One of my favorite aspects of working at NASCOM was the requirement/opportunity to be on-site during critical operations, so that we could help recover the systems in the (thankfully rare) event of a failure in the communications network. This included satellite launches, the re-entry from orbit of Skylab in 1979, and of course the launch and landing of Space Shuttle missions, beginning in 1981.
On-site support consisted primarily of sitting in a back room, trying to work on whatever programming task was current and waiting for the phone to ring. For special events, such as the actual launch and landing of a Space Shuttle, we would congregate by the windows of the NASCOM control center, and watch the video monitors with the NASA feed. I distinctly remember the first launch of Columbia, and watching as the payload bay doors opened, revealing a bunch of missing tiles on the Orbital Maneuvering System pods at the rear of the orbiter. The concern for the rest of the flight was palpable among everyone there, until the orbiter had safely passed through the extreme heating of reentry, and was gliding to its first landing.
Although I was interested in all aspects of space flight, including Earth-orbiting satellites and interplanetary probes, manned space flight is certainly the most dramatic and inspiring. I think everyone who works with NASA feels the same.
It turned out that my reputation was considered sufficient to earn a coveted award. The Silver Snoopy is an award granted by the astronauts themselves. It consists of a silver lapel pin depicting Snoopy in a space suit, and associated certificate. The award is personally presented by an astronaut. The ceremony took place at the GSFC auditorium on December 7, 1984. I received the award from astronaut Bryan O’Connor.
The pictures show my pin (actual size about 1/2 inch), the Silver Snoopy certificate, and autographed picture of astronaut Story Musgrave. The January 1985 issue of Goddard News described the event. (local copy)
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