Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jerry Rij - Space program veteran

Jerry - Can you tell us some of the high points on your path from Colonia High School days to becoming part of the Space Shuttle team?

First, I attended Newark College of Engineering (now NJ Institute of Technology), which provided relevance to the math I struggled with as a senior in H.S. The science and lab classes added to the relevance and provided the visualization that I needed to really understand the material.

Secondly, my experiences in the Air Force opened my eyes to the real world.

In my first assignment, I participated in development of an Electronic Warfare (EW) Training Range, a foreign military sales project for the Imperial Iranian Air Force. I first participated in a site survey in Iran. I actually piled rocks to mark places for installation of equipment in the
desert and huddled in abandoned mud brick buildings for a day during a sandstorm. I also acquired copies of four radar threat simulators that duplicate the RF signals used for adversary surface-to-air missile systems, and directed installation of the equipment in Iran during the reign of the last Shah.

My experiences in the Middle East taught me a lot about regional customs. For example, construction of the most important structure in the EW Range was held up for more than a year due to two innocuous design requirements that conflicted with certain religious traditions. The matter was resolved with only minimal building design modifications, but it demonstrated the impact such religious traditions have on everyday life in that part of the world.

In subsequent assignments I worked with space system contractors and participated in the manufacture and test of space-qualified hardware and applications of space systems for remote sensing. I led a 6-year development of a first-of-a-kind space payload and participated in launch readiness activities for four new space systems.

Modern space systems are large, complicated, and very expensive. Every effort is made to prevent the loss of such systems. It was my detailed knowledge of a specific space system, including how it was supposed to extend and operate in space and the "physics" that largely determines the quality of its performance that led to my selection as a Manned Spaceflight Engineer (MSE). Of course, my experience working with the associated civilian Government, military, and contractor personnel also played a key role in my selection. US civilian and military space programs are largely dependent upon successful interaction between people at all phases of hardware and software development, fabrication, integration, and test.

My MSE experience included training on every operating system onboard the Space Shuttle, neutral buoyancy exercises using Apollo Astronaut space suites weighted to simulate zero gravity in water, flying zero-gravity parabolas to experience weightlessness, and a host of medical and physiological evaluations.

One set of such evaluations was run by the so-called "Barf Lady of Aims" at the NASA Aims Research Center in Palo Alto, California. In this case, each MSE candidate was subjected to a 2-week protocol of multi-directional attitude variations in an attempt to "discover" the symptoms of the onset of malaise. Fortunately, none of the candidates actually met their individual "malaise end point", but the testing uncovered previously unknown limits to tolerances of motion in all of us.

Looking back, what did you learn, experience in high school that helped you in your career and life?

My experiences in high school would never have predicted my career or my accomplishments. I was a "Late Bloomer." I didn't begin to appreciate the applications of math and science until I entered college and afterwards as I worked with contractors on systems development projects for the DOD.

What are you doing now?

I am currently working with the payload development contractor for a follow-on space system to replace the one I helped develop several years ago when I was in the Air Force. The new system is expected to significantly enhance remote sensing ability.

Look for more about Jerry's life since graduation at our Colonia High Class of 1968 Reunion web site.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

As a childhood friend of Jerry's, it's wonderful to see that his hard work, intelligence and integrity carried him into the military and the space program. Jerry always had an interest in space flight, and I remember the excitement among all our friends when the first Sputnik was sent into space, followed of course, by primates and then human space flight. During the late 1950's, we spent many afternoons launching blue plastic pressurized water rockets in our backyards. It's nice to see that his journey through life has been both interesting and rewarding.