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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

DENNIS PATRICK: A MAN AND THE MOON

The beauty and majesty of the night sky takes one’s breath away. The brilliant moon and starlit heavens sing the Creator’s praise. Earth witnessed a super blue moon on January 31, 2018. On July 27 most of the world will witness the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st Century – four hours from beginning to end. This will also be the occasion of a blood moon.

Humans established a presence among the stars in the last century and can now see where no eye had seen before. We gaze like voyeurs into unknown corners of the universe from the vantage point of the Hubble Space Telescope. Exciting times, these.

July 20 marked the 49th anniversary of the landing of the first men on the moon. Neil Armstrong (Mission Commander), “Buzz” Aldrin (Lunar Module Pilot), and Michael Collins (Command Module Pilot) were launched from the Kennedy Space Center on top of a Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969.

Everyone preserves their personal impressions and recollections, vivid or vague, of those heady days. Some people can recall where they were or what they were doing. My own thoughts drift back to a mild, overcast Virginia day in September 1992 standing at the graveside of my friend, Doug Broome. Doug had been the Hubble Space Telescope project manager until he succumbed to liver cancer. Patti, his wife, requested that I serve as one of his pall bearers.

Doug worked with NASA from its inception. His outstanding contributions to every major area of space exploration began in the early days of the Mercury and Apollo programs and extended through the missions of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Mars Observer. Doug eventually became the Deputy Chief of Solar System Exploration and was instrumental in restructuring planetary flight programs aiming toward greater efficiency.

In 1970 Doug received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his skill and performance under pressure during the Apollo XIII mission which involved a dramatic rescue of three astronauts in the third attempt to land humans on the moon.

All of this brings me back to my personal recollections on the 49th anniversary of the Apollo moon mission. It was Doug who was responsible for the design of the electrical systems for the command module, the service module, and the lunar module.

Admitted to Mensa in 1966, Doug was one of NASA’s technical elite. He graduated from the Citadel with a degree in electrical engineering in 1959 and went on to attend Texas A&M as well as George Mason University. As a senior executive fellow, Doug attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, in 1984.

Doug was an intellectual and managerial giant in space exploration. Sadly, until the last few years of his life, he struggled mightily against alcohol. In the end, alcohol took its physical toll on Doug. Nevertheless, he was the final victor following an earlier conversion to Christianity. After the diagnosis of liver cancer, Doug would quip, "If I win, I win; and ultimately, even if I appear to lose, I still win." He handled the discomfort of chemotherapy with wry humor. "I worked hard to get my liver in this condition and this is the price I have to pay," referring to his years of heavy drinking.

Doug lived a life of service in which people were paramount. He took care of his own. He fondly recounted a remark made by the Apollo project manager at the project's completion. "There are two products as a result of this mission--the spacecraft and the people. The spacecraft goes into the museum to gather dust; the people are what count."

Years later, in his recovery program, Doug would counsel men with drug and alcohol problems. "When you're helping someone else," he said, "you're helping yourself." He lived it and loved it. I know. I was a product of his efforts because he was my sponsor during my own difficulty.

As I gaze at the moon on a clear night the memories return. Doug was a brilliant astrophysicist whose inquiring mind raced with the speed of light generating a million questions and seeking the answers. I believe all his questions are answered now. We have Doug, among many others, to thank for the Apollo moon landing and world-class discoveries from Hubble. In my mind's eye I imagine him, with a puckish grin, urging us on to return to space exploration.

God bless you, Doug -- and thanks for everything. You are not forgotten.

 

Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  

 

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