J Paul Douglas
Space is in my blood.
I’ve been around the space program my entire life. Born in Huntsville, Alabama − a stone’s throw from Marshall Space Flight Center − and less than a year after President Kennedy gave his now-famous speech announcing the decision to go to the moon , I guess you might say establishes my pedigree. When I was four, my family moved to Merritt Island, Florida just across the Banana River from Kennedy Space Center, though we called it “Cape Canaveral” in those days. It was from my back yard there on Venus Street that I watched the Saturn V carrying Apollo 11 rise above the tree tops on its way to the moon. I was barely 7 years old when I took in that sight, but it changed me forever. From that point on, I was hooked on everything space.
Back in those days, all of Florida and particularly the so-called Space Coast, which encompasses Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Titusville and the surrounding area, was gung ho for space. It seems like every business had some sort of space theme in its name. There was the Satellite Hotel for instance. Ah, and yes, I’m sure you noticed the name of my street. Even today, many streets of the Diana Shores subdivision carry planet names. There’s Venus, Saturn, Mercury, Uranus and Pluto… Hm. I wonder how much consternation there was in the neighborhood when Pluto was demoted from planet status.
I graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology with a degree in Space Science. From there I started my career when I joined the Flight Operations Team of the Advanced Composition Explorer mission being flown out of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. You could imagine my excitement at being handed the controls of a deep space mission, fresh out of college. Each command I sent to the spacecraft as I sat at my console station in building 3 I mentally traced from the keyboard, through the ground system, then out from the antenna located at one of the Deep Space Network stations at Goldstone, California or Madrid, Spain to its final destination four times further away from earth than the moon! The L1 point between earth and the sun.
My first time on console, I even whispered, “wow!” under my breath. I had made it. This was no longer just a dream. This was robotic space flight; a reality in which I was actually getting paid to have the most fun I’d ever had. The best part? It’s still fun after more than a decade. I get a kick out of telling people that I haven’t worked a day since the late 90′s. Those puzzled looks are priceless. Well, I could hardly call it “work” to get up each morning and play in space — albeit a journey made vicariously through the myriad of sensors onboard the spacecraft, their electrical and mechanical senses displayed on my computer screen showing me a world far, far above our heads. As a boy, I had made this journey a million times in my imagination, but now I was living it.
Of late I find that my imagination turns toward the future of human space flight leading to the colonizing of space. Earth orbit is no longer the frontier. It and our nearest neighbor the moon are places to which people – common folk – can and should begin to look for new opportunities. Yet little forward movement in that direction is being made. I believe it is because the idea that we’ve reached that level of maturity has not percolated to the surface of our collective consciousness. That light has not yet come on. So I take it as a personal mission to twist the bulb until it does.
If you have any questions, drop me a line at jpau…@spacetalknow.org. I’d be glad to hear from you.
And here’s a little on my science, engineering and publications background.