Welcome to my BLOG

An account of my journey from a rural coal mining town in northeast Tuscaloosa County, Alabama

to the Rocket City of Huntsville Alabama where I participated in the efforts of the United States of

America to put men on the moon and into orbit aboard the International Space Station. Along the way I raised a family , met many interesting people, and made numerous friends.

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NOTE: If you are new to this Blog and would like to read my adventure from the beginning, scroll down to my first entry and read up to the current date.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


COWBOY ASTRONAUTS
1962
    Alan Shepard has ridden a Redstone rockets into space and we have spent the last few days with Gordon Cooper checking out the last of the Mercury-Redstone rockets.  As he left our Laboratory, Cooper said he would dip his wing to the Checkout Crew as he takes off from Redstone Arsenal Airport.  

    We have gathered on the roof top of our building  to receive this promised  tribute.  We hear Gordo’s plane take off and look up to see, not just the dip of a wing, but a full barrel roll just above the tree tops and over our building.      

    From this point on, space exploration moves to the Mercury-Atlas vehicle.  But we will be busy preparing a much larger launch vehicle know as the SATURN.



What Happened on Alan Shepard's First Spaceflight?
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. He flew on a Mercury spacecraft. There was just enough room for one person. He named his capsule Freedom 7. It launched on a Redstone rocket. The Army first used the Redstone as a missile. On this flight, Shepard did not orbit Earth. He flew 116 miles high. Then he came back down. The flight lasted about 15 ½ minutes. The mission was a success. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July 20, 1969

Moon Landing

   My wife, Anne, and I are on the road with our three sons.  We are returning from a Florida vacation that included watching a Saturn 5 Rocket launch.  Riding atop that vehicle were three men intent upon landing on the Moon and returning to Earth.  Mid-way of the afternoon we hear on the car radio that the landing on the moon had been successful.  The whole world is now waiting for them to exit the Lunar Lander and set foot on the moon.  NASA is planing to televise the actual exit and first step and we are planing to be home in time to watch on our new color television set.  
The traffic gets slower and slower and as we approach the announced time of exit we find ourselves in Albertville, Alabama, still more than 60 miles from home.  We check into a motel, making sure that they have a working television set in the room.  I rush to McDonalds for our supper while Anne lets the boys take a quick plunge in the pool.  They don’t want to leave the pool but we  are determined that they will not miss this historic moment.  

As we have come to expect from NASA events, there are numerous delays.  The talking heads on TV drone on-and-on about how we got to the Moon and endless speculation about what is delaying the exit form the Lunar Lander.  Despite our admonition that this is worth their undivided attention, one by one the boys drop off to sleep.  As the hatch is opened and Neil Armstrong is about to exit we rouse them and, with our constant urging, they sleepily watch man’s first steps on another world, then quickly return to their slumber.  It’s been a long day and a long vacation, so we soon join them in sleep.


Fire on Board
                                                  January 27, 1967
    Shortly after we  went to bed, the music on our radio was interrupted with an announcement that a fire had occurred in the Apollo spacecraft on the launch pad and it was feared that three astronauts participating in the test had perished.  Of course, we were immediately wide awake and anxious to hear further details.  Since the manned portion of space flight was handled out of Houston, I was not sure who was participating in the test, but I had worked with several of the astronauts when they came to Huntsville to evaluate the rockets that they would be riding into space.  Subsequent news announcements confirmed the worst and we were told that Gus Grissom. Ed White, and Ron Chaffee had not survived the fire.  Of these men, I had only met Gus Grissom.  

The NASA family was quite large and geographically dispersed, but we were all working on a common goal to fulfill President Kennedy’s dream and challenge to put men safely on the Moon.  Therefore, we felt an intense personal connection to the event  There was also a secondary concern that this incident might have a negative effect on the space exploration effort and our employment.  I loved my work and it paid me well.  I could not imagine at that time doing anything else.  Members from my test team were selected to work on the  team that investigated the cause and devised ways to prevent similar incidents in the future.



Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Flight Worthiness

By 1964, NASA was well under way with the Saturn/Apollo program and different elements were being developed and manufactured all across the USA; the first stage in New Orleans, the second and third stages in Los Angeles, and the Instrument Unit in Huntsville, AL; each by a different contractor.  In addition to those major elements all sorts of mechanical and electronic items were being supplied from every part of the country.  All these elements would eventually come together at the launch site as Saturn I , Saturn I-B, and  Saturn V launch vehicles capped with manned Apollo capsules.  In the mean time each component and each major element would go through numerous handovers as it was assembled, tested, and mated with other elements.

NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, Dr. George E. Mueller,  asked each of the NASA centers involved in the Apollo program to propose a protocol that would both track these handovers and provide confidence and assurance that each element had been correctly produced, had passed all tests and inspections and was ready for launch and space flight.  At the time I was a part of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) team that was testing the early versions of the Saturn I and Saturn I-B.  It was planned for that team to eventually transition into the group that would oversee the testing of the Saturn propulsive stages and instrument units at the contractor facilities.  Along with several other test and quality assurance types, I was assigned to the team that was tasked with the preparation of the MSFC’s protocol proposal.  
At this point, I can not remember how long it took us to finish the proposal, but I do remember some long meetings, animated discussions, and working through several weekends.  After a through review by MSFC  management, I was asked to make a Flip Chart presentation of the proposal to Dr. Mueller. 
Yes, Techies, this was back before we had view foil projections and certainly before computer aided graphics and Power Point.  If the term “Flip Chart” leaves you wondering,  google it,  or better still, ask a gray-headed engineer to explain it to you.  Luckily, I had the aid of a good illustrator to prepare the charts.
Dr. Mueller came to MSFC for the presentation and I flipped my charts and explained our proposal to him.   He had a few comments and fewer questions.  He thanked us, took the printed copy of the proposal and went on his way without giving us any hint of what he thought about it.   Several weeks later, NASA published the official CERTIFICATE OF FLIGHT WORTHINESS PROTOCOL (COFW).   That was not the title that we had for it and much of the nomenclature in it differed from our proposal but in essence it was the same thing that MSFC had proposed.

  HELP FROM ABOVE

In 1963 President Kennedy had set NASA the goal of placing a man on the moon before the end of the decade.  We were in the process of converting our test facility from the testing of Redstone and Jupiter military missiles to the testing elements of the Saturn space vehicles.  I was sitting on the floor of the Recorder Room with my feet in a cable trench.  Members of my crew were in the basement feeding long black data cables up from the basement into the trench.  

    As the cables were poked through, I was pulling them up and pushing them across the floor.  The cables were stiff and heavy.  I really needed someone to help with this end of the task.  As I started to pull up another cable, I was aware of someone entering  the room and taking hold of the end of the cable and pulling it along the floor behind me.  

    The next cable seemed to be stuck.  Without looking around, I assumed that my helper was one of my crew,  so I told him to get down in the trench and help.  He dutifully complied.  We broke the cable loose and he pulled it across the floor as my crewman from below told me that was the last cable.  

    Still sitting in the trench trying to catch my breath, I heard my helper ask with a distinct German accent, “Well, Mr. Weaver, what is the purpose of these cables?”  I jumped out of the trench and faced the Center Director.  As I searched for words, Dr. von Braun extended a hand, now very soiled by our task.  

   As we shook hands, he quickly put me at ease and again inquired about the use of these cables and  other equipment in the room.  We walked about the room as I described the equipment and told how it would be used in the testing of the Saturn vehicles.  

   Looking past Dr. von Braun, I saw an assistant to the Laboratory Chief looking into the room.  He quickly disappeared.  Within minutes he returned with the Laboratory Chief and several other minions of lab management.  Much to my dismay, they took away my new helper, dirty hands and all.

Monday, March 4, 2013

from BAMA to von Braun Team to NASA

In September 1958 I completed my final Co-Op secession with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) and returned to Tuscaloosa for my senior year.  If all goes well with my studies, I will receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physic and Mathematics in May of 1959.  It was a hard two semesters for I was taking a heavier load than normal to have enough hours to graduate.

In the spring semester of 1959 I began job interviews, including an interview with ABMA.   Co-Op students were not guaranteed a job with ABMA after graduation but were given preference when jobs were available.  By the first of May, I had in hand offers from RCA for their military electronics facility in Camden New Jersey and from Hughes Aircraft Corporation to work with electronic hardware in military jet aircraft in southern California.  Both of these offers were for exciting jobs with good pay and benefits, but the job I really wanted was in Huntsville Alabama with ABMA where I could be working with the Army's von Braun rocket team.

After my last class of the day, I headed to the post office.  On the way I was thinking that if I did not hear from ABMA this week, I would need to accept one of the offers.  I opened my mail box and extracted a letter from the U. S. Army that was post-marked “Redstone Arsenal”.  I ripped the letter open and---Hurrah!---I was going to be a part of the von Braun team.


When I returned to ABMA, there was still some debate in Washington as to whether the von Braun team would be part of the civilian space program known as NASA or remain with the Army and just provide rocketry support to NASA.  In a little more than a year the decision was made and in September 1960 we gathered in the parking lot of ABMA Headquarters to listen to  President Eisenhower conduct a ceremony which transferred the von Braun group and its facilities to the newly created George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.  At that time we were already working on the next generation of space vehicles.   The very successful REDSTONE and JUPITER military missile systems were to be combined into a multi-stage rocket called SATURN.  We were also preparing a REDSTONE Rocket to carry the first USA astronaut into space during the coming year.
Copyright 2012© Willie E. Weaver 


Saturday, March 2, 2013


Early Space Explorer

    In the summer of 1958 after a semester of study at the University of Alabama, I was again working as a Co-op student at Redstone  Arsenal.  During this work session I was assigned to work as part of a team manning a telemeter trailer in support of tests on another Explorer Satellite which was to be launched soon atop of another Redstone rocket.


remember watching various meters as the data from a vibration test of the satellite was recorded on long rolls of photographic paper enclosed in canisters.  When the tests ended, we took the canisters from the recorders and rushed them to the dark-room for developing.  

    As we spread the rolls of developed data (still not quite dry from the developing process) on the viewing table, Dr. van Allen, puffing a cloud of smoke from his pipe, would intently examine the various squiggles to determine how his satellite and its radiation detectors had survived the vibration test.  Later we would go through the same process as the operation of the satellite was verified in extremes of temperature.

    When we had short breaks from our hectic test schedule, Dr. James Van Allen enjoyed explaining the mechanisms and purpose of his experiments.  He was also very concerned that the radiation belt above the earth might mean that man would never be able to go into space.  The measurements to be made by instruments on this satellite would attempt to map that radiation belt.  If it could be determined that the radiation was limited to only certain areas, then there might still be a place in space for man and even for satellites that will make true global communication possible.

Two Van Allen Probes were flown and shed light on the radiation belts surrounding Earth.  This information allowed for the implementing of proper protection from the radiation for man and machine as further space exploration proceeded.
Copyright 2013© Willie E. Weaver