First-Hand:My Time at NASA Houston

My Time at NASA Houston by T. Scott Atkinson


In June 1967, I was released from active duty with the U. S. Air Force where I had served as a Communications Officer. Having family ties in Houston, we went there to re-establish ourselves, find a job, buy a home and raise our family (wife and 2 daughters).

After arriving I began to search the newspapers for job listings and saw one from Lockheed Electronics Company for Communications Engineers to work at NASA Houston Manned Spacecraft Center. I sent in a resume, received a interview and was hired around July 5th, 1967.

Initially I reported to a Group in Building 15 and was told that that group worked on projects that were part of the Apollo Communications System. I spent the next several weeks reading the manuals and documents pertaining to the functions of all the various components of the spacecraft equipment.

I was then placed in the Communications Compatibility Laboratory in Building 440, which has now been renamed. As I remember, there were 4 others in our group and we provided testing support for the Apollo spacecraft communications equipment. In our electronically shielded chamber, there were several racks of Apollo Communications components and various test equipment. That equipment was configured so that all our Apollo Communications Components functioned as if it were in an Apollo Command Module or a Lunar (LEM) or even the EVA backpack. [note: hopefully I can provide later some details as to the overall configuration)

One of the devices was a data storage equipment, known as the DSE. This device was essentially a tape recorder that was used to record telemetry from the spacecraft that included each astronauts bio-medical functions. This DSE was primarily meant to be used during launch and re-entry plus during the time the Command Module was behind the moon (total loss of communications).

One of my main tasks was to do some performance tests on the DSE so I became quite familiar with it. I would set up tests to record audio (voice) information from some test tapes onto the DSE, then play them back and record them on another set of tapes. The resulting tapes were then sent to Fort Huachuca (a United States Army Base in Sierra Vista, Arizona), where they performed analysis on each test (where they scored each tape and reported the results back to NASA Houston.

What turned out to be interesting was that I exercised the DSE units so much that they literally became un-useable. I only remember working with several DSE's but ended up not having any remaining units to test.

At this time, around March 1968, I decided that I was not cut out to doing this type of work so I left Lockheed to purse activities that were more in line with the engineering and management of communications systems that I worked with in the Air Force.

This then ends my somewhat short time with NASA but because of the nature of the overall Apollo Moon Program, I continued to follow its progress and the overall Space Programs over the years.