A Part of History–Hughes News April 9, 1965 By Jud LaFlash, Technical Information Officer, Early Bird Launch Transcribed by Faith MacPherson

Hughesites at Cape Help Launch

 When Marconi and Bell touched their fingertips to the outstretched hand of an infant science, history records that hardly a handful of their contemporaries realized the immensity of their achievements.

But on April 6, 1965, the achievement that is Early Bird was known worldwide in a matter of hours – even minutes – for its launch was fully documented by television, radio and press reporters.

And a small group of men who were at Cape Kennedy may never be remembered as are the Marconis and Bells, but they always will have the satisfaction of knowing that they played key roles in launching “Public Satellite No. 1” – the spacecraft that opens the space age to the average man and perhaps may be more significant in developing peace and understanding and improving human welfare than any other invention of this century.

Personal Excitement

Sending Early Bird into orbit did provide a substantial share of personal excitement that accompanies participation in a successful event of historic significance.

“Yes, this shot was uniquely different from the Syncom series,” declared Clyde McGee, HAC launch director. “Here, for the first time in history, a public satellite owned by literally hundreds of thousands of persons would be placed into orbit to open up a whole new communication medium. Talk about incentive and motivation…you can bet that we really gave this baby good care and feeding.”

This was the Hughes launch crew responsible for Early Bird’s historic flight from Pad 17A; a small group of spacecraft specialists who faced more than a moment of truth when the blockhouse was secured, the gantry removed, and the countdown neared zero, creating for them that unique admixture of apprehension, tension, hope, doubt and confidence.

Clyde: ‘Mr. Launch’

Clyde McGee was tagged “Mr. Launch” because he had directed every Hughes Cape shot, from Syncom 1 to present. His responsibility encompassed all areas of decision and planning, from preparation of a 5-pound package of launch documentation to reporting that “Ascension Island has now lost contact…Australia acquisition coming up next.” Only at that point, 37 minutes after liftoff did Clyde finally sit down, take off his headphones, and enjoy the luxury of relaxation for the first time in four weeks.

Gary Purdy, assistant to the test director, was the No. 3 man of the launch team. His task demanded the exact implementation of all directions issued by Clyde and related support agencies, such as NASA and the Air Force. (During Syncom 3 launch, Gary was the Hughes troubleshooter for the entire operation).

Stan Peterson relinquished his Syncom role of being “our man in the blockhouse” to undertake the critical task of senior spacecraft engineer, responsible for the overall spacecraft communications system operations and performance prior to launch. Stan and Communications Engineer Ross Cooper conducted their critical monitoring on the seventh deck of the gantry throughout all phases of prelaunch checkout and were “looped into” the countdown, reporting requirements for both F-minus One Day and F-minus Zero Day activities. It was Ross’ special task to monitor and evaluate the performance of Early Bird’s “most vital organ,” the transponder.

Stayed With It

Bill Murray, Early Bird spacecraft engineer, spent more time with the spacecraft than any other man in the crew. His assignment began shortly after Hughes was awarded the contract by Comsat. Since, and up to the “bird’s” arrival in Florida, Bill was in charge of its test and checkout. He then assumed the role of “Mr. Gantry” on the top deck. Bill was the last man to “button up baby for the long ride upstairs.” When the gantry was removed, Bill evaluated spacecraft telemetry data (received at the Hughes Cape lab during the early phases of the flight) to spot any performance discrepancies up to and following liftoff.

Ray Bowerman, senior test engineer, was responsible for the operation of the ground checkout equipment in the spacecraft lab. He also evaluated telemetry data from liftoff through 1100 seconds of tracking until Antigua picked up the flight trajectory.   Ray was in charge of the equipment, its installation and checkout. “It was 18 minutes of BEAUTIFUL NOISE right on the button,” Ray said, removing his headset. “When you receive telemetry like that, you know you’ve got a winner for the first lap.”

Another ‘Old Pro’

Ray was assisted by Jerry Grover, also an “old pro” member of the Hughes launch crew. As test engineer, Jerry monitored telemetry reception and instant evaluation of flight data.

“Mr. Blockhouse” George Graham was the last man to reach the “apogee of festivity” at the Mission Control Center after liftoff. During the long two-day countdown, George was the Hughes technical representative and console operator inside the concrete bunker which serves as the launch nerve center. He operated and monitored the spacecraft consoles, particularly the external power equipment which supplies power to the “bird” during its stay on the pad. “Sort of a spacecraft anesthetist,” George explained his role, “I supplied a transfusion of power until liftoff.”

Tough Assignment

Although the youngest and newest engineer on the Hughes launch team, Mickey Haney was entrusted with possibly the most important function of the entire Early Bird program. He accompanied the spacecraft from El Segundo to the Cape by commercial jet via New York and Orlando. “And you might have guessed it, not everything worked out as planned,” Mickey stated. “For a while I didn’t think I’d ever get here with the bird.” A strike in New York caused an eight-hour delay which could have been much longer and quite serious if it hadn’t been for Mickey’s insistence that his “bird just had to fly.”

Assisted by Dick Hamnik, Mickey operated the antenna tower, an integral link between the spacecraft on the pad and the spacecraft lab. It was also Dick’s task to “button-up” the equipment and Hughes administrative details after all Cape roles for Early Bird were completed. Dick will be the last Hughes launch team member to leave Florida. This was Dick’s third launch, Mickey and Dick had the best seats in the house as the antenna tower is 50 feet tall, higher than the “press perch.”

Bill Murray’s “right-hand man” was Herschel Huffman, spacecraft technician. It was his job to perform any physical and mechanical operations of the spacecraft during its gantry installation and checkout. He also assisted with the installation and alignment of the apogee motor.

Dangerous Task

Jim Powell, senior propulsion engineer, made certain that the spacecraft’s hydrogen peroxide reaction control system was serviced properly on the gantry and okayed for flight. This task constituted perhaps the most dangerous function of the launch preparation because of the possibility of gas leakage and explosion. This operation was performed virtually on top of the 572-pound solid propellant third stage, eight days prior to launch, and was monitored constantly until gantry removal. Jim directed George Proctor and Lee Woodward, in the loading of propellants.

Bob Piety, Mass Properties engineer, was the Hughes representative for the spin-balance operations which determines the exact thrust axis for adjustment to the geometric centerline of the spacecraft to preclude any wobbling as the spacecraft spins in space. Bob also assisted the Douglas weight engineer in weighing the spacecraft and to provide flight weight data.

Another dangerous and tricky function was performed by Charlie Murray, who monitored the preparation check out of the solid propellant apogee motor. He was responsible for proper handling and delivery of the motor to the Cape’s highly secured solid motor area where it was X-rayed and checked out prior to installation in the spacecraft. Charlie was assisted by JPL specialists Bob Anderson and Lynn Bummer, who also installed the Syncom 3 motor, Bob Piety and Herschel Huffman who helped install the apogee motor to complete the spacecraft’s final configuration.

Gives Green Light

The man who gave the green light for spacecraft flight eligibility was Erwin Longfellow, Quality Control engineer. He made sure that final flight preparations met established quality assurance criteria.

Of these men noted above, three served at the Cape for all four Hughes communication satellite launches: Clyde McGee, Stan Peterson, and George Proctor.

HAC management and technical staff representatives at Cape Kennedy were Paul Visher, associate manager, Space Systems Division; Harold A. Rosen, manager, Communication Satellite Laboratory; E.O. Marriott, associate manager, ComSat Lab, and manager, ATS Program; R.M. Bentley, manager, Early Bird; Al Owens, assistant manager, Early Bird; and Meredith Eick and Tom Hudspeth, senior scientists, Research and Development Division.


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About Jack Fisher

Jack was a systems engineer at Hughes from 1961 to 1992. He contributed to various programs including Surveyor, Pioneer Venus, Galileo, Intelsat VI and innumerable proposals. He was the manager of of the Spacecraft Systems Engineering Lab until his retirement. Upon retirement Jack taught systems engineering at a number of national and international venues.

1 thought on “A Part of History–Hughes News April 9, 1965 By Jud LaFlash, Technical Information Officer, Early Bird Launch Transcribed by Faith MacPherson

  1. I remember that day very well. I was one of the many who stayed behind in Culver City and El Segundo but we were all proud to be part of the Early Bird team.

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