Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An interesting story from Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Centre--An unsung hero of the space programme




         ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' has always felt that some of our unknown heroes of India's moon mission should be given recognition.

         The days prior to the launch of Chandrayaan-1 and during the post launch phase, only the top scientists grabbed the headlines either in the print media or in the networks. But, let us not forget that there were hundreds of others who worked tirelessly for the project and till today their contribution has not been publicly acknowledged.

         What better example of this than the fact that India has failed to accord any recognition to the team which led in the discovery of water on the moon by Chandrayaan-1 My good friend, Syed Maqbool's instrument, the Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace), was the first to detect it globally, but ask a kid on the road and he or she will look blank, A sorry state of affairs in India resulting in a rot setting in among the demoralised scientists.

         We need not emulate the example of the US in every aspect. Far from it. But the US had brought a book called the Unsung Heroes of Apollo without whose help the first lunar landing would not have taken place at all. A copy is with BMM. Why cannot Isro openly give credit to some of the unsung heroes of Chandrayaan-1. It will be a great morale booster.

         In March 2001, BMM accidently interviewed an unsung hero of the first GSLV (Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) mission during a bus ride from Chennai to Sullerpetta, the nearest town to Sriharikota. She was a woman cook who had come to Chennai to buy material for making a large amount of sweets for VIPs who would be attending the first launch of the GSLV. BMM on its return to Chennai filed the report for The Times of India and presumably it was published. But, the rocket did not take off, though the woman's sweets may have been a success!!!! 

         It is in this context, BMM decided to reproduce below a press release issued recently about a person attached to the Marshall Space Flight Centre who started his life as a cab driver. It is a very interesting story and BMM felt that more people should have an opportunity to know him.


Jimmy Smith, a URS Corporation employee supporting Marshall's Office of Center Operations, celebrated 50 years at the Marshall Center March 16. Jimmy Smith, a URS Corporation employee supporting Marshall's Office of Center Operations, celebrated 50 years at the Marshall Center March 16. (NASA/MSFC/Doug Stoffer)
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Jimmy Smith has gone the extra mile -- literally -- in his 50-year career at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Since his first job in March 1961 as a cab driver for the center, Smith has logged thousands of hours on the road. Currently a lead truck driver for distribution with URS Corporation supporting Marshall's Office of Center Operations, he has a long history of supporting the ultimate journey – putting new rockets and explorers into space.

In the 1960s, Smith transported people not only around the center, but also to other cities in the region to meetings and other business-related events. He even drove some notables, including U.S. Rep. Bob Jones of Huntsville, representing Alabama's 5th Congressional District. "The space program was so important to us at that time and to then-President John F. Kennedy," remembered Smith. He also was a frequent driver for Marshall's first director, renowned rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun.

"I was von Braun's driver for awhile," Smith said. "I really liked him. He was very polite, and sometimes he would ride in the front seat and talk with me."

Smith has seen and done a lot since those early days at Marshall. He drove a box truck and then a semi-tractor trailer in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, hauling supplies – including rocket fuel for the Apollo and Gemini missions -- all over the Southeast for NASA. While making deliveries to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he met the seven original Mercury astronauts -- Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, Walter Schirra and Donald Slayton. It was an opportunity and memory that he cherishes.

"I talked and had coffee with all of them," Smith recalled. "That was one of the best parts of traveling -- getting to meet interesting people."

One of his favorite memories in his golden career was seeing the first prototype of the space shuttle land at the Redstone Army Airfield. "That was such an important moment in Marshall's history," he said. "Look at all the missions we've accomplished because of the Space Shuttle Program. I'm glad I was able to be a part of it."

Smith also has helped load NASA's Super Guppy aircraft, which transports large components and equipment. He worked in Marshall's public affairs office in the exhibits department for a few years, traveling to various state fairs to set up displays and exhibits -- all helping to promote the nation's space program.

While his traveling days for Marshall have passed, his experience has helped him in his role as a team lead -- a position he's held since 1995. He oversees a 24-person crew, making sure furniture, equipment and other supplies are distributed to the appropriate places across the center.

"Jimmy's 50 years of collective knowledge and experience at the center and its people have helped me in my job," said Craig Murdoch, Smith's supervisor of almost 11 years. "It is rare nowadays that people stay in the same job for so long. It is definitely something that deserves recognition."

Smith said he will continue to do his part in furthering Marshall's initiatives. "I don't have any plans to retire. I like the work I do, and I like the people. I've made a good living for my family. And as long as I'm physically able to do my job, I'll keep going."

Angela Storey, 256-544-0034
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala.

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