Physicist, Oceanographer, Aerospace Technologist, Rancher, Land Developer and Lecturer
NASA Jet Propulsion Labs
The Jet Propulsion Labs are unique in that they are under the jurisdiction/contract with/of NASA but are in the organizational structure of the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). Employees are not Federal employees, rather employees of Cal Tech. The rules of operation are all under Cal Tech. Having the tremendous scientific backdrop and support of the fantastic staff of Cal Tech is more than a plus for this arm of NASA.
When things slowed down after the Apollo I accident that killed three of our astronauts, Chris Kraft asked if I would be interested in transferring to Cal Tech and with a team that I could take along from NASA Houston do a review and possible remodel of the command and control faciities at Cal Tech that would assure they were compatible with NASA Houston and the other NASA centers for the upcoming Apollo Program.
The Director of the Systems Division at JPL was a retired Air Force Colonel that knew all the key players in the manned program of NASA, and he was looking for help from there. For me it would mean a move to Los Angeles in which area my folks were living, so it was an easy decision to make to go to JPL from Houston. Besides, my work load in Houston had gone almost to zero with a waiting time expected to be two or three years before our program got underway again.
I agreed to a move, and was named Assistant Division Chief of the Systems Division, the largest working division at JPL. This Division had all the operational computing centers, the large tracking stations around the world, and the communications systems to transfer data and voice throughout the network. This was a job made for me.
So I moved, taking with me a team of well qualified individuals from both contractor ranks and the ranks of the civil servants at NASA Manned Space Center.
A time for tears - I knew this day was coming and I thought I was prepared for it, but I wasn't!
During the last year that I was raising my cattle on my little ranch, I knew that the inevitable day was coming when I would change jobs, leave Houston, and would thus have to leave my herd. By then I had 12 mother cows who had all been bred to my bull, and in addition I had seven heifer calves that I had been keeping to make my herd even larger.
I only needed to make one telephone call to solve my problem of what to do with these beautiful animals. Bobby MaGeehee, from whom I had bought the animals was willing to buy all the animals. I had really met a friend and I was sorry to leave him as well. I knew that someday I would get into the cattle business again, didn't know when or where, but I had enjoyed it so much that I knew it was something that I would have to do in the future.
JPL is a beautiful site nestled into the foothills above Pasadena, California which is a suburb of the City of Los Angeles. It is very private, and easily accessible from freeways that run adjacent to the property. The site is located at the upper end of the canyon that houses the famous Rose Bowl where UCLA plays its games and where post season bowl games are played.
Cal Tech is located nearby, also in Pasadena.
Deep Space Network antennas at Goldstone in the Callifornia desert. Beam waveguide antennas at Goldstone and at other NASA-JPL locations, known as the Beam Wavegide Clusters; each antenna is 111.5 feet in diameter. At Goldstone they are located in an area called "Apollo Valley". This photo was taken on January 11, 2012, credit NASA/JPL-Cal Tech
When I agreed to sign on at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I wasn’t sure what my exact responsibilities were going to be. I soon found out that I was going to be the Assistant Division Chief of the Systems Division which is the largest division at JPL. The Systems Division owns the control centers, the computing center, and the deep space network, referred to as the DSN.
My boss the division chief whom I had known for several years told me that my job was to help modernize and update the control center so that it would be able to provide the support that was required for the programs of the future where NASA was going to be going to the moon and to distant planets with both manned and unmanned spacecraft. In addition I would be responsible to make sure that the communications network was able to transfer data from the deep space network back to the computing center. That communications network was also required to take data from the control room where actual real-time decisions were being made and have those commands sent to the distant stations to then be transmitted to the spacecraft wherever they might be in outer space.
Another of the tasks which I would be assigned would be to work with contractors who were then developing the means to track spacecraft in near Earth orbit from satellites rather than from ground stations. The principal contractor, TRW, would be working with us and with the Goddard Space Flight Center to come up with the spacecraft systems required for this task. These new satellies which are named the TDRSS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) are now in use for all missions whether they be low earth orbit missions or deep space missions. Land based radars have largely been eliminated except in the launch and early parts of the flights, reducing the need for many tracking stations which have been placed around the world in the past.
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) developed by TRW Space Systems for NASA
Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Of interest might be the following news release is from NASA-JPL :
December 18, 2013
"NASA's Deep Space Network, the world's largest and most powerfulcommunications NASA's Deep Space Network, will reach a milestone on Dec. 24: the 50th anniversary of its official creation.
Over the past 50 years, antennas of the Deep Space Network (DSN) have communicated with just about every mission that has gone to the moon or beyond. The historic communiqués include "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind"; numerous encounters with the outer planets of our solar system; images taken by rovers exploring Mars; and the data confirming that NASA's Voyager spacecraft had finally entered interstellar space.
The Deep Space Network has been so critical to so many missions over the decades, the network's team members like to use the phrase "Don't leave Earth without us."
From the very beginning of NASA's space program, it was clear that a simple, direct way to communicate with missions in deep space would be needed. For example, what is the purpose of sending a spacecraft to Mars if we can't receive data, images and other vital information from that spacecraft?
What is now known as the Deep Space Network first existed as just a few small antennas called the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility. The facility was originally operated by the U.S. Army in the 1950s and then later moved over to the jurisdiction of the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
On December 24, 1963, the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility officially morphed into the Deep Space Network and quickly became the de facto network for any planned missions into deep space. Three antenna complexes were established around the globe, spread out at roughly 120 degrees of longitude so that even as Earth rotated, spacecraft would always be above the horizon of at least one complex. While some of the communication facilities have moved over the decades, today the three complexes, which operate 24/7/365, are located in Canberra, Australia; Madrid, Spain; and Goldstone, Calif.
Space agencies in Europe, Japan and Russia have all relied on the Deep Space Network when planning and communicating with their own missions over the decades. The Deep Space Network has been used recently by India's first interplanetary probe, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).
"Today, the DSN supports a fleet of more than 30 U.S. and international robotic space missions," said DSN Project Manager Al Bhanji of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., which manages the Deep Space Network. "Without the DSN, we would never have been able to undertake voyages to Mercury and Venus, visit asteroids and comets, we'd never have seen the stunning images of robots on Mars, or close-up views of the majestic rings of Saturn."
In addition to allowing missions to upload and download data to and from dozens of spacecraft, the network helps navigators pinpoint spots for landings and conduct burns that place spacecraft into orbit around other planets, or fine-tune their trajectory. Currently, the list of spacecraft supported by the DSN includes NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Saturn explorer Cassini and the two Voyager spacecraft, which are more than 9.6 billion miles (15.5 billion kilometers) away from Earth.
The Deep Space Network is also instrumental in carrying out its own science investigations. For instance, the 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at Goldstone is capable of using its radar to "ping" the near-Earth asteroids to determine a highly accurate position and velocity, and scientists are then able to calculate trajectories the asteroids will take over the next 100 years or more. This is crucial for tracking asteroids that could potentially cause damage were they to impact Earth. If the asteroid is close enough, they can also use the radar to "image" the objects to determine its size, shape and rotation.
Additionally, by combining signals from the DSN antennas with other radio telescopes in an appropriate manner, one can create a "synthetic telescope" that's able to peer into the cores of active galaxies halfway across the observable universe. Likewise, the DSN can be used to probe interiors of planets in our own galaxy, study the solar wind and study gravitational physics.
The future of the Deep Space Network looks bright, with optical communications on the horizon to augment the traditional RF-technology (radio waves moving at the speed of light). Optical communications, when operational, will provide a dramatic increase in data return from science missions; the potential bandwidth carried by an optical communications laser beam is far greater than with traditional radio frequencies. In fact, the DSN team envisions the day, not so far off, when, in addition to returning photos of robotic wheel tracks in the dusty surface of Mars, they will be streaming video to a wide-eyed public as the first humans leave their own footprints on
i"In 2063, when we celebrate the Deep Space Network's 100th anniversary, we can imagine that we might be recalling the amazing days when our antennas streamed high-res video as the first humans stepped onto the surface of Mars," said Al Bhanji. "Or that day when we discovered a new living 'Earth' orbiting a distant star."
Of course, no one knows if or when that day might come. But the DSN will likely play a paramount role in breaking the "Earth-shattering" news.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Deep Space Network for NASA.
This 230 foot antenna at Goldstone tracks spacecraft into deep space day and night; tracking plus command and telemetry data pass through this antenna.
My short tour at JPL ends
When I began my tour at the JPL it was with the understanding that I was going to be there for a period of two years to accomplish the task that had been assigned me. Part of my reason for agreeing to leave the NASA Manned Space Center was that I wanted to get some experience in industry. All of my exposure in my professional work had been working for the Federal Government including my time in the military. So I was anxious to complete what I had to do and find a good location in industry where I could learn how to handle profit and loss.
TRW Space Systems provided me with that opportunity. I had worked with TRW people both in Houston and at JPL and had established a good working relationship with a former director of IBM’s support at the Manned Space Center in Houston who was now working for TRW in a high level position. Jim set up interviews for me at TRW and I was offered an opportunity to begin work in a job that would expose me to the technical aspects of systems work as well as the work of selling their products to the military and federal government agencies involved in spaceflight and land warfare. My real specialty was control centers, and I thought I could use that experience in dealing with new requirements that the military was going to face in the years to come.
So I left the JPL after having been there for two years and started work at TRW Space Systems Division which was located in Redondo Beach, California. I immediately liked what they were assigning me to do, and it didn’t take long for me to fit in to this company. While working at Redondo Beach, within six months I was offered a position in the Washington DC District Marketing Office where I would be working with the Space Systems Division and all of its products and the military in the Pentagon, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and NASA Headquarters. I moved from California to the Washington area with no reservations. That story comes up next.