The Apollo Project 1967-1975
A team arrived from Goddard Space Flight Engineering, in Maryland in the US, to help us install the 30- foot Unified-S-Band Antenna for Apollo missions at the new Site. The USB (Unified-S-Band) took half the operation part of the building. The receivers, timing, ranging, transmitter, and consoles took three lines of equipment from one end of the room to the other. This was all USB equipment. There was a timing technician, ranging technician, etc. all of these people were available to maintain the United S-Band. A crew of 16 was required when we started. We actually found that a crew of three technicians could maintain and operate the equipment.
I was going deep sea fishing about every weekend with Robert Workman on his catamaran. Some days we took a lot of the Site people with us. I remember we took David Wilkins and his son. We caught a lot of fish, mostly Dolphin that day.
I was getting along fine. Spending all my off time in the water or on top of it. We sailed Mercury, the small sloop-18-foot, down to Puerto Rico, a small harbor in the south of the Island. It was close to the Site. I got Connie and Monica a tourist apartment for a week. The apartment was on the water and I moored Mercury in front of it. It was wonderful living there. Every day after work I took a swim in the sea. Connie and Monica went with me and we swam out to Mercury and got the dingy for a row in the small bay. Some days when we had good wind we would take Mercury for a sail.
Robert Workman came down for a fishing trip. We sailed Mercury out about three miles and dropped the sails and let her drift. We caught several small fish and a shark not so small. It was a Mako Shark and put up a fight for approximately half hour. We finally got him close enough to gaff him. Robert did the honor and since we were not trying for a record we took turns fighting him. Gaffing him was just the beginning. He really started to fight after we gaffed him. We could not get him in the boat, and we did not want him in the boat until he was dead. Every time we got him close enough we hit him in the head with a hammer we had aboard. We did not have anything else to hit him with. We finally got him into the boat after about another one and a half hours. Robert and I sat down to rest. We had enough fishing for the day and pulled up the sails and sailed back to the mooring.
We cut the shark up, and Robert took several kilos of meat back to Las Palmas with him. Connie cooked up a very good meal with about a kilo of the shark. The Mako shark tastes like a Sword Fish. In fact, some restaurants serve Mako shark to the tourist as Sword Fish. It is almost impossible to taste the difference.
When I got off work on Friday I would go to the harbor and the yacht. Connie and Monica moved out of the vacation apartment in the south and moved back to Las Palmas. I still had the small sloop, Mercury, in a small bay close to the Site. Connie and Monica came down for the weekends and spent them on board. Most evenings I got there after dark and Connie and Monica were asleep. They had the dingy tied to the yacht which was moored about 150 meters off the shore. I pulled off my clothes and holding them over my head swam to the yacht. I pounded on the hull to wake up Connie. She woke up helped me crawl aboard. She had a good laugh about that, and I did, too, when I thought about it. The water was not cold.
At the Site we installed a new, more efficient PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) systems made by a different contractor. These were stored program systems made by Radiation and were a lot smaller than the than the monsters we had to use at the other site. They were a lot easier for us to program. All we had to do was load the program we received from NASA at Goddard, Washington DC and report any abnormalities that we observed.
I had been promoted to Operation Supervisor and was in charge of both Telemetry and Computers. We were working day and night to get the computers installed for the first Apollo mission. We had two 642B Univacs now and the 1218 Univac that we had at the old site. Our new command system included a modulator and Honeywell Computer. We had our first experience with a Winchester disk as part of the Command installation. The computers were being installed in the control room. We also had to install a two--position console in the control room that replaced the many consoles at the old site. This was 1967 and the computers were physical a lot larger, had a much smaller memory, and were of a magnitude slower than the computers are nowdays (1996).
Connie talked me into buying an apartment. It was time we bought a place. We had been renting in Las Palmas for 6 years. It looked like we would be there indefinitely. The contractor gave us a date to move in with a penalty charge if the place was not ready. We moved into the apartment on the date specified. It was a nice penthouse. We were 5 apartments above the noise of the traffic and had an enormous terrace where I ran in the morning. Monica loved it. She got a tricycle and learned to ride it on the terrace.
I enrolled for the captain school at the Spanish Sailing Club. It was a 6-month school in the evenings two days a week. It was very difficult for me because all of it was in Spanish. My Spanish was not so good. I failed the Captain school, but learned a lot. They gave me a Yacht Pilot License. It was good enough for me to sail, as long as I didn't take paying passengers.
Monica started taking piano lessons. Our apartment was near the professor's apartment. Monica became very good on the piano and I bought one for her. The apartment was looking more and more like home. We put a giant mural (a painting of a covered bridge) on the wall at one end of the dining room.
At the new Site the Capcom, the Spacecraft engineers and the Doctors would not be sent to the Site for each mission like they had at the old site. I was one of the designated Managers at the Site, which meant that I was responsive for the shift operation of the one console that we had. The senior man on the console was responsible for the complete operations of the Site while he was on shift. There was intercom to each section where we got status reports. There were five of us who were responsible for operation of the console. This did not include the Spanish Engineers. They come in for on-the-job training. The Spanish Government had been tasked to take over the support task when they had enough trained people. Two of the more mature engineers who spoke very good English. Felix Garcia Castaner and Val Claros were assigned as Operations Managers. A young Spanish engineer was assigned to TLM, Oscar Ojanguren. The console had two positions, and during busy times while supporting missions we had to man both of these positions. My responsibility for the console did not stop with manning a position on it my people had to maintain it. Since it was driven by the computers and had a HS (high speed) speed printer as part of its equipment it was one the responsibilities of the Data Systems to maintain. We continued to support Apollo and some of the other missions as they occurred.
I noticed that people had a problem reading the HS printer out put. It used a special paper with a carbon center that the HS printer burned the letters onto. I accidentally held it up to the light one night and found that this improved reading by a factor of 10. I had the computer department people build a light-box to distribute light for back-light the HS printer paper. Finally a manager could sit in a chair and read the print out. We sent a copy of the modification to every site. I should have patented the invention but the printer was another thing that would be obsolete when APOLLO was over.
This turned into a very productive time for me. I completed the Capitol Radio Engineering Technology Course and took the final exam. The final exam took two days. I then took the Data Supervisors Course. For want of better occupation I started writing. There was a lot to write about with sailing in the Islands and the space projects.
My first attempts were pretty bad. But I continued, and eventually my writing improved. I started sending my articles to editors and gathered up a bunch of reject slips. Then I finally had a couple of articles published (one in the Sail magazine) and started writing for a local English language newspaper. The paper was called the 'Sun' and was being written for the tourists.
There were quite a few tourists who spoke English. Tourists were coming more and more to enjoy the sun and the wonderful climate--it was between and 75 and 95 Fahrenheit all the time. There were several tourists from the United Kingdom and Sweden in 1969. The airport was becoming too small to handle them all.
Finally we supported APOLLO 11, the moon shot that landed on the moon with Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. This and the APOLLO 13, which was a very exciting mission, because of the problems with the Command Module. The crew moved to the LEM (Lunar Explorer Module) until they were able to return to the Command Module as they neared the Earth.
I decided to take Mercury, my little 18-foot yacht, up to Las Palmas. Robert Workman went with me. It was a rough trip from the start. There was quite a bit of wind. It was blowing gale force between the Islands. Going up the coast meant that we would be tacking into the wind for the whole trip. We got about half way and our main sail started giving way. It had taken us better than one half day to go to this point. We looked around for a good mooring to weather in and found a small harbor with a dock that was used by the small-boat fisher men and headed for it. We moored there for a rest and then sailed back down the coast.
We waited for a better day with less wind and took it to Las Palmas. I sold the yacht Mercury, and bought a larger yacht, 23-foot long, which I called "Alba." Alba means dawn in Spanish. She was more comfortable for the three of us--Connie, Monica and me. Although she was a racing design she was made to spent time on-board. She was good for weekends.
We sailed Alba to Puerto Rico and lived in her while Monica attended the sailing school. Monica lived in a tent on the beach with the other children. They attended class on water safety and boat handling. Then they went into the sea with small sailing boats to practice what they had been taught. The sailing school was sponsored by the Spanish Government.
We found that living in a 23-foot boat was difficult. My next yacht was going to be larger. I finally ended up with a comfortable 30-foot racing boat that I called Alba II. Actually 'Alba II' was a yacht for living aboard--and we spent a lot of time doing just that. We had our apartment in Las Palmas and the yacht on the weekends. It was an ideal life.
I remember a problem that embarrassed me a lot when it happened. The Computers Supervision at the time was an engineer in whom I had a lot of confidence. And, he had a lot of confidence in his own ability. A little too much as it turned out. I remember him saying that he would eat the modulator (a piece of equipment that had just been modified by the computer department) if the problem was in it. This caused a lot of problems for the USB crew who were not responsible for the modulator; and if he could have he would have had to eat it.
The command modulator was interfaced to the command computer that converted the digit signal from the computer to a phase keyed the modulated signal that was sent to the transmitters. The transmitters modulated this signal on a radio frequency carrier that was sent to the spacecraft. The Computers Supervision was responsible for this modulator and for the modification made to it. One of the modification had the effect of inverting the signal. It was during the ALSEP part of the mission. The astronauts had installed an ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package) on the moon when they arrived. These were packages to monitor the terrain for comets striking the lunar surface. They were similar to the earthquake monitors we installed on the earth. Our Site was prime for ALSEP support most of the time. For some of the later missions the ALSEPs became very complex. The signal was inverting through the modulator. This did not make any difference to the ALSEP, but the signal had to be the correct for the Command Module and LEM, the lunar module.
The modification in the modulator had been incorrectly installed. There were quite a few red faces around when the problem was pointed out. The wiring was changed and we continued to support. Shortly after that, the Computer Supervisor left the Site for another assignment. The technician that installed the modification was a good man, but he left too after a short period of time.
I volunteered for a program school in the NASA training center in the US and was sent. I took my wife and daughter with me. It was in January, and Monica saw her first snow in Maryland. She thought it was sugar.
The Spanish Managers, Felix Garcia Castaner and Veleriano (Val) Claros were very good now. Better than many of the US troops assigned as Operations Managers. As we cleared up the last of the project, things started changing around the Site. The two Spanish Managers and the young Engineer in TLM were assigned to Madrid. You could feel the difference. As we reached the end of the Apollo mission, people attitude about the Site began to change. We lost a great deal of our "esprit de corps." David Wilkins, the Site Manager, was offered a contract by the European Space Agency. He quit and took the offer. He went to Darmstat, Germany, I really missed him.
The Site continued supporting Apollo missions until Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972. Apollo 17 was the last one. The Grand Canary Site continued to support other missions. We had ERTS (Earth Resources) and then in May 1973 the Skylab 1. And we were getting ready for Skylab 2. A little later Skylab 2 ferried Conrad, Kerwin, and Weitz to the Skylab.
They offered me a position as the Assistant Manager at the Guam Site. I turned it down although it would be a promotion. I was very happy at the Gran Canary Site, but it looked as though the Site would be closing soon.
We were visited by the astronauts who had been in the first Lunar Landing, Armstrong, Alrin, and Collins. I took pictures of them and taped the whole visit. We were very proud that they had visited the Site.
Meanwhile, I had entered Monica in a second children's sailing school at Puerto Rico. She spoke Spanish like her mother and had no problems with language in the sailing school. Puerto Rico was turning into a very nice harbor with facilities for tourists and the local people. The article I sold to SAIL magazine was about my daughter and the sailing school.
Skylab 3 ferry launched in July 28, 1973 with Alan Bean, Jack Lousma, and Dr. Owen Garriott. They stayed until September 25, 1973. Skylab 4, the last one, started in November 1973 and lasted until 8 February 1974. There were no launches scheduled in 1974. They were releasing people. I told Connie to get ready to go.
The Site was told to cut costs. I got my notice in August 1974, but I had managed to get a temporary assignment to Ascension, a small Island 8 degrees south of the equator in the Atlantic. The new Manger at the Ascension Site, John Lacewell, requested that Stan Valeski, another engineer that he knew was begin released, and I come down and help him set up the Site.
I bought a new car for Connie. I was leaving her and Monica in Las Palmas. Ascension was a single assignment. Monica was 9 years old now and was attending the British School on the Grand Canary Island. I had plans for staying at Ascension, the R&R (Rest and Recuperation) flight every 6th month came to Liberia, Africa. I would catch a commercial flight on to the Gran Canary. The destination for the R & R (Rest and Recuperation) changed while I was on my way and made my plans no longer as good. I could not get back to the Gran Canaria in a resonable time.
I took the three month assignment to Ascension Island anyway. I'd never been there, and John Lacewell was a good friend of mine.