ILC DoverRob's engineering resume item

ILC Dover


The Route to the Spacesuit Factory

In 1981 we changed coasts, from Maryland to Tillamook, Oregon when the Cyclocrane was built. We did it again when I left Florida and the kite balloons for Seattle and blimps manufactured by the American Blimp Corporation. My wife and sons were to remain in Florida until things got settled with the new job. Seattle was to be a temporary location for the company until we got FAA certification on the new blimp, the “A60”, and then we were to move to Hillsboro, Oregon. Judi and the boys would move out west once the company was settled in their permanent home. My father’s death caused us to reconsider the decision to once again place the continent between us and our family. So rather than move to Seattle we went back to Delaware where I got a job, as a Project Engineer with ILC Dover in Frederica.

ILC made the Apollo and Shuttle space suits. They were also the manufacturer of the envelopes for the Cyclocrane and the kite balloons so we knew each other well and I knew I didn’t want to work there but I couldn’t find anything else so I took the job on the condition that I would work on something other than balloons. With that condition met it turned out to be a very interesting job. It was so interesting that I was there six months before I even remembered that I hadn’t wanted to work there.

An Inflatable Space Station

The first assignment I got was to compile a report on the feasibility of an inflatable space station for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It turned out to be highly feasible to produce what Livermore called “community sized spacesuits” so after that first feasibility study (for which ILC was paid $10,000) I worked with Dave Chirdon an outstanding engineer and manager and some of the suit designers on a proposal for a low earth orbit space station made of film, fabric, foil and webbing.

It was a glorious plan, called “The Great Exploration”, devised by Lowell Wood, a brilliant scientist and visionary, to put permanent, manned bases on the Moon and Mars for one tenth the amount of money NASA needed and in one third the time. If that program had been funded I have no doubt that I would have stayed at ILC.

Research and Development Project and Design Engineer

Rigidizing space structures, protective gear for soldiers, covers to contain the dirty air over waste treatment tanks and ponds, tensioned structures and a collapsible tank with a disposable liner were projects I worked on as ILC’s Research and Development Project and Design Engineer, the job I was given after the space station fell through. I was granted a patent for the collapsible tank which was named the “Ziptank”.

Heavy Lift Rocket Component

The last thing I did with ILC became the final straw for me with project work, at least temporarily. It was for a spray shield to be flown on the next generation of heavy lift rocket. We teamed with Boeing who, contrary to the Air Force’s specification, and every other heavy lift design, proposed to recover the first stage rather than let it sink in the ocean. Boeing's first stage had to float and the bulkhead, which carries the engines and electronics had to be kept dry.

We solved both of those requirements but it wasn’t easy. Once again I was working late and staying awake at night figuring out the details and I even got injured twice. The first time it was just a sprained ankle but later I fell off the test fixture, cracked a rib and developed a hard mass hemotoma that I had for years.

The test program called for us to do four air drops a day from a Chinook into the Gulf of Mexico in July and for the first time in my career I refused to go. I’d had enough. In addition to the injuries, my hands were torn up from having to pack and re-pack the darn thing so many times. The thought of packing, deploying, repairing and repacking the thing on an airport in Louisiana in the middle of the summer four times a day made me tell my boss, Ralph Weiss, to get someone else.

The funny thing was Ralph didn’t have a problem with it. Apparently, I was going through something he’d seen before.

Shuttle Space Suit Boot and Apollo Program Personalities

Just before the spray shield I was the Project Engineer on the first new Shuttle Space Suit component put into service subsequent to the original suit being fielded by NASA. I took over for Jack Rayfield who left the company. He was one of five engineers still with ILC at that time who helped design the suit for the Apollo Astronauts. The others were Homer Roehm, George Durney, Mel Case and Bob Wise.

Roehm was ILC’s President when I was there and he was completely inaccessible. George, Mel and Bob were outstanding engineers if not terribly generous and each had eccentricities associated with the stereotype. Mel and George shared little with me except that which may have applied in a limited way to whatever project they were told to help me with but Bob could be outgoing and he had some fascinating tales.

One of the stories about Bob was told by another and it had Bob as the engineer on the committee that established what would be taken into orbit and to the moon in the Command and Service Modules and in the Lunar Lander and it was Bob who first suggested they include a roll of duct tape. It costs a lot to accelerate anything to its escape velocity so some resisted Bob’s suggestion because he couldn’t say exactly how duct tape would be used during a mission but they finally agreed that it should go as a contingency. It’s possible the Apollo XIII crew wouldn’t have survived the flight if they hadn’t had duct tape needed to fashion the CO2 scrubber that kept their air breathable on the return trip.


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