A Twentieth Century Icon – Howard Hughes

Howard R. Hughes, Jr. 1904-1976Between 1965 and 1980, I was employed at Hughes Aircraft Company, generally at the Culver City Facility that contained both the Hughes Aircraft Company (which developed and built electronics systems) and the Hughes Tool Company (which developed and built aircraft and a few oil drilling tools). Sort of backwards, I know, but so were a lot of things in the Hughes Empire.

I found the long-lost poster seen at the right today when I was opening a picture frame to scan in a certificate I earned in my Ham Radio activities (DXCC for those who know) and found the poster was in the same picture frame. Frankly, I cannot remember putting it in there, but there it was in near-perfect condition. I scanned in my certificate (for another purpose) and also this poster, since I was scanning.

IMAGE: Iconic Howard Hughes portrait along with some of the Hughes legacy icons. Click on the image to enlarge to poster size.

Since I was suddenly dropped into the topic of the famous Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., I went out to Wikipedia and looked him up. I found an extremely interesting entry about Hughes’ life and times, much of which I had been previously unaware. It was intriguing and I was riveted to reading it all the way through, disregarding the references, of course. I can’t attest to all of it being true, but since I was there towards the end of Hughes’ life, I know some of it is gospel.

I never met the man, but others I knew and trusted told me of times when they had seen him come to Culver City for various visits in which they had caught a glimpse or two of the man. He had mostly gone full reclusive after I had been there a year or two.

If you’re interested in icons like Hughes, I recommend reading the Wikipedia Article (disclaimer – I can’t guarantee any of it is true, but it IS interesting).

Mars Human Exploration and Habitat Visualization

I was poking around on the NASA website looking for something entirely different (Pictures of Pluto and Charon), when I stumbled across a page entitled Where on Mars Might Humans First Land? The very detailed and impressive video above is also embedded in that page which describes potential areas of human exploration of the red planet.

The NASA webpage referenced above describes how Exploration Zones (EZ) will be selected and implemented on Mars:

While it is too early to identify where the first humans will land exactly, they will land in a pre-designated EZ, and begin building the infrastructure to support human life on Mars. New orbital and surface data from the Red Planet, contributions from our partners and advances in space exploration capabilities over the next several years will ultimately determine the exact configuration of the first human landing site(s).

Based on current studies in hardware and operations necessary for a sustainable human presence on Mars, the animation [above] represents work of the Human Spaceflight Architecture Team’s Evolvable Mars Campaign. It illustrates just one of many potential concepts for how an EZ might evolve over the course of multiple human and automated cargo missions spanning upwards of two decades.

The video above has no oral narration, but animated graphics appear designating the various features of an EZ. It is worth your time to watch the under-seven-minute video if you’re a space exploration junkie like me.

As an aside, I have bookmarked another Mars exploration site, Explore Mars Now, which features an interactive exploration habitat a bit different than in the video. Both are well-done.

I hope that I live long enough to see the first stages of human exploration of the Martian surface, but as the article describes the timeframe, it will be decades before anything comes to fruition.

Six Years Down the Road


It’s hard to believe that I have been retired for six years. October 01, 2009 was the first full day of official retirement from big aerospace, although excess leave and personal time off hours allowed us to take most of the last three months off. But on this day, six years ago, the first pension check from the second stint at the same company I had retired from a decade before. Sorta weird, but I get a separate check (directly deposited, of course) for each term of service.

I say that retirement has been damn good because we have had ample opportunity to relocate, build a new home, travel and just enjoy the leisure time. There have been a few pitfalls, but the outcome of those (so far) have not had a very negative effect on our retirement.

As we go forward with our life of leisure, we will be able to travel a little more often than we have in the first six years which is important now that our families have presented us with a new grandson and a great grandson. We will be visiting them and going to visit our other extended family from time to time. We envision an upgrade in our RV status in the future and will be organizing a vacation get-together with some of the family who also have that capability.

We eagerly anticipate the next six years of retirement and even more, God willing.

New Horizons Glitch

Pluto Charon Animation

The New Horizons Space Probe is approaching planet Pluto with the closest approach taking place next week. Over the holiday weekend, however, the spacecraft computer detected a problem and switched to “safe” mode.

The spacecraft took a series of images last week that were combined into the animated image above. Click on the image to enlarge.

The problem the spacecraft had, occurred after the images were taken. The New Horizons Team reports that a recovery is underway and that the spacecraft, otherwise, appears healthy:

During that time the autonomous autopilot on board the spacecraft recognized a problem and – as it’s programmed to do in such a situation – switched from the main to the backup computer. The autopilot placed the spacecraft in “safe mode,” and commanded the backup computer to reinitiate communication with Earth. New Horizons then began to transmit telemetry to help engineers diagnose the problem.

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board (ARB) was convened at 4 p.m. EDT to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan. The team is now working to return New Horizons to its original flight plan. Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay that results from operating a spacecraft almost 3 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, full recovery is expected to take from one to several days; New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.

First Color Image of the Pluto/Charon System


NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto released this image yesterday of planet Pluto and it’s satellite Charon. The distance between the imaging spacecraft and the two objects was about 71 million miles when this photo was taken.

At first glance, the colors appear to be quite close to those depicted in space artist Dan Durda’s 2001 illustration (commissioned by NASA) of the planetary system panorama seen here. The reddish color of Pluto is brighter than its grayish companion. Click on the image to enlarge.

New Horizons at Pluto

NASA Press Release:

First Pluto-Charon Color Image from New Horizons

This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on April 9 and downlinked to Earth the following day. It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. The image is a preliminary reconstruction, which will be refined later by the New Horizons science team. Clearly visible are both Pluto and the Texas-sized Charon. The image was made from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)—roughly the distance from the Sun to Venus. At this distance, neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved by the color imager, but their distinctly different appearances can be seen. As New Horizons approaches its flyby of Pluto on July 14, it will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.

Some of us have been waiting for fifteen years to see the images from New Horizons. We’re looking forward to seeing more as the spacecraft looms closer.

Powered Flight – 111th Anniversary

A hundred and eleven years ago today, Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flights from Kill Devil Hill, close to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Their history-making effort sparked the greatest period of technology in the United States and abroad.

I took my first flying lesson on December 16th, 1961, just a day short of their 58th anniversary. By then, the sound barrier had been broken, satellites were in orbit, the Russian, Yuri Gagarin had already orbited the Earth, and John Glenn would be in orbit within a couple of months. It was a great time to get into a career in aviation or aerospace.

First Flight

What makes Wilbur and Orville Wright’s achievement so significant is not only that it was the first time in history that a manned, powered aircraft completed a fully-controlled, sustained flight, but it proved to naysayers around the world that heavier-than-air flight was practical. After the Wrights proved their critics wrong, the field of aeronautical engineering was born. Governments, universities, and inventors soon began dedicating vast resources to understanding the science of flight and methods of building improved flying machines. In essence, every event and discovery in aviation either led up to or followed from the flight of the Wright Flyer, and it changed the way we live forever.

Image and text courtesy of

Note: This article originally appeared here on December 17, 2007, and has been modified for the 111th anniversary of powered flight.

Infrared Portrait

Infrared Portrait

While going through some stuff we brought from the old house, I ran across an old Polaroid photo of myself as seen through a Forward Looking Infrared Receiver (FLIR). The FLIR was part of the optical suite of instruments destined to be the night vision system on the Abrams M1 Army Tank. At that time, I was a Member of the Technical Staff at Hughes Aircraft Company in charge of the design of display symbology for the system.

The imaging quality of the FLIR is not as bad as the photo makes it look. Bear in mind that the photo is over forty years old and is one of those old Polaroids that required a coating of “fixer” to keep the image from fading. The coating made the image look blotchy.

That is my infrared signature as I posed, arms folded, in front of the FLIR for the photo. The image is “white hot” which means that the warmer temperatures are brighter. You can see the lenses on my glasses are a little darker than my face because they are somewhat opaque to FLIR detectors. The three horizontal lines are due to three dead channels in the IR detector array. The targeting reticule (my design) in the lower right is one of several symbols displayed in the image and is computer controlled to position itself at a point in the image where a fired round from the big gun would hit.

The Abrams tank saw action in Operation Desert Storm. The targeting FLIR easily found and knocked out several of Saddam Hussein’s Russian tanks of the so-called “Republican Guard” long before they saw our forces approaching in Kuwait. I take pride to know that between the Abrams and Hellfire Missiles, both systems of which I had designed in part, some of the Iraqis were forced to retreat back across the border and out of Kuwait.