Hughes Strikes Back—Chris Cutroneo

My poster, “Hughes Aircraft Strikes Back,” was drawn shortly before the STS41-D mission was launched on August 30, 1984, while I was a member of the Hughes Leasat Mission Operations Team. The theme was selected as a result of the Shuttle launching Leasat, Telstar and SBS (all Hughes spacecraft) AND STS41-D being the first launch after the February 3 STS41-B Launch and deployment of Hughes-built Palapa B2 and Westar VI spacecraft which subsequently failed to reach orbit due to failure of their Perigee Kick Motors (PKM). We felt our reputation had been damaged and now we had an opportunity to get back on track with the launch of 3 new satellites to orbit, only 7 months after the dual failures. The spirit (and reputation) of Hughes Space and Comm would be back! On top of that, Leasat was the first shuttle-optimized spacecraft to be launched by NASA.

The drawing idea came from a combination of the original Star Wars poster, which had been released in 1977, and the title of its 1980 sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.” So I married the vision of the heroic themed movie poster with Luke and Leia in the center (that was the Hughes team!) with the defiant wording of the sequel (look – we’re back!) to come up with something that really captured the moment after the dual launch failure.

Months after the successful launch and all three deployments, the Discovery crew came to visit the Hughes Mission Control Center (MCC). The entire STS41-D crew, including Judy Resnik, who died less than a year later on the Challenger, signed the poster. It should forever be remembered that Greg Jarvis, the first Leasat Spacecraft Bus Systems Engineer, also perished on the Challenger.

Many Hughesites had their own individual experiences during this intense time period that involved these three programs as well as many other programs not mentioned here. We encourage others to put their comments and new posts to the Hughes SCG Heritage website so these memories are not lost.

Poster provided courtesy of Chris Cutroneo

Poster provided courtesy of Chris Cutroneo.

Comment by Andy Ott

As if launch preparations at Hughes were not already nerve wracking, the STS41-D launch had originally been scheduled for 6/26/1984 but on 6/25, workers digging a storm drain in El Segundo accidentally severed underground phone lines such that there was no communication in or out of the HCI Mission Control Center in S66, which at that time was used for both launch operations as well as planned On-orbit operations for Leasat. This would be the first launch support from that facility for Leasat. Hughes Space and Communications (SCG) quickly established an emergency backup MCC in the Building S41 Orbital Dynamics Lab by moving spare equipment, including the spare PDP 1134 Command and Telemetry processing computer from the actual MCC. The Orbital Dynamics Lab already had a PDP 1170 with Leasat unique software as it was used for mission planning.          Upon pressure from Hughes, the telephone company dispatched several trucks to the site, worked overnight, and was able to repair the lines without delaying the countdown. Launch, however, was aborted during the final countdown due to Shuttle problems so the emergency backup was not needed.

Question for the “Hughesites” of the 1980’s” – Do you think Hughes would have called a halt to the launch countdown, considering this was the first Leasat to be launched, it was the first shuttle optimized spacecraft, and it had two other Hughes built spacecraft on-board, if the communication lines had not been reestablished prior to launch? More details of this launch can be found in The Leasat Story. I encourage all involved to add their stories to this exceptional poster.

2 thoughts on “Hughes Strikes Back—Chris Cutroneo

  1. What a “blast from the past” Chris! As of August 1984, I had just been at HCI for six months, as a new Galaxy & LEASAT controller at the OCC, in S66. I had come from the USAF, where I operated GAMBIT and HEXAGON photographic reconnaissance satellites. I could not talk about them at that time, and in fact, it was not until 2011 that those programs were declassified!

  2. As if launch preparations at Hughes were not already nerve wracking, the STS41-D launch had originally been scheduled for 6/26/1984 but on 6/25, workers digging a storm drain in El Segundo accidentally severed underground phone lines such that there was no communication in or out of the HCI Operations Control Center in S66, which was planned for both launch and on-orbit operations for Leasat. This would be the first launch support from that facility and also the first Leasat launched, even though it was F2. Hughes Space and Communications (SCG) quickly established an emergency backup MCC in the Building S41 Orbital Dynamics Lab by moving spare equipment, including the spare PDP 1134 Command and Telemetry processing computer from the OCC. The Orbital Dynamics Lab already had a PDP 1170 with Leasat unique software as it was used for mission planning. Upon pressure from Hughes, the telephone company dispatched several trucks to the site, worked overnight, and was able to repair the lines without delaying the countdown. Launch, however, was aborted during the final countdown due to Shuttle problems so the emergency backup was not needed.
    Question for the “Hughesites” of the 1980s – Do you think Hughes would have called a halt to the launch countdown considering this was the first Leasat to be launched and it was the first shuttle optimized spacecraft if the communication lines had not been reestablished prior to launch? Telstar and SBS were to be run from customer facilities. More details of this launch can be found on “The Leasat Story” also posted on the SCG Heritage Website (Link will be added here). I encourage all involved to add their stories to this exceptional poster by Chris Cutroneo that captures the spirit and “can do” attitude of that time.