Orion Span is thrilled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing! With each passing year, the amazing legacy of the Apollo missions and the people who achieved them takes on increasing significance. As NASA sets its sights beyond Low Earth Orbit and embraces an expanding role for commercial space flight capabilities, Orion Span embraces the challenge to establish new destinations and capabilities in Low Earth Orbit to serve the expanding and varied needs of government, commercial and private customers.
As Orion Span’s Chief Architect, and as a professional who has invested my career in developing innovative space flight systems, I look back on a lifetime during which I have been privileged to follow the progression of space flight. I recall standing in my back yard waiting to see TelStar fly over my house, and wondering what it would look like and why it was sent up there. My Dad did his best to explain, and I did my best to understand. I recall watching the Mercury missions through the eyes of a first grader, and thinking about how alone those astronauts were in their little capsules. I remember getting extra credit for building a mockup of a Gemini capsule as a third grader in Mrs. Whitehouse’s classroom, with my classmates John Boscay and Kevin Stolz. In the sixties, my Dad got into the RV business. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with Dad designing floor plans for truck campers, and thinking about how astronauts had to do everything in a tiny little space. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of my life as a designer. My parents might have seen it, but I just thought that taking things apart and putting them back together, and making minibikes with my brother were just typical activities. We took risks. We did things we didn’t know how to do. We had a lot of fun.
I remember the horrific mews coverage of the fire on the Apollo 1 capsule that took the lives of three brave men. I was mesmerized by the amazing image of Earthrise on Christmas Eve during Apollo 8. I stood transfixed in front of a small black and white television watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. I didn’t know that one day, as an industrial design undergrad in 1978, I would meet him and shake his hand at a designers convention where he was the keynote speaker.
I can’t believe Apollo 11 was fifty years ago! I can’t believe that people became disenchanted as NASA executed several increasingly audacious Apollo missions in rapid succession. I was amazed by every Apollo mission, and still have the lunar globe on which I marked each landing location. As a kid, I thought driving a lunar rover was just what people would do in the future. I had no idea how incredible those missions would seem to me in 2019. The Apollo astronauts were heroes, but their all-to-human antics while walking and riding across the lunar surface made them seem like real people. Watching NASA’s response during Apollo 13 was an inspirational example of teamwork and creative problem solving. I didn’t know that one day I would work alongside Pete Conrad during development testing of deployable truss assemblies for Space Station Freedom, and see first hand how leadership, creative problem solving and team work can make great things happen. He had a great sense of humor, and a zeal for hands-on involvement with the hardware.
One of my favorite photographs shows Gene Cernan aboard the LEM shortly before lunar ascent, covered with lunar dust, and with an explorers gaze at the camera. When Gene Cernan stepped off the moon and into the LEM on Apollo 17, I would never have believed that no one would have returned to the moon by 2019. Or, that one day I would meet Gene Cernan and shake his hand.
Like so many people, I’d watched Star Trek and 2001: a Space Odyssey, and I just figured humanity was destined for space during my lifetime. And we are...just not at the pace I’d imagined back in the seventies.
The Apollo-Soyuz mission marked a handshake in space between Soviet and American astronauts during the cold war. My Dad, a German refugee from Russian-occupied Poland during WWII and proud immigrant citizen of the USA, remarked that he never thought that could happen. But it did. I didn’t know at the time that twenty five years later I would work hand in hand with Russian, German and Americans to develop commercial space hardware that would fly to the International Space Station aboard Space Shuttles. Each culture brought something special to the projects on which we collaborated. In spite of some tense moments when cultures collided, we came together to solve problems. We had some fun in the process.
My career as a Space Architect began in 1984 when I was hired by McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach California as a technical illustrator, and quickly advanced into a designer/engineering role working on Space Station Freedom. I was fortunate to work with mentors who had designed the Skylab space station, which crashed to Earth in 1979 amid public angst about potential killer debris falling from space. Recovered debris found in Australia was returned to McDonnell Douglas for authentication, and was later cut into coupons that were distributed to people working on the Space Station Freedom program. I still have this relic mounted to a poster of Skylab with a certificate of authenticity signed by Pete Conrad. One of the astronauts that went on strike while aboard. They needed to have some fun.
I recall watching in disbelief in 1986, with all of my coworkers, as Space Shuttle Challenger self-destructed on ascent. Spaceflight is hard, and when things go wrong they go very wrong. I was inspired to see the diligence with which the accident was investigated. The event brought the risks of space flight into clear perspective for this young engineer.
Years later I worked at a commercial space service company call SPACEHAB for Mike Lounge. Mike was one of the astronauts that flew on the very next Shuttle mission after Challenger. When I asked him whether he was worried about that launch, he said he wasn’t, as the team had prepared a perfect spacecraft for that mission. Mike was a pragmatist, a friend, and a fantastic mentor, and I miss him since his untimely death due to pancreatic cancer. When I commented once on the golf course that he seemed to treat each shot as a launch event, he commented that "Sometimes you just have to go for it!", grabbed a club, and proceeded to put the ball onto the green from 250 yards out. Analysis by paralysis in reverse. We were having fun.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to find opportunities to apply my unique blend of knowledge, talent, and teamwork to achieve lofty goals as a space architect, designer and engineer. In every case, I’ve been inspired and impressed by the people around me. Nobody does anything alone in this business. Now, I am working with Orion Span to develop commercial destinations in Low Earth Orbit. I’m again facing an opportunity to work with incredible people to achieve amazing results. As a space architect, I have had the privilege of addressing issues that transcend many disciplines, have worked with many Subject Matter Experts, and have developed a much deeper appreciation for the achievements of the Apollo program of fifty years ago.
Can NASA do it again? Can commercial companies make spaceflight more accessible? It will be fun to see what the next fifty years brings!
Sometimes, you just have to go for it!
Fortuna Audentes Juvat!
July 20, 2019