I feel fortunate that I have nearly always been in the right place at the right time. That is for sure the reason for my stint with NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab at Northridge.
The Southern Ute Tribe and the Ignacio School District together entered me as a possible NASA Teacher. Several Ute students were part of the package. We won and represented several states. The school gave us their brand new van and JPL gave us more than adequate funds and five days to go from Southwest Colorado to Southern California. Usually a ten to fourteen hour trip, we took three days with a layover in Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
I told the students that I would be working on the unmanned space satellite ‘Galileo’, Mission Design to be exact. I told the students with me that I suspected that they might spend a lot of time observing and maybe as a courier, probably nothing of significance., but a trip to California would be good anyway.
I knew my position required special clearances, I just hoped that the students would be allowed into some buildings. I was going to be busy, I didn’t want them bored.
Just prior to the first day, I told them I wouldn’t be able to talk much about my job or the day to day secret clearance data. We will just have to talk about other things when we were at the apartment.
The Galileo space program was based on the JPL campus, a seventh floor building sitting directly above the San Andreas fault, sometimes on the top floors , you could feel the building sway. I was with the Mission Design team on the fourth floor having to be in the building an hour before the students. I did a lot of watching those first few days managing to be a gopher at times.
The kids said little at all about their tasks.
Then , one day everything came to light. The students and I all took the same elevator.
“I get off on the fourth floor, you guys?”
“Seventh.” The seventh floor, what the hell.
“I’ll ride up with you to see what you are doing.” I thought it might be like an activities area for students during the day, waiting for their teachers to get off work.
The seventh floor door opened to a busy set of computers and the large towers that went with them. It was all business and it was busy. The kids checked through with their clearance cards, but I was stopped. THEY HAD A HIGHER CLEARANCE THAN I HAD. I found out later that the seventh floor was a floor-sized fault in which secret data concerning Galileo was gathered and stored.
So that night when I asked about their day’s work,
“Well, you know…” and they were off to get pizza.
It’s always been about me.
I thought that it was about my work in Mission Design that it little show was all about, the kids were an afterthought. BUT it was the other way around, I might be there just as a handsome chaperone caring for some budding rocket scientists.
What is this world coming to…