Craig Kent

I was hired into the SBRC Electro-Optical Instrumentation Optics Department in June 1978 by Jim Young. Jim told me during my interview that he would prefer to hire back a fellow that was at the time working in Antarctica but that otherwise I was probably person he had interviewed for the position. Jim subsequently offered me the job, which I of course accepted. I was happy to be going to work for SBRC but I was left wondering about being a distant second choice and felt a bit concerned about what that might mean for me going forward.

Now I have to confess that due to my upbringing I was highly intimidated by intelligent people in authority – yup – I am talking about Jim Young here, and I was literally shaking while being interviewed by Jim.   Frankly, it took about 10 years before I stopped being so intimidated by Jim (I have other stories about needing to go into his office to and talk to him wherein I was so highly intimidated by him that I could barely speak (yeah, I know).

My first recollection following my initial indoctrination is coming into the Optics area in building B-3. It was one big office with desks everywhere. There were even one or two desks sitting on top of others.   I cannot recall precisely but there must have been 20 or so desks in there.

One group of three guys, Joe Kekoanui, Dick Howitt for sure and I can’t recall who the third was, had their own small office area off of the large room. I also recall an “Optics Lab” (I also recall it was small) with one or two optics tables and some other equipment.

I was told that the company was hiring like crazy (there were 24 other people who started that same day I did) at that we would soon be moving to a different building with more space. Not long after that we all moved over to the so called Raymond building across the street. I don’t recall how long we stayed in that building but I recall we moved again, not to long afterwards into another building nearby, before moving longer term into the buildings on Pine Street in downtown Goleta.

All this time I was mainly supporting the engineering activities on the Thematic Mapper program while providing an occasional extra hand to Optics colleagues working on the MSS and VAS programs.

As anyone who knows me is likely to attest, I love working on spaceborne instruments and I try to make it as enjoyable as I can. Those who know me also know that while I may cut up and make light of things I am quite serious about doing the best work I am capable of doing and I work hard as well as long hours to get the details right.

Early on during the Thematic Mapper program I had the good fortune to work for a section head who let me pursue my interests over a broad range of tasks from optical modelling and analysis to assembly and alignment and even into systems integration and testing.

Now I have to confess that I want to believe it was because I was a quick study and that my abilities were appropriate rather than the program not having sufficient qualified people coupled with my supervisor not having anything else for me to do – although I suspect that may be closer to the truth of things.

At any rate, I further had the good fortune of working closely with a couple of very talented Engineers who took me under their wing. We worked long hours together doing the engineering and assembly of the Optical system and then we integrated and aligned them in the sensor.


Before long I found myself writing test scripts for the system testing as well as operating the Dec PDP-11 system test computer with 16 bit addressing. You know that powerful computer system with the entire CPU contained on four LSI chips made by Western Digital (the MCP-1600 chip set), having gobs of memory (256 kB as I recall) as well as employing a unibus which facilitated attaching peripherals – ooooh! add on disc drives (which were as large as 30 kB or so) along with impact printers. It was a big step up from punched tape and punched cards!

At any rate the test crew worked long hours and we were relatively short handed so we not only covered a lot of technical ground but we became a tight knit team.

When the actual testing commenced the program was running well over budget and well behind schedule. The tem was asked to work long hours and it was not uncommon for us to put in 6 day workweeks of 80 – 90 hours.

For the EDU and PFM testing I was a test conductor for tests directed by Tim Wise (RIP) and Joe Walker (still working as a NASA contractor at Langley in Virginia). By now we had moved to the group of buildings on Pine Street South of Old Town Goleta.

The clean room was in the former post office building (now demolished and replaced by an office building) that was at what is now the corner of Rutherford and Pine.

In those days we wore Tyvek lab coasts, polypropylene bouffant caps and nylon booties during our long hours in the clean room testing (except for Howard Glenn who wore size 16 shoes and had to use a pair of sneakers he kept in the clean room gowning area).

We typically used the smocks multiple times and we would write our names on the shoulders of the smocks before hanging them up. We also found that we could write notes on the sleeves of our smocks with pen which was convenient when doing alignments or taking measurements. One day I got the bright idea to put a name on my smock like a name tag. Some folks though that was cool and then I got the idea to come up with a test team name so I wrote “Test Pirates”. On the back of my smock. It caught on and soon several of us were doing this. We started using monikers for each other over the headset intercom system that connected the computer operation and control area outside the clean room to the person or persons on the floor in the cleanroom during testing. I took on the moniker of Capitan Jupiter and that stuck with me through all of the Thematic Mappers builds (during systems testing).

I don’t know what others who witnessed and overheard us thought but It helped make the many hour long data collection and data reduction time pass and we were able to have some fun while doing serious work.

This became a tradition and all of the test teams I worked on over my 30 ½ year career at SBRC/SBRS did this. I believe it helped bring us together and lower stress.

I have many fond memories and I very much enjoyed working at SBRC and even SBRS up until about 2004 when it became tough on everyone until Raytheon closed the facility in 2008.

Looking back now I need to say to Jim Punches wherever he may be thanks for being in Antactica in June 1978!





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