To Pagosa Springs

Dear Editor:

I want to let you know about one of your residents that has recently passed away, Mr. James Smith. Jim was our boss, colleague, and friend here at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Mr. Smith was instrumental in the success of NASA’s space programs, especially Apollo and the Space Shuttle Program. He helped lead and develop the very complex tile thermal protection system on the Shuttle. This included the numerous thermal tiles that experienced temperatures over 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit on the outer surface, but maintained the temperatures to no more than 350 degrees on the aluminum structure underneath. The early Space Shuttle flights (STS-1 through STS-5) were crucial test flights and thus were heavily instrumented with sensors to measure temperature, pressure, acceleration, and strain sensors to collect data necessary for NASA engineers to expand the flight envelope for future flights carrying cargoes and payloads, including the components for assembling the International Space Station. Jim had spent countless hours developing truly extraordinary hand-drawn isometric drawings that depicted that exact location of each thermocouple and pressure port on the Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia. This occurred in the era before computer aided design. It was done by hand and by Herculean effort, utilizing map color pencils, straight edges, French curves, etc., to make the tile maps of thousands of tiles. These were all labeled, color-coded, and categorized. They were beautiful works of tech-art displayed in his office, but were truly invaluable technical tools to the entire NASA and contractor engineering community. Additionally, he personally saw to it that the specially instrumented tiles were installed properly by the schedule-driven contractor force. After NASA retirement, Jim had not been with us here in Houston for several years, but Jim still managed to attend NASA reunions. Jim exemplified the Apollo-era old-school way of engineering. He was one of a kind and will never be replaced.

Chris Madden

This story was posted on March 13, 2014.