My father worked for General Electric in New York state (Schenectady? Syracuse? one of the two) but he transferred to Daytona Beach when I was three. Daytona Beach was selected because of its relative proximity to Cape Canaveral, and they got many N.A.S.A. contracts.
A couple years back I did a web search using my name and I found I was listed as a Wikipedia contributor! The article,
deals with Mistram - the tracking system developed for Atlas rockets.I am reference 11, and if you follow the link you will see some goofy graffiti we did on the 34th street wall for dads birthday. Dad was the project lead on Mistram and the article talks about him.
Now, when I was about 11 or 12 and Apollo was kinda winding down G.E. had some sort of open house to show of early flight simulators and such. A co-worker of dad pulled my sister and myself aside and said "Your dad is a modest, man, but for all practical purposes he is the father of radio controll tracking and guidance."
Wow! We didn't know how much of that was true and how much was flattery. Regardless, we were pretty surprised.
I knew dad had engaged in research at White Sands and, in fact, was spending large amounts of time there shortly before my birth. While dad was stationed there an aunt of my mothers died, and mom took my four older siblings to Michigan for the funeral. Dad got just enough time off to attend the funeral. My parents did manage to get a little bit of privacy even though the house will filled with grieving relatives and sobbing cousins. In the hurry to pack and get to Michigan my mom did not think to pack her diaphragm. Net result, my parents knew to the minute the time of my conception. Mom never tired of telling me that had 'the pill' become available just one year earlier than it did I would not be around.
In Junior High School I learned about the history of the space program and Werner Von Braun and knew that Van Braun also spent time in White Sands. But Von Braun was ancient history, my dad was current events.
When I was in my early 20s, G.E. had a centennial celebration which included mini-bios of the pioniers of G.E., past and present. In dads bio I read that he had worked with Von Braun.
"Holy Cow Dad, did you REALLY work alongside Werner Von Braun?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes" Dad replied. He did not so much say the word as much as he spat the word out in disgust and left the room. I never brought up that topic again. Dad had no pleasant memories regarding the man.
Mistram was used to among other things to get John Glenn into space. Its primary goal was undoubtedly to make certain Altas rockets could place a hydrogen bomb in downtown Moscow, but luckily it was never used for that effect. It was used to place many satellites in orbit and we can hope its pin-point accuracy helped keep Russia at bay during those tense cold-war years.
Dad did not talk much about this. A much more common topic around the house was civil rights. Now, understand we moved to DeLand Florida before Martin Luther King was a household name and schools were still strictly segregated. We were appalled at the degree of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice our middle class neighbors had. Mom and dad helped found the Council on Human Relations and mom volunteered at a pre-school in the black section of town. Just having a black couple over for dinner resulted in stares from the neighbors for days, and later when my oldest sister married a negro man people muttered certain phrases under their breath in my presence, always careful to mutter softly enough I could not make out the words. The "N-word L-word" phrase, with the L-Word being "lover".
But, remembering those days, what I remember more than anything else is how much mom and dad loved each other. And unconditional, undying love that was like a bedrock foundation for the family as a whole. By Junior High I had realized the words "bully" and "divorced parents" always came up in the same sentence, and kids handicapped by having parents that didn't love each other where suffering in ways far worse than the verbal and physical abuse they heaped upon me. And then later I saw some of my closest friends suffer from being in a marriage lacking in love, and that seemed to be a circle of hell that somehow escaped Dante.
That's pretty off-topic from the Shuttle Launch, my point being what really defined the man who was "the father of radio-controlled missile tracking and guidance" was not so much ground-braking radar technology that helped swell our nation with pride but the simpler actions of putting a 'Humprey" bumper sticker on the family car when all the neighbors had "Wallace" signs in their front yard, helping his wife make the time to volunteer in the 'other' part of town, and welcoming people of all races into his home when it seemed no one else would, and re-examining calm when his five kids did stupid stuff that would have resulted in a yelling & screaming episode in any other household.