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One of my favorite films from the 'eighties is Richard Benjamin's autobiographical production My Favorite Year. Its premise is that, in everyone's youth, there comes a pivotal moment that defines the direction of his or her life. For Benjamin, that moment came in the early 'fifties, when he was a staff writer for the Sid Caesar Comedy Hour on TV.
National Air and Space Museum
My moment came a little later, in 1961. That was the year I got my first ham radio license, and took my first flying lesson, and OSCAR I (the world's first non-government communications satellite) was launched. I was the high school kid sitting in the back of the room at Project OSCAR meetings, saying "this is what I want to do when I grow up."|
And some day, maybe I will grow up. Meanwhile, the amateur satellite community trained me, and I rose through its ranks, from volunteer gofer to technician to engineer to technical director to board member, all the way up to Chairman of the Board. I thought I had reached the top.
I was wrong.
For 1961 was also the year that John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University, in which he said:
We choose to go to the Moon, and do those other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
And right then, in my favorite year, my life's goals crystallized before my eyes.
I was going to become an aerospace engineer, and an astronaut, and win a Nobel prize.
Well, that first goal, though not easy, was certainly attainable. It required only persistence, and the drive to survive ten years of college (interrupted in the mid 'sixties by Uncle Sam's all-expense-paid Asian Vacation.) There were moments of doubt (such as the first time I failed Calculus.) But my ham radio experience helped me to jump through all the right hoops, by giving me the big picture.
I jumped through all the right hoops again on my way to the stars: clean military service record, flying experience, a PhD in a related discipline, the requisite number of publications, and research expertise appropriate for a Shuttle Mission Specialist. Then marginal eyesight bounced me out of astronaut candidacy. But better failing vision than failing Calculus.
So I guess I'll have to settle for two out of three.
Which brings me to the Dayton Hamvention, the world's largest gathering of radio amateurs, which saw fit to present me with its Technical Excellence Award for 2000. And if this award is as close as I ever come to a Nobel Prize, it's been well worth the ride.
When the Dayton Hamvention honored me, they also honored my numerous mentors:
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this page last updated 14 June 2007