|Part I - Ben Gallup - Man Versus Machine, April 12, A Field Trip.
Part II - Space Shuttle Design by Luther Quick, Cliff Jobes on Quito, Walt Keesey.
Part III - James Hoefer on DSN to STADAN at Tananarive
MAN VERSUS MACHINE
The way I remember it a mostly true story by a mostly truthful story teller.
The following episode took place at the Bermuda tracking station during MA-9, the final Mercury mission. While the Bermuda station will always be remembered for the unfortunate delay of the MA-9 mission on May 14, 1963, this little story is not about that event. The Mercury flight that was launched the next day was very successful. This is a story about an experiment that was conducted on that day during Gordon Cooper's flight and the final Mercury mission.
I found reference to this experiment in a NASA publication (NASA SP-45) entitled "Mercury Project Summary, including results of the Fourth Manned Orbital Flight, May 15 and 16, 1963." ( I call it an experiment because it was never our understanding that it's success was necessary to the success of the mission.) The subject of Chapter 8 of the NASA publication is "Worldwide Network Support." The network as configured for MA-6, John Glenn's flight, underwent changes for each succeeding mission. From Chapter 8:
"Changes for MA-9. Since it was decided to extend the length of the MA-9 mission to 22 orbital passes, it was necessary to modify the network so that adequate support could be provided. The following describes the changes that were required: [There are some 20+ changes listed. The change we speak of here is number 4 under the heading of Equipment.]
(4) A telemetry automatic processing system that used a small general purpose computer (AN/UYK-1) was installed at Bermuda. The system was designed to accept PAM/FM/FM frames of 88 parameters every 800 milliseconds in real-time and generate special and regular summary messages. The output data were in a format which represented selected parameters in engineering units. A running tolerance check of all parameters was included and selected data were stored for post pass analysis."
This is a story of a competition between the Bermuda Flight Controllers and the AN/UYK-1 computer. Flight Controllers were an important part of every Project Mercury mission. They were not part of the normal station complement of technicians and engineers, but were assigned to each of the Mercury Network tracking stations during Mercury mission support periods. We were always glad to see them because their arrival meant that we would soon be on mission status, fulfilling our purpose, supporting manned spaced flight. The Flight Controllers brought with them the excitement of anticipation.
The Flight Controllers were trained to handle communication from the Mercury capsule and the astronaut on board. They were also trained in specific spacecraft systems and were able to monitor and understand vital information coming from the spacecraft and astronaut on the telemetry downlinks. They would monitor the information while seated at consoles watching analog meters that displayed selected spacecraft parameters. As I recall, there were five flight control consoles in the Bermuda control room; six counting the Bermuda Flight Directors console, which was not manned during MA-9. The Bermuda control room also served as the emergency backup to the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral. It was a responsibility that was never called up during a mission but, of course, we exercised the capability during the numerous mission simulations.
This is the way it worked at Bermuda. During a station pass the Flight Controllers would read the value of each parameter displayed on the meters on their consoles. I don't recall the accuracy of the meters but I know we spent a lot of time before each mission carefully calibrating them. If you happened to monitor the intercom loop between the telemetry room and the control room consoles you would hear something like " upper band edge lower band edge upper band edge ". This would be repeated over and over as the calibration signal was switched by the telemetry tech. It was important to display accurate information. The meters were displaying the same information that was being routed to the AN/UYK computer. During the pass each meter was driven by an input from the telemetry data stream. Shortly after AOS (acquisition of signal), and as soon as the meter readings were stable, the attentive Flight Controller would make a mark with a grease pencil on the face of the meter indicating the maximum, the minimum, or the steady state reading. After all that calibration we're using grease pencils? That's right folks, marking the meter faces with a plain old china marking grease pencil! Ever try putting a sharp point on a grease pencil? Maybe we should have calibrated the grease pencils, too. Good idea but I don't think we ever did. We probably lacked a Goddard-approved procedure.
At the end of the pass meter readings, as indicated by the grease pencil marks, were scribbled on a simple paper form by each Flight Controller. The forms were immediately handed to a messenger who would run them literally - to a poised and waiting teletype operator in the next room. All the readings were quickly typed into a summary message which was transmitted to the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral. Part of the game was how fast can we get the summaries out. In today's world the process would seem painfully slow, but it worked successfully for all the Project Mercury missions.
The AN/UYK-1 computer arrived with Al Catanzariti from Goddard Space Flight Center. He seemed to understand the computer software and what the machine was supposed to do. Keith Hill was the station engineer assigned to make the thing work. The purpose a little vague to me at the time seemed to be a demonstration of the advantages of a digitized stream of telemetry data as opposed to analog data. Keith suggests that it was the prelude to having computers handle all the telemetry data from the stations, transmitting it back to Goddard for distribution in real-time. The experiment was certainly proof of the feasibility. It was the way we did it for Project Gemini and since, and it ended the assignment of Flight Controllers to remote tracking stations. The equipment was set up in a corner of the Bermuda control room, just a few feet away from where I was seated at the M&O Supervisor's console. I had a ring side seat for an interesting competition..
On MA-9 launch day we expected four spacecraft passes at Bermuda; the fourth pass would be at a very low elevation with little expectation of receiving much useful data.
On launch, which was the first pass at Bermuda, the flight was nominal, the flight controllers marked up their meters, copied down their readings, the readings were gathered up and rushed to the teletype room where the summary message was promptly composed and transmitted. The teletype machine at the output of the AN/UYK chattered away, spitting out it's own version of a summary message. The two messages compared favorably. The computer-generated summary was ready a few seconds after the pass. The other summary message took a little longer. So, if we were keeping score, a summary message was successfully produced by the manual process, a summary message was successfully produced by the computer. No handicaps being assigned for speed of preparation, the score would stand at: Flight Control Team 1, AN/UYK Computer 1.
The second pass was supported 90 minutes later with the same results. The computer ingested the telemetry data, read the selected parameters, chattered out the result in the prescribed summary message format. The feat was duplicated by the Flight Controllers in prescribed manual fashion: edge reading meters and grease pencils. Score one more for the Flight Controllers; score one more for the AN/UYK. We're tied at 2 apiece.
Third pass same result. Two methods; two summary messages. The score now stands tied at 3 All.
And now, 90 minutes later, we come to the fourth and final pass of the series for Bermuda. It's a grazing pass, not much more than 3 degrees above the horizon and therefore not a very long track; we'll be lucky if we get any useful data at all. Contact - AOS! We acquire the downlink signal. The telemetry decomm is in and out of lock every few seconds. The Flight Controller's meter needles are bouncing all over the place. There are at least four very short periods of valid telemetry. Flight Controllers see nothing that will hold still long enough to take a swipe with a grease pencil. Result: no summary message from the Flight Control Team on the fourth pass. As for the computer, it seems that valid telemetry data was present for at least the required 800 millisecond. Having seen sufficient valid data, the AN/UYK prints out a summary message! The telemetry decommutator loses signal momentarily, then reacquires. The computer checks parameters and prints out another summary message. Again a drop out, again reacquisition, again another summary! Four times the computer sees enough valid data to produce a summary message!
And so it really was an interesting competition, and in the end we were keeping score. For the sake of history let the record show, that on that day, May 15, 1963, at the Bermuda tracking station, it was indeed Man versus Machine. Result: the Machine won, hands down. The final score was 7 to 3.
The experiment clearly did demonstrate the power of the digital computer when compared with the best the analog world had to offer at the time. We salute the clever people who thought it up and pulled it off. For whatever it was supposed to prove, the demonstration gave us an exciting preview of what we might expect as we entered the digital world of Gemini and Apollo.
I was there that day and that, at least, is the way I remember it.
October 6th, 2001
Contributed by Ben Gallup
April 12, 2001
Where were you when ?
Today, April 12th, 2001, we are reminded, was the 20th anniversary of the first flight of NASA's Space Shuttle. Where were you 20 years ago today? Unless you were somehow involved with the Space Shuttle program you probably won't remember.
Today I remembered where I was on April 12th twenty years ago. I was at an earth station in Senegal, about 35 kilometers east of Dakar. It was called the Ghandoul Earth Station, however you say that in French or Wolof. A name taken, I believe, from a small native village nearby.
And what was I doing there? It had come to pass that NASA had decided that an increase in contact time between the Shuttle astronauts and the Mission Control Center in Houston would be a really good idea. Remember that in 1981 NASA had no Tracking Data Relay Satellites in orbit. Communication with the Shuttle depended on direct air to ground links. To increase coverage the U.S. had negotiated the right to locate equipment in two African countries, Senegal and Botswana. Actually it didn't take much by way of equipment as long as it was in the right place. It was Bendix' job to install and operate a tracking antenna on a tower, three or four racks of equipment and a teletype terminal in an adjacent building. In both Senegal and Botswana we located the equipment at existing earth stations. This made it easy to connect the air to ground voice circuit from the Space Shuttle directly to a communications link via commercial satellite back to the U.S. and to the Mission Control Center in Houston.
The first Space Shuttle launch was scheduled April 11th, 1981. A Saturday, I believe. The first Shuttle pass over the Senegal station - we called it "Dakar", in keeping with a long standing NASA practice of identifying remote stations by the nearest recognizable geographical location would take place about 30 minutes after launch.
The four-man American crew, along with a couple of Senegalese trainees, arrived at the station in the early hours of April 11th. The count down to launch proceeded. By mid-morning there began to descend upon the Ghandoul station a crowd of Americans from the Embassy in Dakar. They all came, whole families, with nannies and servants, soccer balls and picnic lunches. Who invited them I don't know but it was understood that they would be able to view the Shuttle launch on a broadcast television downlink through the earth station. A television monitor was set up in the lobby of the building. A few chairs were provided. The lobby was soon filled with people. I could barely find a place to stand. Indeed, the compound enclosing the earth station was soon filled with people. All behaving very much like American embassy people. They were milling about everywhere and seemed to be having a great time. There was carnival in the air. I thought, what a marvelous display of support for NASA and America's space program. Later I thought, maybe there are other reasons why they all came: maybe life in the Foreign Service is actually quite dull; maybe there is nothing of interest for Americans to do in Dakar on a Saturday; etc. But I chose to stick with my first impression; these are truly interested people.
The countdown to launch proceeded, and then the countdown stopped. There was a long hold in the count. The crowd grew restless. They began to leave. Finally the launch scrub announcement came and the crowd of American supporters and enthusiasts was gone as quickly as they came. We closed down and went home. Or back to our hotel in my case.
The next day was Sunday April 12th. The Shuttle launch had been rescheduled and the launch countdown once more proceeded. The window was earlier; the launch time was earlier; the first pass at Dakar would be earlier in the day. Once more our weary but dedicated crew arrived on station in the dark and proceeded to play their part in the drama. This time the count proceeded without a problem and without a major hold.
As liftoff time approached I left the backroom where our equipment was installed and went out to the lobby. The television monitor was on and there was good quality broadcast television coverage of the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. There was a local fellow with a mop and a bucket cleaning the lobby floor. The chairs were gone. It was easy to stay out of his way. There was no one else in the lobby. There was no one outside either. I watched as the countdown proceeded. The man with the mop kept on. I was spellbound as the engines ignited and that mighty rocket lifted off, carrying the first ever Space Shuttle into orbit. The man with the mop paused and looked up at the dazzling display of fire and noise as the rocket engines and their payload roared into space. As the rocket flight grew smaller on the screen the man with the mop went back to mopping. I went back to our equipment room to watch the Bendix crew do their stuff.
Later I wonder what happened to all the folks from the embassy. Maybe no one invited them back? Maybe the interest had peaked on the day previous? Maybe there's more to do in Dakar on Sunday that there is on Saturday? On the other hand, maybe it was the Sabbath. The Sabbath is, after all, a day of rest for all who labor. I guess I'll never know what happened to the embassy people.
But now that I've been reminded, I expect I'll always remember where I was on Sunday, April 12th, 1981
A Field Trip
The passengers checking in at Washington's Dulles Airport that April morning carried the usual assortment of bags and briefcases. And so did we, the three of us. We also had a little excess baggage. We had a generator in an open wood crate. Portable? Not very. We had a theodolite and its tripod, a spectrum analyzer in its transit case, a directional antenna loose in a lightweight cardboard box. Says the counter attendant, "Like to claim your excess baggage in London or check it through to final destination? Let's see - that would be Tehran, right?" No use to us in London, we agreed that checking it through to Iran would be much more convenient.
So who are we, undercover snoops on a clandestine mission? Not really. Besides, five hundred pounds of excess baggage doesn't exactly lend itself to "clandestine." Ours was in fact a rescue mission. We were looking for a suitable place in the Middle East where we could set up and operate a NASA tracking station. "Saving science data", was the game. Specifically saving data from an experiment know as LACIE, Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment. In simple terms it worked like this: NASA's Landsat spacecraft were flying over the Ukraine, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent with sensors trained to receive data from the ground that indicated the health and condition of the crops below. Originally the data from the sensors was recorded onboard the satellite and then downloaded to selected earth stations located outside the region. The difficulty? The tape recorders on board the satellites had failed. The recovery plan: downlink the data from the on board sensors in real time - as it was collected. All we needed was a tracking station on the ground that could track and record as Landsat passed over the areas of interest. The best location from a geographic point of view was somewhere in northern Iran. The earth station - tracking and recording equipment - had been designed, constructed and packaged so it could be airlifted to a suitable location. We were the siting team. It was our mission to find a suitable site and negotiate its use. We would need to know certain things about antenna masking from mountains and manmade structures. We would need to assess potential radio interference. Hence the "excess baggage."
Our long flight via London put us down at the Tehran airport in the early evening. We were on the threshold of our first surprise, an encounter with Iranian customs officials. We claimed our personal bags and briefcases without delay. Our excess baggage - the portable generator, theodolite, spectrum analyzer, and portable antenna, not immediately available. We could see it but we couldn't claim it. Much delay and much discussion with the customs inspectors followed. Arguing for our side, the very helpful science officer from the U.S. Embassy. Presently two very self confident, well-dressed young men appeared. Their questioning principally focused on the spectrum analyzer. They obviously knew exactly the capabilities of the instrument and what it might be used for. It quickly became apparent that we were not to proceed further with our "instrumentations." We were given claim checks for three of the four items. We were permitted to take possession of the portable antenna in the cardboard box. It was broken.
Off to a local hotel while the Embassy science officer continued the effort to have our equipment released. His efforts would continue, without success, for as long as we remained in Iran.
As for possible operating sites, we did in fact find a suitable location. In the company of Iranian engineers we visited the site of an earth station that the Iranians had recently purchased from a US firm and were preparing to install several miles west of Tehran. The Iranian government engineers who were in charge of this project were congenial and cooperative. Co-locating seemed a distinct possibility, at least technically. In terms of negotiating an agreement, that was another story. We were unsuccessful in making contact with anyone in the government who would consider our proposal. This would go on for two weeks. During this time, using the garage on the embassy grounds and a few borrowed tools, we were able to repair the broken antenna.
The futility finally came to an end one day when we were summoned to a meeting at the Iranian foreign ministry. We were ushered into a makeshift conference room, seated at a small table located between office storage cabinets separated from the rest of the area by a green felt curtain. There we received, along with our dedicated US Embassy scientific attaché, the "word", as conveyed by a low level Iranian government official. The word was that there was no possibility of any agreement to permit the operation of any US tracking station on any Iranian soil. And further, since it was not possible now or at any time in the future, the Iranian government had no interest in further discussion of the issue. The whole process of "getting the word" consumed about 15 minutes.
Now what do we do? From NASA management came instructions to proceed to Pakistan, where a more conciliatory greeting could be expected. Our "instrumentations" would be returned to us at the Tehran airport. They were, with the exception of the not-very- portable generator. It was missing and would never be seen again. Was it portability or potential usefulness that contributed to its disappearance?
And so we say goodbye to the ancient city of Tehran. It's on to Karachi. From a tracking and data acquisition point of view, a location in northern Pakistan did not provide the best coverage. Cooperation, on the other hand, could not have been better. After a short visit and briefing to the U.S. Consulate people in Karachi, we flew the local airlines north to Islamabad.
A second briefing to the US Ambassador and embassy staff on the purpose of our mission followed. Through the embassy introductions were made to A.I.D. personnel, who in turn provided an Urdu-speaking guide. Our next contact was with a Pakistani Army colonel who arranged for us to meet a local government official who might be described as a district commissioner. He was conversant in English. We once again outlined the purpose of our mission. He listened to our story and told us that the Government of Pakistan owned much of the land in the surrounding area. Land was inexpensive. He would provide us with a guide who was familiar with the land holdings in the area. Should we find a suitable site that the government did not own they would simply buy it for our use. Surely the ultimate in cooperation!
The first day of traveling about the countryside in a battered taxi produced nothing of interest. The second day produced results. If you visited northern Pakistan you would find our location near where the main highway from Rawalpindi to Lahore intersects with a road that leads to the Islamabad airport. The airport itself was visible across the Swan River valley from our chosen location. Was it too public to also be radio interference free? Would the majestic mountains to the north provide too much antenna masking? We would soon know.
Out to our selected site we went the following day with our "instrumentations" in hand. As a power source to replace our missing generator we were able to borrow a portable generator from the local television station. With all the logistics problems behind us, we finally began to look at the electromagnetic spectrum and to shoot some angles on the considerable mountain range to the north. My briefing on the use of the instrument was now three weeks old and what I was seeing on the spectrum analyzer was leaving grave doubts that it was working properly - or that I was using it correctly. We had both had a long journey. In the middle of puzzling over the signals I was receiving - or not receiving - an unexpected rain squall developed. We were all getting wet and a bath was not going to help the instruments. We packed up in haste and retreated to our oasis, the Intercontinental Hotel in Rawalpindi, where we were staying.
After dinner that night I set up the spectrum analyzer in my room, got out the instruction manual and began a refresher course. First hurdle, the Pakistani power was coming in at 220 volts, 50 cycle. No problem. Hewlett Packard equipped their instrument with a simple switch on the back that made it possible to switch the instrument to accommodate the 220 volt, 50cycle line voltage. Next hurdle: The power outlets in the room are of the round prong style. Our power cord has a standard American flat-pronged plug. If we had a round-pronged plug could we install it on our power cord? Possibly. Oh, for a round pronged plug. Look no further than the floor lamp power cord! Can we borrow same and install it on our power cord? Yes we can, and we do.
Plugged in and powered up, we are unable to detect any activity at all across the whole spectrum. Is it us or the instrument? Better results if we could get the antenna outside? Maybe, but how to get it outside? By chance we occupy a room that looks out over the flat roof portico. Will the window open? Yes. Is our antenna cable long enough? Yes! Is lady luck smiling on us? Yes indeed! With no rain squall and no press for time we are able to carefully go through the entire range of the instrument, repositioning the antenna a few times, and in fact turn up a few external signals. At 2 AM we close the book on our refresher course, restore power plugs, bring in our antenna and retire with a lot more confidence that we have, after all, figured out how to fly the machine. Tomorrow we return to our chosen site. Perhaps our luck will go along with us.
Next day. The rain squalls have passed. It is sunny and clear. We find the uncluttered spectrum clear near our operating frequencies. We record the theodolite readings that would be turned into a profile of the mountain ranges to the north and thus give us a picture of antenna masking. As we wound up the data gathering, our congenial taxi driver returned from a quick trip to nearby village bearing tea and cakes. We toasted our success, packed up the equipment and headed back to town, confident that the location selected would work.
Several weeks later, two equipment vans and the S-band tracking antenna mounted on a flat bed trailer, plus a transportable diesel electric generator, arrived aboard a U.S.A.F. cargo plane. The further un-sophistication of the region was evident when a farm tractor was employed to haul the antenna flat bed from the airport to the operating site. Our four man operating crew was on hand to assist. The tracking station was cabled up, checked out and soon began an 18 month period of daily tracking and recording Landsat data. In 1976-77, the time of this operation, there were no communication satellites available to relay data back to the US. What would prove to be the most unreliable aspect of the project was the unreliability of the air freight shipments of magnetic data tapes from northern Pakistan to the Information Processing Division at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Site selection complete, the siting team was now ready to depart - if we could get a seat on a flight to Karachi. After several days of being turned away, we learned that first class seating was available every day. As is often the case, money was the answer. We would have first class seating on Pakistan International Airlines all the way to London. We checked our instruments through to London, along with our baggage. As we boarded the plane in Karachi I noticed our spectrum analyzer in its transit case sitting alone on a baggage cart under the airplane. When we landed in London the instrument was not to be found. I filed the usual claim forms. In addition I was invited to search a large, dimly lighted and nearly empty building at Heathrow airport where, apparently, stray and unclaimed baggage might be collected. Our instrument could not be located. We left London without it. When we finally landed, after 26 days in the field, we had our personal baggage, the theodolite it rode with us in the cabin - and the small directional antenna, still loose in its now battered light weight cardboard box. Once again, it was broken.
Two years would go by before we would see our $13,000 spectrum analyzer again. But somewhere, somehow, a dedicated airline employee was able to identify the owner and the owner's location from documents found with it. It was finally returned to us complete and undamaged. Maybe they installed better lighting in that London warehouse. Or maybe there's just a better market for not-so- portable generators than there is for expensive "instrumentations".
July 15th, 2005
Footnote: The other siting team members were Dan Wyczalek, Engineer. Dan and I were employees of Bendix Field Engineering Corporation of Columbia, Maryland.
The third party was Harry McKeehan, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. At the time of the story, 1976, Harry was Chief of the International Affairs Office in the Networks Directorate. Harry departed Pakistan the day after the rain squall drove us from the site. He always enjoyed telling the story of me sharing a raincoat, partly over my head and partly over the spectrum analyzer. It was no good, the raincoat nearly got blown away and the antenna wouldn't stay upright. There are several anecdotes that came out of that trip and the 18 months of operating in that part of the world.
BFEC operated the tracking station for the 18 month period it was in northern Pakistan. The supervising engineer was Charlie Couranz. I do not recall the names of the other operating crew members. I would be pleased to know who they were, if any one remembers.