NASA Update

I received interesting information from Frank Buzzard, a former chief systems engineer at NASA, who I met while cruising a couple of years ago. He attached an email from John Neely, a NASA cohort who had attended a preview of a movie on Mission Control. We have lots of information about the MERCURY, GEMINI, APOLLO, and SPACE SHUTTLE programs. However, it focuses on flights and astronauts without emphasizing the importance of the people on the ground end of the data links from the space craft. I have John Neely’s edited email below with the comments of Frank Buzzard following.

“Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo”

Last Tuesday, April 11th, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the invitation only screening of the new movie “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” in Space Center Houston. The movie will be released soon. The whole affair started about 4:00 pm with about an hour long question and answer session involving the four Apollo Flight Directors: Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney, Jerry Griffin, and Milton Windler. Also present for questions was astronaut Walter Cunningham. Several news and scientific publications people asked questions. I was the guest of Milton Windler, a close long-time friend. At about 6:30, we all headed over to the SCH IMAX Theater for film screening. The theater was full, and I recognized many faces from my 34 years at Johnson Space Center (JSC) including my old boss, John Aaron. Chris Kraft gave John a very nice compliment during the post screening question and answer session, which included Chris, the flight directors, and the film’s director. Chris said he thought John was the brains of the whole thing – WOW! Of course John had made serious contributions to the success of both Apollo 12 (lighting strike) and Apollo 13 (electrical system).  

Everyone I talked to thought the film (about an hour and a half in duration) was very well done. The film’s primary theme was the story of Apollo and personnel in the Mission Operation Control Room (MOCR), although references to personnel in the various SSR’s (back rooms) were also made. Many first hand interviews with key players and a good summary of events leading up to the Apollo era were also included in the film. In the near future, a condensed version of the film will be shown regularly at Space Center Houston.

The film does not whitewash pitfalls and problems that NASA encountered and had to overcome such as the Apollo 1 fire and Apollo 13. I believe the film is a great documentary of many events that led to the many JSC mission success stories.  
The film brought back many fond memories, and I’ve always remembered my early days at JSC as like being on one of Columbus’ ships!!  

John Neely

Frank Buzzard’s Comments

Thanks for the inside story, John. I do plan to watch the movie when it is released. It was my great honor to have served in Mission Planning and Analysis Division (MPAD) with you on Space Shuttle guidance and trajectory design in the middle 70s. I, of course, missed the Apollo NASA team participation and came to NASA in 1976 for post-Apollo and early Shuttle mission planning. I was busy flying Chinook helicopters for the US Army 101st in Vietnam and later in Germany during Apollo. But NASA’s great achievements inspired me and convinced me to be a part of America’s Space Exploration team. I am glad and forever grateful that I did exactly that.  

John Aaron was and is one of my all-time Space Exploration heroes. A “steely-eyed rocket scientist” indeed! What a gifted system engineer and leader of engineers. And a humble man to this day. A great American who I salute. What a gifted system engineer and leader of engineers. I worked for John Aaron several times during my NASA career. He taught me by example to be the system engineer and leader that I believe I am today.

John Aaron, Mission Control Center(MCC) EECOM (Electrical, Environment, and Communications Manager), was absolutely critical to the Apollo 12 mission success and lunar landing after the Saturn 5 liftoff lightning strike that took out the data stream and dropped all three electrical fuel cells off line from the Command Module. The Command Module switched to batteries which were inadequate to handle the ascent flight power load. He recognized and corrected the issue to first MCC Flight Director, Gerry Griffin, bringing the Apollo 12 command module back to data life with the life-saving call, "Try SCE (Signal Conditioning Equipment) to aux." John had seen a similar and confusing data issue in an earlier Flight crew and MCC simulation with a related electrical and data system failure. Astronaut onboard Apollo 13, Alan Bean, also remembered that training simulation and was the only person to know where the switch was to try and correct the problem and flipped it to auxiliary position. The command module data came back to life and Alan Bean, Lunar Module pilot and system engineer for the crew, got the fuel cells back on line saving the mission to earth orbit. The crew and ground team checked out all systems after safely reaching earth orbit because the ascent guidance and Saturn V control was continued by the booster systems rather than the Command Module systems. A very important lesson learned is separation of critical functions. If the command module had been controlling ascent flight, the mission and likely the crew would have been lost. I hope the new NASA Space Launch System engineers remember this very important lesson learned from Apollo 12. Another lesson learned for me was the great value of mission simulation of many different failure scenarios that brought the flight crews, engineering teams, and MCC team to the pinnacle of excellence in the ability to deal with inevitable failures in exploration. These lessons are still valid and relevant for American to return to the Moon and on to Mars. 

John Aaron and his important back room EECOM team also provided the rationale to continue the lunar landing mission after safely reaching low earth orbit and checking out all electrical systems. Legendary Flight Director Christopher Columbus Kraft told John and the Flight Control Team, “Young man, we don’t have to go to the Moon today.” (FTB note: I wasn’t there, but John shared this with me when I worked for him). John and Flight Director Gerry Griffin and the team felt the Command and Service Module were fully functional and convinced the MCC team to continue the mission. The great success of Apollo 12 lunar landing and crew exploration proved them to be correct.

John also led the electrical budget team incredibly painful power down decision team that made the lunar lifeboat option a success to safely return the Apollo 13 crew to Earth. The NASA Mission Control, Flight Crew, Engineering, and Operations Teams had no finer moment than saving the crew of Apollo 13. And I say that knowing and acknowledging the world changing NASA moment that brought the entire world the first human landing on the moon and the safe return of the Apollo 11 crew.

There are many of you I worked with at NASA. Well done my friends. I leave for a lecture cruise this Wednesday on Viking Ocean Star from Barcelona to Stockholm. I will be telling this story as part of my “Race to the Moon” lecture and Man in Space series. I will tell it with great pride my friends and encourage our passengers to see “Mission Control: The unsung Heroes of Apollo.” You are not unsung to me having been part of the great Space Shuttle and International Space Station MCC and Engineering team.

God Bless this Easter.  He is Risen. We have much to be thankful for.  

Frank Thomas Buzzard

Having the final word, visit  for an adventure in space.

Red Tolbert                                                                            Posted: 15 April 2017

The Flying Chicken 

The story of the "Chicken Gun" is too funny not to share! Sometimes it does take a rocket scientist! 

Scientists at NASA built a gun specifically to launch standard 4-pound dead chickens at windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all traveling at maximum velocity. TThe idea was to simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl, to test the strength of their windshields. 

British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made, and a gun was sent to the British engineers. When the gun was fired, the engineers stood shocked as the chicken hurled out of the barrel, crashed into the shatterproof windshield, smashed it to smithereens, blasted through the control console, snapped the engineer's back-rest in two, and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin, like an arrow shot from a bow.

The horrified Brits sent NASA the disastrous results of the experiment, along with the designs of the windshield and begged the U.S. scientists for suggestions.

NASA responded with a one-line memo:  "Defrost The Chicken!" 

(True Story)

Angelo Semeraro                                                                    Posted: 2 May 2017
        The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Textbook

        Since 1983, I have written three textbooks on basic electric circuits, published by the McGraw-Hill Book Company, and even today they are selling in the domestic and international markets. Together they number 294,229 net sales (gross sales less returns) over a period of 33 1/2 years from July 1983 through December 2016. The average number of books sold is about 9,000 per year. Were any one available when we were midshipmen, it would help us in our “skinny” courses. That number of book sales may be the most by any forty-niner author.

        The three books are:
        1.SCHAUM’S Outlines BASIC ELECTRICITY, copyright 1983, 454 pages; translations in         Portuguese, Spanish, and Greek
        2.SCHAUM’S Outlines BASIC ELECTRCITY, Second Edition, copyright 2007, 561 pages;         includes E (Electronic)-Book and Kindle Book; translation in Portuguese 
        3.SCHAUM’S EASY Outlines BASIC ELECTRICITY, copyright 2012, 152 pages; includes         E-Book; translations in Portuguese, French, and Indonesian

        This story is about my struggle over eight years in writing book #1 listed above. Going well back in time to July 10, 1983 at a book party to celebrate its publication, I told the group of about 60 family members and friends about my feelings of agony and ecstasy while writing the book. Following is essentially what I said:
        I was asked by John Aliano, senior editor in Schaum’s, if I was interested in writing a text on basic electricity. The answer was “yes” since I was well qualified and prepared, having accumulated notes from (1) teaching electrical engineering at George Washington University and (2) writing lessons on fundamentals of electricity and mathematics for CREI, a school for correspondence education. 

         Little did I know what I was getting into. Before McGraw-Hill would give me a contract, I had to prove my ability to write in Schaum’s style of teaching. This format consisted of writing several paragraphs of text and then illustrating them with solved problems. So the first three chapters I wrote were sent to several Schaum’s authors for evaluation. After passing that hurdle successfully, I was granted a contract dated July 11, 1975.  
        I wrote the text first in longhand, keeping space for illustrative problems and equations to fill out later by hand. I then began typing on my Remington typewriter. There was no Microsoft Word back in 1975. And I didn’t have either a secretary or an aide to delegate any work to. I drew over 750 schematics to illustrate the discussion and 640 solved problems. This work was hard and tedious. It was agony. The ecstatic part was seeking and writing the elegant solution to problems that was simple yet explanatory.  
        What a relief to have finished 20 chapters about four years after the contract had been signed. During that period I had changed jobs. And though I was late in completing the chapters, John Aliano would give me pep talks to keep on writing.
         But to my great dismay, the task was not over, far from it. John informed me that the book was too advanced and needed to be more basic. So back to the drawing board I went. It was tougher than expected. It turned out to be a complete rewrite. This time, I had a technical editor, Gordon Rockmaker, who was authorized to reject my chapters for rewrite. He rejected about half of my chapters. At first, I was annoyed, but soon began to realize that most of his comments were justified. Gordon was responsible for making me a better writer. Additionally, he corrected some of the answers to the example problems and worked out all the supplementary problems to ensure that the answers given were correct. The net result was an error-free textbook. So after four more years of writing, the textbook finally was published, eight years from the date of contract. That is why today is a very special occasion to celebrate that event. And that is why after my very long journey of agony, today I am ecstatic.
        Lastly, a prophetic letter from Tom Dembofsky, General Manager of the Schaum’s Division: “…Congratulations…BASIC ELECTRCITY has all the earmarks of a very successful addition to our Schaum’s Outline Series and I am sure it will sell well for us for a long time to come.” This too was an ecstatic moment. 

Mickey Gussow                                                                       Posted: 2 May 2017

Liz Dixon’s Love Affair

In early June, I was invited by Liz Dixon to attend the Randolph College Reunion dinner with her and her roommate of yesteryear, Marjorie. Until about 4 years ago it was Randolph Macon Woman’s College. Knowing she had matriculated here while her future husband, John – “Big John,” was at the Naval Academy, I have kept her advised of happenings at her college since Lou and I moved to Lynchburg. 
First, there was my report of males becoming day-students about ten years ago, followed by their becoming on-campus resident students in 2012. This initiated the name change of the college. The reason for admitting men was the declining enrollment of females wanting to attend an all-female school, thus reducing income and Randolph’s financial status.
Second and concomitantly, I reported Randolph’s certification as an institute of higher learning was at risk.
Third, a painting by a noted artist, bought in 1920 for $2,500 by alumni for Randolph’s Maier Museum, was proposed to be one of four paintings to be sold to avoid bankruptcy. A battle commenced between, alumni, the administration, and trustees making headlines in the local paper from which I mailed copies of items to Liz. . 
This all ended with the sale of “Men on the Docks”1912 by George Bellows to The National Gallery of London for over $25M in 2014.
With this background introduction, I’ll get to the story of Liz’s love affair. (Lou would always chide me with “Red, I didn’t ask you how to make a clock. I just asked what time is it.”)

                                                                                Arriving early, I had the opportunity to reacquaint                                                                                 myself with Marjorie, whom I had met when they                                                                                 attended a previous reunion. Then Liz and I got to                                                                                 talking about our Navy days and before. I knew that                                                                                 Liz and John had grown-up in Rome, GA, but didn’t                                                                                 know whether they had been together in high                                                                                 school. Liz made a complete confession.
                                                                                Her mother and John’s mother were best friends and                                                                                 when visiting each other Liz and John became                                                                                 playmates. One of her oldest memories was when                                                                                 she and John were 4 years old and went out to play after a rain shower. The two of them “loved” splashing in the puddles and getting muddy. With no spankings to follow, they became a twosome for life.
After high school graduation, a separation occurred when Liz went to Randolph Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg and John went to Mercer University in Macon, GA, which was followed by a year in the Army before entering the Naval Academy. Thus, Liz graduated two years ahead of John. Maintaining contact over their periods of separation, they made best friends “mothers-in-laws” with their marriage June 7, 1949.

​Red                                                                                                Posted: 11 July 2017
     Historic Event: Part I – “Old Ironsides.” Overview

    The United States declared war with Britain on June 18, 1812. The War of 1812 had begun. USS Constitution was at sea. On August 19, she sighted the British frigate HMS Guerriere off Halifax and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and chased after her. Captain Isaac Hull surprised the British with his heavier broadside firing and his ship’s sailing ability. Adding to their astonishment, many of the British shots had rebounded harmlessly off Constitution’s hull. An American sailor reportedly shouted “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron.” Constitution thus earned the nickname “Old Ironsides.” When the ship arrived back in Boston on August 30, Captain Hull and his crew found that the news of their victory had spread fast and they were hailed as heroes.
    Launched in 1797, Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the U.S. Navy. She was named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States. The ship is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat.  
    Constitution was one of six original frigates authorized by Congress to begin forming the new United States Navy. Shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be capital ships so they were larger and more heavily armed than frigates before. She was built from the resilient Southern live oak from Georgia. Her three masts were made from the strong white pine of Maine. Humphreys designed her hull at 22 inches thick at the waterline. He added copper sheathing below the waterline to protect it against ship worms that could damage the wooden hull. Constitution was built in a shipyard in the north end of Boston.
    Her first duties were to protect American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France and to defeat the Barbary pirates. She is most noted for her actions in the War of 1812 when she captured numerous British merchant ships and defeated five of their warships, most notably HMS Guerriere. The public admiration for “Old Ironsides” has repeatedly saved her from being scrapped.
During the Civil War, she served as a training ship for midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy.  
    The ship was retired from active service in 1881 and served as a receiving ship for naval recruits until designated a museum ship in 1907. She sailed under her own power for her 200th birthday in 1997. And sailed again in August 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her historic victory over HMS Guerriere. 
    As a fully commissioned and U.S. Navy ship, her crew of 60 officers and sailors participate in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events. All the crew is on active duty. Their assignment is considered to be a special duty honor. One crewman said he had an incredible feeling to be on Constitution, a ship that is 219 years old. Sam Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, noted that “Constitution was among the best designed ships in the world, she could outrun anything she couldn't outgun and outgun anything she couldn't outrun."  
    Berthed in the former Charleston Navy Yard, she is open to visitors year round. Undefeated in battle, Old Ironsides remains today in service to her country, sharing the history and heritage of the United States Navy.

Mickey Gussow                                                                      Posted: 3September 2017