A Surveyor Confession–Harlan Knudson

I have a confession to make about something I did on Surveyor I which I kept secret for many years. I think after 50 years I can now explain the secret.

My first job at Hughes was on Surveyor I performing thermal analysis. I worked in Leo Nolte’s department under John Bozajian’s section. One late night after normal working hours I crawled under Surveyor I while it was in the High Bay sitting on some low blocks. I was laying on my back under it, looking upward at all the thermal surfaces to see if we had missed anything in our thermal modeling. I was looking for any high emittance thermal surfaces that would thermally couple to deep space or the lunar surface more than the low emittance aluminum surfaces of the spacecraft structure. The thermal radiation exchange was very important during the trip to the moon and during the time on the lunar surface due to the extreme temperature variations from lunar day through lunar night. As I lay there viewing all the surfaces, I thought how nice I would feel to have my initials somewhere in an area where I knew it couldn’t cause any harm. I ended up taking my pen knife out of my pocket and saw a small right angle bracket holding an electrical connector to the square aluminum lower spacecraft support member. I saw a spot in the the corner of the free standing side of the bracket above the the connector cutout hole which I concluded could have no significant stress path and I lightly scratched my initials in the upper corner of that bracket away from any stress path.

A few days after the landing of Surveyor I, I made the mistake of telling my youngest son that I had my initials on the moon, but that he should never tell anyone. A few days later, he came home from school and said he had one of the best “Show and Tell” items of the class as he had told the teacher and class that his dad had his initials on the moon. When I found out later about the problem that a US flag had caused because it was inserted in a structural tube, I never dared mention this for many year. After 50 years, I have decide to reveal this story.

Harlan Knudson spent 30 years at Hughes before retiring as Associate Manager of the Thermal Department.

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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.