. And the Germans did that also – you could take a fighter that didn’t have the range, and [you] needed protection for the bombers, and they would fly them off the top of the airplane.” Kiker’s idea – to carry the orbiter on the back of a modified Boeing 747 – was met with initial skepticism, to say the least, but the utility of his idea was finally proven in full-scale approach and landing tests of the shuttle Enterprise at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in October 1977.
Today the image of the space shuttle riding piggyback on one of NASA’s two shuttle carrier aircraft is a well-recognized part of the program’s history. Kiker, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 79, would probably get a kick out of the instruction printed on the rear mounting point on one of the aircraft: “Attach Orbiter Here. Note: Black Side Down.”
When he first proposed the piggyback idea, Kiker estimated that this form of transport would be $19 million cheaper than putting the shuttle orbiter on an ocean-going vessel. The necessity of the shuttle carrier aircraft was made abundantly clear in March of 1982, when heavy rains drenched the Edwards landing site, and the space shuttle Columbia was forced to land at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. “That was the right way to do it,” Kiker said years later. “The only way. If it had landed out at White Sands like it did, and we had not had [the shuttle carrier aircraft], it would still be sitting out there as a monument.”
Joseph Lavelle: A Solution to Shuttle Tile Inspection
By Ruth Dasso Marlaire
A better mousetrap - Joseph Lavelle developed the system that enables engineers to inspect shuttle tiles faster and with more accuracy.
As a child, Joseph Lavelle dreamed of being an astronaut. His father was a physician and a technology lover who enjoyed buying techno gadgets and quizzing his kids about how they worked. Today, thanks to Lavelle’s creative work as an engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the agency has a more efficient tool to inspect the space shuttle’s tiles that better protects the orbiter and its crew during re-entry.
Right from NASA’s creation, the agency’s scientists and engineers knew that re-entry from space would cause a problem. If a returning spacecraft were to arrive safely to Earth, it had to hit a layer of atmosphere that, relative to Earth’s diameter, is as thin as the skin of an apple.
Returning spacecraft enter the atmosphere through a corridor that rapidly becomes narrower as entry speed increases. If not entered precisely, the spacecraft either can shoot past Earth or disintegrate into a pile of ash from the extreme heat.
This challenge has been addressed in two ways. First, NASA spaceflight missions are carefully planned and monitored to re-enter the atmosphere at the precise angle desired. Second, the agency has protected its spacecraft from re-entry heating with innovative heat shield designs, most recently on the space shuttle program, with the 24,000 thermal protection system tiles, each uniquely shaped to fit the curvature of the spacecraft.
After each flight, maintenance workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida would manually inspect each tile and measure imperfections with small hand-held scales. To help improve and automate the sometimes tedious inspection process, Lavelle came up with an inventive solution.
“My job at NASA is to solve technical problems,” said Lavelle. “After some research, I developed a basic three-dimension scanning system that transmits the depth and volume measurements of the flaws and their locations into a computer database. Engineers can then evaluate these 3-D images on a computer screen.”
This new method of inspection is faster and more accurate than the more labor-intensive procedure of the past. Each scanner is lightweight and is the size and shape of a small teapot. Maintenance workers now can confidently determine whether a shuttle tile should be repaired or replaced.
Said Lavelle of his work, “I hope it keeps NASA vital to the country and the world as a source of creativity and inspiration.”
Oceola S. Hall: Advocate for NASA Women
By Sharon Wagner
Wing earner - Oceola Hall initiated several education programs for women.
Oceola S. Hall worked in NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity for over 25 years. She was NASA’s first agency-wide Federal Women’s program manager, from 1974-1978. Hall advanced opportunities for NASA women in science, engineering and administrative occupations. She was instrumental in initiating education programs for women, including the Simmons College Strategic Leadership for Women Program. Hall also served as the director of NASA’s Discrimination Complaints Division for several years, where she focused on improving processes for the early resolution of employee complaints. Hall’s outstanding leadership abilities and vast knowledge of equal employment laws culminated in her tenure as deputy associate administrator for Equal Opportunity Programs, a position she held for five years. Hall was one among the first African-American women to be appointed to the senior executive service of NASA. Hall was known for saying, “You have to earn your wings every day.”
Dan Chrichton: Software Architecture Creator
By Franklin O’Donnell
Data storer - Software researcher Dan Chrichton.
Spacecraft missions do not just sail off into the sunset; they have a way of leaving around lots of data. In recent times, that can be megabytes of data.
To manage such intellectual wealth for decades, NASA has looked to its Planetary Data System, a network of online archives at a handful of agency and academic institutions around the country. In recent years, the data system experienced growing pains as it struggled to adapt to the demands of current-day missions.
Enter Dan Crichton, a second-generation software designer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (his father, Gerald, retired in 2000). He has won kudos from the science community for revamping the aging system, creating a new software architecture that will allow it to grow. And the appreciation has gone beyond the space world. After hearing a presentation on his software approach, the National Institutes of Health asked him to help them adapt it for their own archives of cancer research data.
“The world has changed a lot,” said Crichton, who when not working might be found camping with his family or riding a tandem bicycle with his 5-year-old son. “There was a time,” he said, “when a researcher looking for data from a space mission might receive a CD in the mail containing data. What we’re creating now is something like Google.”
Julian Earls: A Marathon of Service
By Edward S. Goldstein
Recognizing African-American achievements - Julian Earls, with astronaut Joan Higginbotham, keynoted the Kennedy Space Center’s 2000 African-American History Month celebration.
Usually, being a NASA center director puts a person in the limelight. So how does Julian Earls, who led NASA’s Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland from 2003 to 2006, qualify as an unsung hero? Perhaps if you add the scores of students whose college education Earls personally funded – through his Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology – you would think Earls is eminently deserving of praise. But that's not all. Consider the people he has taught and mentored, those at Glenn and throughout the agency whom he has inspired with his spellbinding speeches, and those NASA employees whose lives have been improved by health and environmental safety innovations instituted because of his quiet persistence. Then you will realize the enormous impact Earls has had at NASA.
The grandson of a sharecropper, Earls always put a focus on bettering himself and others through education; so much so, that he declined his first NASA job offer (“more money than I could ever imagine”) in order to pursue an advanced degree in radiation biology. Earls eventually joined the staff of the then Lewis Research Center as head of the Health Physics Section and became one of the youngest managers in NASA history. There he wrote the agency’s first health physics guide. In short order, Earls was tasked to head Lewis’ new Environmental Health Office. Under his leadership, programs were established to protect employees from various health risks found in a factory environment, to keep the center in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations and to establish a radiation safety committee. Earls, an expert on radiation safety issues, was part of the team on hand in case something went awry with the Apollo 13 launch, which contained radioactive materials on board as a power source. In 1988 he was selected as director for the Office of Health Services, where he was an innovator in health service systems, directing the occupational medicine program, health-screening clinic and physical fitness programs.
During the late 1960s, the Cleveland area was no stranger to the demands for social justice being raised in the country. When issues arose about the center’s lack of opportunities for minority employees, Earls took a leadership role in organizing the center’s black employees and encouraging the center to establish an Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. As he rose through the ranks, he also was instrumental in ensuring the center provided research opportunities to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, thus helping to develop the talent pool of minority students who would later come to work at NASA.
When Earls was appointed director of Glenn in October 2003, he quickly addressed an Office of Personnel Management survey showing that Glenn employees were suffering from poor morale. Earls worked hard to improve communications at the center, to pursue collaborative partnerships with businesses and universities in the northeast Ohio area and to open the center to the public.
When asked what he viewed to be his most significant accomplishment, Earls said, “Probably starting as a GS-7 [General Schedule] Engineer Scientist … and ending up as the center director, which was beyond my wildest dreams when I walked down those hallways on my first day at NASA. It was a major accomplishment and a surprise to me, but a humbling thing to be chosen to be the spokesperson for the quality of the employees at Glenn.”
Earls, who is an accomplished marathon runner, received a signal honor when he was nominated to carry the Olympic torch through Cleveland while it was on its way to the 2002 Winter Olympics Games in Salt Lake City. Earls originally thought the nomination was a practical joke but later discovered he had been nominated by an attendee at a speech he gave at a conference who was inspired by his remarks about NASA’s commitment to excellence. Such was the reward for a marathon man who has never ceased in his efforts to contribute to the NASA community.
Jon Hamkins: Getting the Most From Planetary Images
By Franklin O’Donnell
Image enhancers - Jon Hamkins (standing), Matthew Klimesh (sitting foreground) and Aaron Kiely (pointing and sitting) who developed the compression and error-correction software to enhance planetary photos.
How do NASA planetary missions send back to Earth clear streams of bits and bytes of data from millions of miles away? Credit the innovativeness of people like Jon Hamkins. To get the sharpest and greatest number of pictures of Martian gullies or Saturnian rings out of space missions, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory software experts long ago developed techniques from image compression and error-correction — technologies that Jon Hamkins and his group are working to refine.
In recent years, Hamkins' group has created new error-correction codes that allow more images and data than ever to be packed into a finite pipeline between spacecraft and the Deep Space Network’s antennas.
Hamkins felt like he was stepping into big shoes when he took the job as supervisor of the information processing group five years ago. “This is a group with a very long history,” he said. “The org charts go back to 1960. There are people who have been a part of it who have gone on to become very famous [in data research], like Andrew Viterbi [the prolific inventor of technologies used in digital wireless phones, data terminals and digital satellite broadcast receivers who also co-founded QUALCOMM]. I’m very honored just to be a part of it.”
Jing Li: Detecting Dangers in Space With a Nanosensor Nose
By Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Nanosensor developer - Jing Li in an Ames Research Center laboratory.
Sensing an unusual smell can stop us all dead in our tracks. After all, our sense of smell can alert us to possible hazards around us. While the human nose is capable of recognizing more than 10,000 odors, it cannot detect everything.
During prolonged spaceflight, harmful chemical contaminants may build up gradually in the crew’s air supply. To monitor the air quality inside a spaceship, nanotechnology expert Jing Li of Ames Research Center developed a nanosensor to detect minute amounts of these contaminants and alert the crew that there may be a problem.
“By combining nanotechnology and electronic nose technology, we can make an instrument that mimics the human nose,” said Li. “It will be able to smell chemicals and digitize the chemical information.”
Applying nanotechnology to space exploration was the reason Li came to NASA. “I worked for a company that made electronic noses,” she said. “I know the technology works. By using nanostructured materials, we can develop chemical sensors that have greater sensitivity, are miniaturized and use less power for space missions.”
Li always has been curious about how the universe works, from nanotechnology to the solar system. Her family taught her that it was important that her work be useful to others. She said, “I realized later that when I work on chemical sensors and discover their usefulness, my fun has been built into that meaningful effort.”
Anngie Johnson: A Passion for Service
By Edward S. Goldstein
Multifaceted career - Researcher, manager and mentor Anngie Johnson
Over the course of her 40-year NASA career, Dr. Anngienetta “Anngie” Johnson, senior advisor for Safety and Mission Assurance, has put into practice her guiding philosophy of “servanthood.” By that she means the gift of “wanting to help people.”
From her role in helping to develop NASA’s Earth observing spacecraft, to her leadership on a NASA partnership with the National Science Foundation to promote collaborative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational programs, to her work evaluating NASA’s disaster response plans and her co-authorship of a chapter in “Success Strategies for Women in Science,” the concept of service has defined Johnson’s work.
Johnson credits this gift, and her self-described status as a “consummate lifelong learner” to her parents Josie and Duel, who though lacking in formal education, always encouraged her to excel in her studies and use her scientific talents for the benefits of others. Indeed, for her doctoral studies in engineering management with a specialty in emergency management at George Washington University, she wrote the requirements for a remote sensing instrument that would detect forest fires.
While an undergraduate student at Texas Woman’s University, Johnson was offered a chance to participate in NASA’s Co-op (Cooperative Education) program at the Johnson Space Center. Speaking at her 40th high school reunion, she recalled, “Every emotion one can think of welled up inside of me, fear being the most prominent. How could I work with those geniuses?” But hold her own she did, and despite not having computer training in college, she taught herself FORTRAN, and began to write programs to process data from Apollo. Later, when JSC brought in their first desktop computer, she was asked to demonstrate it for all her fellow programmers. In 1981, as a flight operations employee, Johnson was payload officer for STS-2, the first African-American to manage a “front” room console position in mission control. During this period she also volunteered to fly in the KC-135 (Vomit Comet) to help with human studies on the effects of zero gravity.
Johnson stated that her NASA career was not without setbacks. Her application to become an astronaut was not accepted. And there were times, she said, when “my efforts were scoffed at, my works stolen, my abilities ignored.” But she persevered and was recruited to be the Information Technology (IT) lead for the International Space Station, where she ran the groups that were collecting IT requirements for the program. More recently, Johnson helped develop a strategy to utilize the space station as an educational venue.
When asked about future goals, Johnson said, “I really want to be a mentor, to make a difference. What would really mean success to me is to have NASA employees, especially minorities, learn from my experiences, both positive and negative, and then step way up and make that progression faster and easier. I hope they will no longer be the exception to the rule. It will just be a norm for minorities to progress at NASA.” A fitting goal for a person who stated she “always wanted to link my science passions with my giving passions.”
Waleed Abdalati: The Iceman Cometh
By Ed Campion
Glacial explorer - Waleed Abdalati’s work takes him to high-latitude glaciers and ice sheets.
Waleed Abdalati once began a speech at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington by asking his audience to close their eyes and imagine the coldest and darkest place they had ever been. He then went on to relate that if the audience member multiplied that image several fold they would have an understanding of the world in which he works, traversing some of the planet’s most forbidding – yet beautiful -- landscapes in search of fundamental knowledge about high-latitude glaciers and ice sheets.
Abdalati, currently head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at Goddard Space Flight Center, goes on these expeditions to help understand what satellites are telling us about Earth’s changing ice cover. This work has taken him to remote regions of the Greenland ice sheet and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic nine times. From 2000 to 2005, he served as manager of the Cryospheric Sciences Program, overseeing NASA-funded research efforts on glaciers, ice sheets, sea ice and polar climate. During that time, he also served as program scientist for NASA’s Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, the primary objective of which is to increase our understanding of changes in Earth’s ice cover. He has been an Earth and Sky science advisor, mentored graduate and undergraduate students from several universities, worked with teachers in developing science education material, and has spoken to the media often, all with a view toward advancing the public’s knowledge of NASA’s important contributions toward understanding the changing Earth.
Abdalati said his biggest thrill at NASA was watching the launch of the ICESat mission. “It was the culmination of years of effort by so many people with whom I worked closely, and at the same time, it was full of the feeling of excitement over the promise of the scientific advances it would later produce. It was all the great things about NASA – the marriage of science and engineering for the benefit of humankind – condensed into a single amazing moment.”
Among other accomplishments he cited were “developing joint collaboration with Chile to do the first detailed airborne laser mapping of some of the most remote regions in Antarctica and working with colleagues to discover new things about our Earth that nobody has ever seen before, with data from our instruments.” Abdalati concluded, “Overall, I feel an enormous sense of pride and satisfaction, just knowing what we do, how well we do it and how important it is for people everywhere.”