While many of our interviewees held “front office” jobs in the space program – pilots, astronauts, flight controllers – some of the most interesting interview clips came from the pure engineers. So do people like Norman Chaffee, who began his career at NASA in May 1962 and who worked on the Gemini and Apollo programs over the course of that career. Chaffee didn’t fly the spacecraft – he helped to make them.
In particular, Chaffee was a propulsion engineer. He helped create the reaction control thrusters on the Gemini capsule a fact. Those are the small thrusters, often fueled by hypergolic propellants or cold gas, that are used during the mission to change the attitude of the spacecraft through roll, pitch, and yaw. After Gemini, Chaffee worked on the thruster design for the Apollo command module and then, finally, on the reaction control thrusters for the Grumman-manufactured Lunar Module. (Chaffee’s NASA oral history page has some amazing stories for readers who want to know more).
We wanted to talk to Norm because as a propulsion engineer he was close to a lot of technical decision making during the program, and he absolutely delivered. He is not only an astute engineer, but also a talented observer – and the insight he gave us to our program was both immense and invaluable.
List image by NASA