My great-grandson will be typing in the responses. Proof:

Edit: I am going to eat lunch now, but I will try to return later today.

Edit: I am back!

Edit: I am going to take a break from answering questions for a while.

Edit: This AMA is not over, I am going to continue answering more questions whenever I have time!

Final Edit: Great-grandson here. My great-grandfather passed away February 7, 2013. This AMA was one of the last things he ever did before his health seriously went into decline, and the last thing I ever did with him. Thank you to everybody who asked him questions. The AMA is now closed.

Comments: 247 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

lvsteven141 karma

It's a shame that this isn't getting questions. What is the most top secret thing you ever saw that you can now talk about?

grandpajackama197 karma

I saw the first Saturn Rocket rocket engine when it was first being developed. They asked me to go observe and it was most impressive to see that monster rocket be fired! It was in Huntsville, Alabama.

xmachina86 karma

Did you ever had the chance to meet Wernher von Braun ? What kind of person was he?

grandpajackama142 karma

Yes. (He was the head of the German rocket crew.) He was a nice enough man, very pleasant. His whole interest was space, he didn't make the V2 to bomb England, he made it because it was a movement towards space! That's the kind of guy he was. That was his sole objective throughout the whole far as personality is concerned, he wasn't an angry person or anything like that, of course he was very interested in getting things done, he didn't pay much attention to the Jewish problem but that didn't interest him.

Hauk200464 karma

Hi thanks for doing this. Did your work in satellites make any contribution to the Apollo program?


grandpajackama87 karma

Yeah, should I put it...JPL contributed a lot of details when requested but they didn't work on those projects directly. Since JPL was the first to put things in space, when they had questions, they came to us.

Example: I was in charge of the ground telemetry, everything from the antenna to the recorder - all the ground equipment - 3 or 4 times people came to me and asked about it and learn how we did it. Stuff that hadn't been necessary to do before.

Hauk200428 karma

That's really interesting. I find it fascinating that you folks managed to figure it out on paper first and then input the data into the most primitive computers. I can only imagine how difficult attitude adjustment was in the early days in orbit!

Thanks again. :)

grandpajackama57 karma

Yeah, that's a field that had to completely created from scratch - navigating rockets in space.

[deleted]60 karma

What advice do you give to a young man who is just starting in life?

grandpajackama157 karma

My goodness! That requires a philosopher!

I'll give the same advice I gave to all kids - take the hard courses in school/college because you won't cut yourself off from opportunities later in life!

cactuscactuscactus140 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA.

Did you work closely with Jack Parsons and if so, do you think he deserves more credit than he is given in terms of the development of modern rocketry?

What project were you most excited about contributing to?

Was there any major political event that either encouraged or halted development of a major project?

Thank you in advance.

grandpajackama60 karma

1) I never worked closely with him. I didn't know him well enough to give a good answer to this, I wouldn't want to make a judgement. I never directly worked with him but he was definitely involved with a lot of things.

2) The first Mars Orbiter. We put up the first thing to orbit Mars in the early 70's. Up to then, the best thing they had done was fly-bys that took brief pictures. My job on that project was the configuration manager, I was responsible for knowing how all the parts went together, I didn't have charge of any one particular part, but I had to oversee the process and make sure everything worked together perfectly.

3) Well, I can only put that this way - in the course of events of developing a project, a lot of people have their input, and the government people keep saying, "We want to do it!" and in a lot of situations we can't control whether we can do it or not. It's not so true anymore, as long as one's got enough money, they can do almost anything.

(g-grandson asks about the Kennedy speech regarding the moon missions, and if that had any impact)

Yeah, obviously it did! At the time it happened, it wasn't clear that that was the goal of JPL for the decade, but after the speech it sure was. It was an important speech.

BrodyApproves20 karma

Did you ever work the noted Cambridge physicist, Dr. Parsons or on "The Alan Parsons Project"?

grandpajackama34 karma

(shakes head and laughs) No!

cubicApocalypse38 karma

Did you have anything to do with the Voyager and Pioneer probes?

grandpajackama56 karma

Yes. Voyager in particular, I worked on that one. I was concerned on that program with being in charge of seeing that things were done right, not an inspection program, more of a configuration manager.

Pioneer was a TRW thing. We were only involved in information transfer.

Canucklehead9910 karma

Whoa, did you meet Carl Sagan then?

grandpajackama3 karma


teenageninjaturtle30 karma

Hoe did you get into your line of work?

Are you given a lot of credit for your work during WWII?

What was it like working on radar/satellites when they were still developing technologies?

Thanks for the AMA - one of my dreams would be to work at JPL.

grandpajackama59 karma

1) When I went to Caltech for college, JPL was just barely getting started on the campus. Not many knew about it. Later on, when I was looking for a job after getting out of the army, JPL was right next door, and I knew who the people were, so I picked up a job. At that time, JPL during the war had done rocket work for the army. They were doing sounding rockets for scientific purposes. The director of the lab there said he'd give me a job, and it may last a year. Actually it lasted 32 years!

2) I have a letter of commendation from the army for writing the manual. There were four of us working on the radar manual - it was called "Radar Fundamentals".

3) I was there at the beginning and it was fun, much easier than it was later when they were actually trying to develop the technologies at a rapid pace. When we started in, nobody believed anything about what we were doing except the ordinance core that funded us. They funded the corporal missile. They funded the thing for the most part, then the army took it over. From working for the army ordinance core, we suddenly found ourselves working for congress, and that made a difference in the way we handled things! When we started working for congress was when JPL became big. In the later years, what really had to be done was convert a small organization into a massive laboratory. That's not easy! But that's what a lot of us spent time doing. Revamping policies, procedures, things like that.

Mrs_Whatsit27 karma

Do you think space still holds the same allure for the American public? Or has the public tired of space exploration? And do you think it's to its detriment?

grandpajackama32 karma

I don't think the public is tiring of it, based on these questions it seems there's still a lot of interest, but the reaction of the past few things the space program has done makes me wonder if I'm wrong.

[deleted]24 karma


grandpajackama59 karma

Getting married, I guess! I had never given any thought to it, it just happened! Doesn't mean I was completely out of it, though.

(G-gson comment: He met his wife on a blind date and they got married after only a few months, so it really was an event that developed very suddenly in his life.)

DrLuckyLuke24 karma

Hello, I am a german Electrical Engineering student in my first semester, and I do a lot of hobby electronics (I am currently planning the launch of a High Altitude Balloon to explore near-space for myself). My dream is to someday work in the space business, and work on a satellite that goes somewhere significant, like another planet or an asteroid, or maybe even land somewhere. Do you have any suggestions or career tips for me? Do you know where and how I can participate in any space related projects as a Student?

grandpajackama26 karma

In Germany...I'm sorry, I don't know! I don't know if currently the Germans are involved with very much. I'd think coming to the United States is the best for that sort of work.

I would suggest that you go to JPL first, at any given time there are a number of companies involved with it...from there I'd go to one of these existing companies that's working nearby.

aManHasSaid24 karma

How frustrated were you when you heard that the Pearl Harbor attack was seen on radar but no one paid any attention?

grandpajackama66 karma

I don't think people knew what it meant! I don't think they had the slightest idea what a full rocket activity involved...a full attack like that meant.

Even the radar people couldn't have helped, though - they had no idea what they were doing. If radar had notified the mainland, they probably would've only sent 1 or 2 airplanes. The radar manual I wrote didn't exist yet. The only thing available at that time was technical papers from MIT. When you have a bunch of scientists trying to write instructions, it's not going to be that intelligible to the layperson.

XeroG23 karma

My grandfather worked on advanced radar systems for many years with Hughes/JPL and now he works with the navy designing radar systems. He makes close to 200k a year and all he ever got was a bachelors degree. Nowadays someone wanting to get into an advanced military contractor field needs at least a Masters in Science/Engineering. My question to you is: How do you think the increasing cost and decreasing availability of education will affect your field and advanced sciences in general?

grandpajackama34 karma

Well, that's hard because I've been out of the business of rocketry for some time (30-40 years). From an engineer's point of view, it's a matter of what's required...for the war, someone required radar...we created it, and put it on the market. It took a lot of work to get the publicity of what was there. Most of the smart guys got into communications and started their own companies and established themselves like Bill Gates. They made money because they got in early. Like me, I got into JPL very early (although I wasn't in it to make money, just to get a job).

I expect schooling is heading toward the direction it needs to go, but I haven't kept on top of it as much anymore. I'm not sure I can give a thorough answer to your question.

Dowew21 karma

What do you think is the coolest technological achievement you've seen during your lifetime?

grandpajackama83 karma

Releasing the atomic energy. I didn't say bomb, I just say atomic energy.

kurtkaboom17 karma

This may be a stupid question, but are you interested in astronomy? Do you own a telescope, if so what kind?

grandpajackama31 karma

Yeah, I got an interest in astronomy. I don't own a telescope but my kids do. I can't look at the sky to observe phenomena directly but I do read a lot about it in books.

thomasdewberry16 karma

In your opinion,did the Germans (while brilliant) over-design to their own detriment?

grandpajackama60 karma

I don't know if it was over-design so much as it was over-confidence. A lot of the German things that they did, particularly in the aircraft division, I came to the conclusion that they didn't know what they were doing many times. After the war I got involved with developing landing gear for airplanes. The only people who had ever done that before were the Germans. I looked into what they did, and they were only concerned with one small portion of the process - saving rubber from coming off the tires when they landed, so they designed everything to maximize saving rubber, which didn't accomplish much! I don't think the technicians thought much about why they were being told to do something, they just did it.

WiIIiamFaulkner14 karma

Without the German rocket scientists and research, where do you think the space program would be today? How many decades behind would we be?

grandpajackama26 karma

I don't think we'd be very far behind, we knew all the Germans knew, we just didn't apply it! What an idea can do is pretty obvious whether you've built it or not.

cralledode13 karma

Did you have any sense of the importance radar would have later on?

grandpajackama31 karma

I think I engineer getting into that field would certainly immediately realize the potential of the thing for peacetime use. I think the real problem was regular people didn't believe that the technology was possible.

lyxDeslic_12 karma


grandpajackama31 karma

1) My educational background is CalTech, Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering. After all my work during the war studying radar, I didn't feel the need to go back and get a Master's later, I figured I knew as much as anybody who'd be trying to teach me!

2) In the last course of technical training with the army, they came around and asked, "Does anybody want to write technical manuals?" Nobody raised their hand; so I was one of the people assigned. Next thing I knew, I was sent to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. (It no longer exists, it's been decommissioned.)

3) I worked at JPL for a total of 32 years, I retired around 1970-1971. A big project I worked on were the B-17s.

4) I grew up in Elko, Nevada. Ham radio influenced me to go into electrical engineering.

thomasdewberry12 karma

Similar to other posts, I want to talk about the wonderment surrounding the 50's 60's with space travel. It seemed so impossible to land on the moon, then it happened, breeding a generation with a "can do" and "what if" attitudes. Do you think thats whats "wrong" with us young ones, we forgot how to dream and work?

grandpajackama42 karma

Oh I don't think so. I see too many new technologies being used that I'd never heard about 10 years ago! And it isn't my generation that's inventing them.

0x_8 karma

If you had to fight one or the other, would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or a hundred duck sized horses?

grandpajackama70 karma

Well, if I were young and in business, I'd probably go for the horse sized duck, because it's got a lot of meat to sell and it'll probably make a lot of money!

JimmyFlimFlam21 karma


grandpajackama11 karma

(great-grandson here) It wasn't hard, he understood the question. He was just befuddled as to why anybody would be asking him that!

IwillMakeYouMad7 karma

How hard was it?

grandpajackama24 karma

Writing the radar manual wasn't particularly difficult because all of us had just gone through an extensive school from MIT on the was just a matter of putting together an outline. The hard part was explaining the concepts in a way that anybody can understand. That's difficult, from the point of view from somebody who authored it myself who had that kind of background - from an ordinary person it would be extraordinarily difficult!

DazBlintze6 karma

How much of what you worked on was developed from secrets stolen from the Soviets?

grandpajackama23 karma

As far as I know, none. You see, we were firing rockets a long time before the Russians started! The reason they're in the rocket business now is because they have a big rocket and we don't! [Referring to the end of the space shuttle program]

ZiplockedHead6 karma

Something happened and humanity had to survive in a Mad Max type setting, you are in your prime and healthy as can be. What would you do to survive and what would be your long term plan?

grandpajackama15 karma

Oh depends on whatever the heck it is! Put up a spacecraft...I'd get into that act as fast as possible.

boredlike6 karma

Do you have any life tips for the younger users of this site?

grandpajackama32 karma

My tendency is to say go ahead and get involved in this stuff (rocketry), my other tendency is to say that things are changing so much that I don't know! Take the hard courses in school so you don't limit yourself later in life with less opportunities. Challenge yourself.

vtjohnhurt4 karma

Does your great-grandson know how to work a slide rule?

grandpajackama2 karma

(great-grandson here) No, it's not really an ability I'd be able to put to use very much in this day and age.

fieroturbo3 karma

As someone who has worked on Navy radar both on planes and off, I just want to say thanks for helping to pioneer such a helpful technology.

grandpajackama2 karma

(Reading him your comment made him say "aha!" He sounded pleased.)

mepsipax3 karma

What do you do now?

grandpajackama3 karma

At the age of 93 in a retirement home? Mostly I'm sleepin'!

azzaleo3 karma

This is one of my favorite AMAs of the year!

Thank you sir!

grandpajackama2 karma

Okay! (he seemed very pleased)

ohv2 karma

I missed this AMA, but incredibly interesting to read, thank you both. You two should write a book together, seriously.

grandpajackama2 karma

(You didn't miss the AMA! I read your comment to him and he very much appreciated it. Here's what he had to say in response...)

As far as writing a book is concerned, a lot of books have already been written about it. If you're interested in that stuff, get a hold of JPL, they have a lot written about those subjects, you could dig up a lot of material that way.

Biolight2 karma

Did you ever meet my grandfather? He was one of the Air Force lt kernels in charge of Air Force radar defense in ww2. He was responsible for picking the Air Force radar installation locations to my understanding. He died when I was young so I'd love to know if you ever met him.

Thank you sir. Happy holidays.

grandpajackama3 karma

What's his name?

missing_in_action2 karma

What do you regret most about your life? What do you look back on and smile?

grandpajackama3 karma

Regrets - Looking back, it's hard to say, at any particular time in my life there are paths that I wish I could've gone. I wouldn't necessarily call it a regret, but a friend that started along with me at CalTech went into learning the weather business, he became a weatherman and applied for an army position related to meteorology that I also applied for and he got the job because he had more experience in the area than I did. Interestingly enough, he had had a mastoid operation so he had a hole in his head! The air force wasn't interested in people with a hole in their heads but I guess he had the experience they wanted. I still wish I could've gotten the job.

Things that made me smile - one incident at least, a fellow by the name of Jack Froleich that was involved with the very early parts of the space program, rocket program, very important, and when the Russians first put up their satellite there was a lot of dismay, his response was "Winners chuckle and cheer for others, and the losers say 'deal', like you're in a poker game." His approach about the U.S. and satellites was, 'deal'.

[deleted]2 karma


grandpajackama2 karma

The name is vaguely familiar. When you say, "Do I know somebody," there were thousands of people working on the projects. They would have to be in the electronics area for me to know them well.

TheEndsOfInvention2 karma

Did you ever meet any aliens? What do you know about them?

grandpajackama3 karma

Who knows!

sed_base2 karma

Did you ever meet Carl Sagan?

grandpajackama3 karma


nissansilviafan1 karma

How was working on the B-17s? Were there any other planes that you had the chance to work on?

grandpajackama2 karma

The B-17 was one of the last ones I worked on. That was because of course Boeing made the thing for years but they needed a lot of them and didn't have the capacity so they got Lockheed and Douglas under contract to build B-17s as well. It was interesting because there was a lot liaison work between the different supervisors of the companies. We eventually had to redraw the whole plans for the airplane so that everybody understood how to build them.

dumbgaytheist1 karma

Did you hear any rumors about Jack Parson's relationship to the occult, especially Aleister Crowley?

grandpajackama3 karma

No, that doesn't ring any bells.

hangsta1 karma

Have any experience working with Skolnik or Lincoln Laboratory?

grandpajackama2 karma

Lincoln Laboratory started about the time when I was leaving the business, so I know very little about it.

[deleted]1 karma

Did you have any idea at the time the impact that radar would have in WWII, or even in modern warfare?

grandpajackama2 karma

I think that anybody who have been involved in it would've seen the huge possibilities. I think I understood what was happening. It was one of those things where you say, "If this gets big, won't it be great," and then it happens. Almost immediately after it started, there were many projects that involved it all at once.