Don Williams and Einstein—Warren Howard Sierer

Don Williams hired me over the phone 1964 straight out of college and sight unseen. I doubt that my telephone interview impressed him much but I was probably the only person he could find back then who had taken astrodynamics coursework, programmed in FORTRAN …and didn’t cost much if he was wrong.

I joined Don’s small in-orbit control team whose other members were Murray Neufeld, Bill Snyder, Bernie Anzel, Roger Cole, Mel Richins and Marcelle Farr. Don’s team reported to Harold Rosen. Only years later did I realize how fortunate I was to “learn the ropes” from this unique group.

My first assignment was to become the team’s attitude determination specialist. Attitude (spin axis orientation) was determined using sun sensor data (a solar cell mounted behind two canted metal slits mounted on the spinning body) and “POLANG.” The dipole antenna on our early satellites emitted a linearly polarized signal. By measuring the “polarization angle” as received at a ground station, attitude data could be derived with the appropriate trigonometric calculations.

In 1965 we were keeping track of Syncom 3. Our team made attitude estimates on a regular basis. We expected attitude to remain fixed in space unless we maneuvered the spacecraft. (Newton’s first law: a body in motion….) I assumed small variations in determined attitude over time were due to estimation errors. Don Williams had a better idea.

Don noticed that Syncom’s attitude was drifting by small fractions of a degree each month in a direction perpendicular to the sun. He believed this gyroscopic precession could be due to solar radiation pressure, the force of photons from the sun “pushing” on the spacecraft. The concept of using solar sails as propulsion on interplanetary missions relies on this phenomenon.

Don walked into my office and without saying a word, wrote Einstein’s famous E = mc2 on my blackboard. In less than one minute, he said solar radiation pressure pushing on the side could change the attitude if the center of pressure was offset from the center of gravity, pointed at Einstein’s equation and walked out.

Scrambling around, I found estimates for the sun’s “E,” divided it by “c” and got solar radiation’s momentum, “mc.” The resulting force applied depends on how much radiation is reflected versus how much is absorbed. Having no idea what the reflectivity was or where the center of pressure was, I combined both unknowns into one parameter and used our attitude data to estimate the effective CG/CP offset. To no one’s surprise who knew Don, he was right.

While Syncom 3 may have been the world’s first definitive demonstration of solar radiation pressure in space, all Hughes spin stabilized satellites exhibited this slow precession in a direction perpendicular to the sun line. Both Albert Einstein and Don Williams were right!

Howard Sierer was known as “Warren” during his six years in El Segundo, but used “Howard” from 1970 forward in Denver.

Space Industry Goes Into ‘State of Shock’ |Los Angeles Times January 29, 1986 Ralph Vartabedian and Michael A. Hiltzik Reprinted With Permission

The aerospace industry went into a “state of shock” Tuesday in the aftermath of the shuttle accident, which was widely seen as a major psychological and technical blow to the ambitious and fast-growing space program, with broad ramifications that were quickly felt in Southern California.

Moreover, a prolonged grounding of the space shuttle program could result in sizable economic losses throughout the military and commercial space industry, which was projected to have combined revenues of $20 billion in 1986, up sharply from $17.9 billion in 1985.

More than two-thirds of the nation’s space-oriented industrial base is concentrated on the West Coast, and the reaction at plants and offices throughout Southern California was particularly painful. Because radios are banned at most aerospace industrial sites, news of the tragedy was spread by word of mouth.

‘Deep Emptiness’ Felt

“I found out about it from two secretaries who were crying,” said Howard Laitin, a chief scientist at a division of Hughes Aircraft. “The feeling was a deep emptiness in the pit of your stomach.”

Two of the seven astronauts killed in the crash Tuesday had close ties to Hughes. Gregory Jarvis was an engineer at Hughes Aircraft’s space and communications division. Ronald McNair was a former scientist at Hughes Aircraft’s Malibu research labs.

George Smith, director of Hughes’ Malibu labs, described McNair as a well trained scientist and a space enthusiast. Albert Wheelon, president of Hughes Space and Communications Group, said of Jarvis: “We lost an outstanding person, a fine American and a good friend.”

Most aerospace executives said it was premature to evaluate the effects of the crash on the space program, but the enormity of the setback left them grasping for words.

Huge Potential Costs

“The industry is in a state of shock,” said Wolfgang Demisch, an aerospace analyst at First Boston Corp. “We won’t know until the pain dulls a little bit how badly we were hurt. But the potential costs are very great.”

Indeed, Wall Street reacted to the accident with a sharp sell-off of shares of aerospace contractors with major roles in the shuttle program.

Morton-Thiokol, the Chicago company that manufactures the shuttle’s solid-fuel rocket boosters, fell the most in heaviest trading. Morton fell $3.875, to $33. The stock was briefly suspended from trading because of an imbalance of orders. Early speculation suggested that a malfunction in the boosters may have set off the explosion.

Also losing ground during the day were shares of Rockwell International, prime contractor for the shuttle orbiter, which fell $1 to close at $34.25; Lockheed, which refurbishes the orbiters after missions, lost $.875 to close at $45.875; and Martin Marietta, which builds the shuttle’s large liquid-fuel tanks, fell $1.125 to close at $33.50.

Experts Disagree on Impact

Financial analysts and space experts disagreed over how great an effect the disaster will have on the U.S. space industry.

“Psychologically, it is particularly significant that they had that teacher on there,” said Sam Pike, director of space policy at the Federation of American Scientists. “The point this mission was supposed to make was that space is a normal place, and it turned around and bit us.”

Pike said the loss of the shuttle fleet for six months will not deal a serious blow to the industry, but a one-year grounding could seriously delay many of the expensive military, commercial and scientific payloads destined for space.

There is currently a glut of communications satellites in orbit, so any delays in launching new satellites will not cause major problems. But the military had planned to launch late this year a KH12 observation satellite, which can be carried only on the shuttle.

Wall Street analysts argued that any fears that the companies faced financial liabilities from the accident are groundless, for NASA specifically indemnifies all manufacturers against liability in the case of in-flight accidents.

But investment specialists said the explosion throws the course of the entire U.S. space program into uncertainty. Among other questions will be whether too much of America’s space program relies on manned vehicles.

“People are going to look at the missions the shuttle is performing and question whether they might not be more efficiently performed by unmanned rockets,” said Howard A. Rubel, aerospace analyst for Cyrus J. Lawrence Inc.

Fifth Shuttle Possible

Because a full schedule of launchings cannot be maintained with only three working spacecraft, “that means we’ll have to build a fourth and maybe a fifth new shuttle,” Alan Benasuli, an aerospace analyst at Drexel Burnham Lambert, suggested.

Under a half-billion-dollar program, Rockwell and its subcontractors already have built a complete set of structural spare parts for the shuttle, including a fuselage, wings and tail assembly. These could be quickly pressed into production.

Hughes Workers Mourn Astronaut They Knew as One of Their Own Los Angeles Times February 06, 1986 Michele Norris Reprinted With Permission

Gregory B. Jarvis, one of the seven crew members killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded Jan. 28, was more than a national celebrity to Hughes Aircraft Co. employees in El Segundo.

He was one of them.

At noon Monday, the day Jarvis was scheduled to return home, about 800 Hughes employees crowded into a tiny courtyard between two high-rise buildings to pay homage to their fallen co-worker.

Most stood with hands clasped behind their backs or arms folded as they listened to five speakers–including fellow engineers and Jarvis’ alternate for the shuttle mission.

“Here at Hughes we are especially pained by this tragedy because we have lost a friend and a comrade,” said David Braverman, the Hughes Aircraft manager who hired Jarvis in 1972. “He understood and respected the shuttle assignment . . . and despite this tragedy, I think he would have wanted us to get on with the job of conquering the future of space.”

Shared His Joy

Said Hughes engineer Stephen Cunningham, “All of us shared in Greg’s joy as he was selected as the first Hughes payload specialist. Many wanted to be in his position.”

Jarvis and fellow engineer John H. Konrad were selected from a pool of 600 Hughes employees who applied to conduct experiments for the aircraft company during space shuttle missions. Cunningham is designated as Konrad’s alternate on a future shuttle flight.

As Cunningham continued, soft sobs rose from the audience. “I applied for the shuttle program,” said one employee. “It could have been me.”

Cunningham praised Jarvis’ strength and humility. He recalled that Jarvis, at his own expense, created personalized plaques for the employees who prepared the fluid dynamics experiments he carried with him on board the shuttle.

“Those employees will cherish those plaques for many years to come,” Cunningham said.

Not Afraid

Cunningham said Jarvis was not afraid of death. “We talked about the risks and the possibility that we could die,” he said. “We didn’t dwell on it. It was just one of those necessary details that had to be addressed and then put aside.”

Other speakers told stories that drew both smiles and tears from the audience, as employees were reminded of Jarvis’ habits and quirks.

“We all remember your passion for bike riding,” said Dr. Jim Wada, Jarvis’ first supervisor at the Hughes Space and Communications group 13 years ago. “It was not enough for you to ride your bicycle every day between your home and work; I also remember some early morning bike treks to Hughes in Fullerton and that the riding clothes you kept in your office nearly caused a health hazard on those hot summer days.”

Wada’s remembrance sparked a wave of laughter from the audience.

Memorial Planned

Through scores of national memorial services, no one had quite captured what Jarvis meant to Hughes and its employees, said company spokesman Richard Dore. The aircraft company plans to build a memorial for Jarvis at the El Segundo complex.

Jarvis also was being remembered elsewhere in the South Bay this week. In Hermosa Beach, where the 41-year-old engineer lived with his wife, Marsha, the message on the signboard at the Hermosa Beach Community Center is dedicated to the Challenger astronauts, and the City Council plans to discuss a scholarship fund in Jarvis’ honor at a council meeting next week.

Jarvis’ colleagues said the engineer would have been embarrassed by such attention. Though his transition from space science engineer to astronaut brought him relative stardom, his colleagues said he remained unchanged.

“This honor could have easily gone to one’s head,” said William Butterworth, the Hughes alternate for the Jan. 28 flight, at Monday’s memorial gathering. “Greg didn’t let that happen to him.”

Butterworth advised the audience not to dwell on Jarvis’ death but rather to honor him by continuing with the space program.

“What could be more fitting for a man of action than to die doing what he loved to do?” Butterworth asked. “If we take Greg’s qualities and share them with others then Greg will be with us forever.”