The four week-old success story of HAC’s Pioneer Venus really began in January 1972 when work on the first proposal for NASA began.
A little more than two years later, Space and Communications Group received the first hardware contract, and manufacturing and testing on what has become one of the major historical events of 1978 got under way.
Throughout those seven years hundreds of Hughesites have contributed their expertise to the project.
Hughesnews asked some of those employees to express their thoughts on the accomplishments. Here’s what they had to say:
“An inviting challenge, even from a contracts standpoint was NASA Systems Division Contracts Manager “Hap” L’Heureux’s opinion of the Pioneer Venus mission. “We were always optimistic about the program and thoroughly pleased with the way it all turned out.”
Henry DiCristina, in charge of integration, test and launch operations for both the Orbiter and Multiprobe, said the mission was “flawless.”
“We hoped that Pioneer Venus would be this kind of a success, but none of us thought it would be flawless. With all the complicated instruments on board, we thought it inevitable that there would be parts that would not work as originally designed.
“Our goal throughout the program was to make it flawless, and that’s the way it happened,” Mr. DiCristina said.
Systems Engineering Manager Jack Fisher said he was “flabbergasted” that everything worked perfectly, and particularly pleased that the Day probe continued to send back data to Earth for more than an hour after reaching the planet’s surface.
Pioneer Venus was better than Surveyor I, another mission expected to have problems, he said. “And they both turned out to be totally successful programs.”
“This has been a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Arnold Neil, Orbiter spacecraft manager. “I’d really like to do another mission like it sometime.”
The Orbiter has been a real fantastic success story. There have been no spacecraft hardware failures of any kind and it collected more and more scientific data on each orbit of Venus.
Meeting a fixed launch date was a challenge by itself. The whole team put on a lot of extra hours at night and on weekends to meet the deadline.
“All of that work has been rewarded so far by the way the Orbiter is continuing to do its job. The mission’s success shows a tremendous team effort by all the HAC organizations taking part.”
John Ribarich, Multiprobe spacecraft manager, called the mission a “techno-poetic performance of people, planets, and probes.”
“There were never any questions about the success of the Multiprobe bus; it performed as expected. The real questions were in the probes, and they worked well beyond our expectations. The success of the mission is a reflection of the various personalities involved,” he said.
Bob Fehr, a project engineer in the Pioneer Venus thermal analysis area, said the spacecraft performances were very close to what was predicted.
“There were no significant differences in the thermal aspects of the mission. We knew it would be hot there.”
Bob Morris, in charge of Orbiter launch operations, said cooperation from NASA helped make the launch a “smooth” one.
“We were extremely pleased with the performance of all of HAC’s and NASA’s people at the Cape. When the automatic sequence following launch performed as designed, we knew we had done our jobs.”
As Experiments manager for the mission in its initial stages, Tony Lauletta was in charge of those people who made certain the HAC design would satisfy the needs of scientists.
He praised Bob Varga, Jerry Zomber, Frank McLaughlin, and Chris Thorpe for their work on the mission’s detailed engineering interfaces, which must provide procedures for fitting the various scientific instruments in the spacecraft.
“Their responsibilities included making sure each instrument had enough room, making sure each instrument was pointed in the right direction, and seeing to it that all necessary cables were routed the most efficient way,” he said.
“The mission accomplished all of the initial objectives proposed by scientists years ago, and that was a feat in itself.
“The outstanding data sent back and having all the instruments work satisfactorily were the fulfillment of any engineer’s dreams,” he said.
Bob Farmer, test director on Orbiter launch operations, can remember breathing a sigh of relief, along with other members of the HAC team, when the Orbiter came out from behind the Venusian clouds on its first orbit of the planet and all instruments were working.
“It felt pretty good when we knew we hadn’t overlooked anything that could have jeopardized the mission,” he said.
Estelle Smith, part of SCG’s Thermal Insulation group, stitched many of the tissue-thin layers of Kapton insulating material to create thermal blankets that protected the probes from excessive heat and pressure on Venus.
“It made me feel good that Pioneer Venus was such a success and to know that I played my part. While the engineers told us how many layers to sew, we were the ones who did the work and made the blankets.”
George Thomas was senior project engineer working on the mission’s two star sensors. A star sensor is a device used to track the actual attitude of the spacecraft.
The attitude is, George explained, the relationship between the spacecraft’s axis and a reference point such as a star.
One sensor was aboard the Orbiter and the other was aboard the Multiprobe.
“Our design worked in space just as it did in the lab. Everything worked perfectly and we’re really happy about that.
“We were able to tell the spacecraft’s residual attitude – the difference between the predicted and actual attitudes – down to one-hundreth of a degree instead of one-tenth of a degree as required.”
Bernie Bienstock, involved with Orbiter testing, said he was “overjoyed” with the success of Pioneer Venus.
“It’s rewarding to work so hard on something and have it result in such a great success.
“We did a good job of simulating on the ground what happened on Venus. The mission is going very much like our tests showed it would.
“We tested the orbit insertion process many times in the lab and it worked in space perfectly, just as well as it did here.
Naomie Nakamura has been Program Manager Steve Dorfman’s secretary since the early stages of Pioneer Venus.
“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “Back when the program started, I didn’t think it would be as newsworthy as it is today. It’s always been interesting to me, though.
“I’ve been really lucky to be a part of a program that gave me the opportunity to go to Cape Canaveral and have such a good boss. Pioneer Venus is something that I will never forget.”
John Bozajian was the associate manager in charge of subsystems during the proposal, conceptual design, and subsystem hardware design stages.
“Pioneer Venus was a technically diverse and inspiring program from the beginning,” he said. “It was a rare opportunity to be a part of such a technically involved program. I will treasure the memory. It was a long, arduous, and difficult task with a fantastic outcome.”
Jack Dempsey was structural supervisor during the final buildup of the probes and on the early test model of the Orbiter.
“We thought we built a good product,” he said. “We all hoped at least one of the probes would withstand the impact on Venus and continue sending back data and we’re really pleased one of them did.
“Much credit should go to Guy Wells, crew chief on the probes, and all his people.” Mr. Dempsey said they all worked “hand-in-hand” with him to make certain the job was done right.
“It was really a challenging task. Without our top-notch crew, it would have been impossible.”