Hattiesburg native Richard Burger graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1965. In this episode, he recalls returning to Mississippi to work at NASA’s test facility (later renamed the Stennis Space Center) as a computer programmer. Because he was working for General Electric under government contract, Burger’s story was rather unusual for that time, as opportunities for African-American in Mississippi were typically limited to menial or low-level positions.
As a programmer, Burger worked with NASA engineers testing Saturn rockets. He remembers his first assignment working with a “unique” engineer named Charlie Parker to develop a fuel delivery system to speed the test-firing process.
Throughout his career, Richard Burger used a wide variety of computers and programming languages. He compares the NASA main frames of the 1960s to today’s more powerful laptops.
PODCAST BONUS: After working in the private sector for over twenty years, Burger returned to NASA in the 1990s with a new mission: taking at-risk African-American youth from inner-city high schools in Los Angeles, on a six week tour of NASA laboratories and Black Colleges. It was a program dubbed “Earth to L.A.”
Bernard Tessman and Karl Heimburg worked for Dr. Werhner von Braun in Nazi Germany on the V-2 rocket program. After WWII, 118 rocket scientists were brought over from Germany to work for the US Army. In this episode, Tessman and Heimburg remember those early days launching V-2 rockets in White Sands, New Mexico and the decision to locate the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
After President Kennedy announced the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the decision was made to build a rocket test facility in Hancock County, Bernard Tessman led the design team. He recalls the swampy conditions of the Pearl River basin.
In a podcast extra, Heimburg explains why the decision to build the Hancock County facility was based on unrealistic expectations. Today, the isolated location of the Stennis Space Center allows for the testing of larger engines.
One of the star attractions of the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984 was the space shuttle Enterprise. In this episode, Christine Harvey, a photographer at the Stennis Space Center, recalls documenting the shuttle’s journey from Mobile Bay to the Port of New Orleans.
Harvey’s job was to ride a tugboat out to Algiers Point and photograph the arrival of the shuttle. It was an assignment that left her a little…queasy.
For Harvey, the arrival of the Enterprise was an emotional moment and one that she’ll never forget.
In 1962, Mississippi College graduate Clifford Charlesworth went to work for NASA. He remembers training to become a Flight Dynamics Officer at the Johnson Space Center.
As part of the flight control team for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, Charlesworth learned the importance of teamwork.
In the early days of the space program, it was important to maintain radio contact between the astronauts and Mission Control. Charlesworth recalls two astronauts who didn’t have much to say.