Friday, December 31, 2021

NASA Man: The illustrated Don't Blow Yourself Up



After requests from readers for more illustrations in my new memoir Don't Blow Yourself Up, I am writing a series of blogs with photos and maps.  This one covers Part 4 of the memoir titled NASA MAN which includes my career with NASA from 1981 to 1998.

I was hired by NASA while I was still in Germany working for the Army in Grafenwoehr, the big training base in Bavaria that is used to train combat units. My job was to manage the work needed to keep the base operational. NASA wanted me to come and help the Spacelab Program Office keep track its many work orders and inventory by computerizing the system.

Spacelab rested in the cargo bay with a connecting tunnel.

This I did until the Challenger disaster. I was in Japan negotiating with their space agency for a Spacelab mission when Challenger and her crew were lost. I returned and worked on the solid rocket motor redesign for awhile, then asked to transfer to the Mission Operations Lab and became a payload crew training manager. I also worked in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Simulator as a diver helping astronauts to work underwater on various space missions. Water provided buoyancy and simulated microgravity.


Homer Hickam in orange wet suit working with astronaut in Neutral Buoyancy Simulator

 During this time, I volunteered to design and manage the construction of a small neutral buoyancy tank at Space Camp in Huntsville. We called it the Underwater Astronaut Trainer (UAT). I also designed a suit that students could wear underwater just like real astronauts. With my company Deep Space, we trained Space Camp/Academy students in the evening.

Linda Terry and student in the UAT suit around 1989. I am top left. Linda is LT in the memoir. We were married a decade later.


In the UAT suit

I also went up to New York and trained David Letterman to scuba dive and work in the UAT helmet for a show that unfortunately never happened

In 1989, I was assigned to Japan to help train the first Japanese astronauts. This began many adventures there and I met many wonderful Japanese trainers, engineers, and astronauts

Takao Doi, Momoru Mohri, Homer Hickam, Stan Koszelak, Chiaki Mukai

Spacelab-Japan Training Team. I'm 3rd from left 2nd row.

After Spacelab-Japan flew in 1992, I worked on the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission in the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator. To prepare for the astronauts to train, some of us engineers went underwater in the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) suit to work out the procedures. It was the first use of Nitrox, a mixed gas that some feared would cause the "suited subject" to catch on fire. To make sure it was OK, we volunteered to go into the suit.

Homer Hickam in the EMU suit working the HST repair procedures

After SL-J and HST, I wrote a Tech Study on how the USA could go back to the Moon. NASA had no interest in going and engineers were restricted from helping me but I did it, anyway, by disguising it as a study of the South Pole Station. This study is still on the books and available to the managers and engineers as we finally go back to Luna (let's hope that remains true).

My clever little moon anchor as described in my 1993 (!) study for NASA

My study can be seen here:


I also got to meet a very special person and give her a tour of the Spacelab module in our Payload Crew Training Complex. Hello Olivia!

Olivia Newton-John and Homer Hickam

Afterwards, I was assigned to the International Space Station as the payload training manager. I was one of a team of NASA managers and engineers sent to negotiate with the Russians to figure out how we were going to build the station and train the cosmonauts and astronauts.

I had an interesting time in Moscow and the environs and made many friends

With a replica of Sputnik 1 and shaking hands with a cosmonaut

In 1998, I retired from NASA. I had 30 years of federal service and it was time to let younger folks take over. I also had a new writing career!