July 11, 2019

Purdue to feature panels with NASA flight directors, industry leaders who worked on Apollo 11

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the moment when Purdue alumnus Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.

Purdue will celebrate the anniversary with a series of events July 18-20, including two panels on July 20, “Past, Present, Future NASA Flight Director Panel” and “Industry’s Crucial Role in the Apollo 11 Mission.” A related news release is available online. The celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing is part of Purdue’s own 150th anniversary celebration, which is themed around Armstrong’s giant leap. The sesquicentennial anniversary will conclude with an astronaut reunion at the football Homecoming game in October.

The NASA flight directors’ panel will take place from 1-2:30 p.m. on July 20 in Stewart Center’s Loeb Playhouse. The event is free but a ticket is required for admission. The panel will feature Purdue alumni panelists, including future flight directors Allison Bolinger and Marcos Flores; present flight director Gary Horlacher; and past flight director Wayne Hale. The discussion will be moderated by past flight director Tomas Gonzalez-Torres.

“The flight director is responsible for leading human spaceflight missions both inside and outside of mission control,” Bolinger said. “While in charge of the team of flight controllers, research and engineering support personnel, the flight director has the ultimate responsibility of making real-time decisions critical to the astronauts’ safety and completion of mission objectives.”

Current flight directors are tasked with supporting the International Space Station including the upcoming U.S. commercial crew vehicles and the exploration missions to the moon and Mars. Bolinger, Flores, Horlacher, Hale and Gonzalez-Torres are five of 97 flight directors since the first appointment of the position in 1958.

The second panel, “Industry’s Crucial Role in the Apollo 11 Mission,” will take place from 5-6:30 p.m. on July 20 in Stewart Center’s Loeb Playhouse. The event is free but a ticket is required for admission. The discussion will feature Purdue alumni who worked behind the scenes to make the Apollo 11 possible, including Ron Larsen (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Tim Harmon (Boeing Company’s Rocketdyne Division) and Chesterfield (Chet) Janes (IBM Mechanical Systems Manager). The session will be moderated by Purdue professor Steven Collicott.

Flight director panelists and moderator bios

* Bolinger, a 2004 Purdue graduate with an aerospace engineering degree, began her career with NASA in 2001 with her first of five co-ops. After graduation, she began her full-time work at NASA, which included training astronauts to spacewalk, working in Mission Control and for multiple shuttle missions, overseeing 10 spacewalks and serving as deputy chief at one of the world’s largest pools, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. She became a flight director in July 2018 and is currently focused on training and certification in her new role.

* Flores received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez campus in 2009 and a Master of Science in aerospace engineering from Purdue in 2014. He has served in many roles while at NASA including working as a systems engineer for mission simulations, working with electrical and external thermal control systems for the International Space Station flight control team, leading Expeditions 46 and 55, becoming test conductor lead for the MCC-21 and serving as the assistant for technical integration in the spaceflight systems division. Flores was selected to be a flight director in July 2018 and is currently undergoing training to support future NASA missions.

* Horlacher graduated from Purdue in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science in engineering and received his master’s in space sciences from University of Houston Clear Lake in 1995. Before he was named a flight director in 2008, Horlacher worked at Rockwell Space Operations Co., Hughes Information Technology Systems Co., Lockheed Space Systems Co. and NASA. Horlacher has served as flight director for five shuttles and lead on seven missions before taking his current role as assistant to the chief for exploration, the lead flight director for future missions to the moon.

* Hale received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rice University in 1976 and his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1978. Hale worked at NASA for 32 years, of which he served 15 years as a flight director assisting in 40 space flight assignments and lead flight director for three separate shuttle flights. His work at NASA included serving as junior flight controller, propulsion systems officer in mission control, deputy program manager for the space shuttle program, program manager and deputy associate administrator for strategic partnership at NASA headquarters before taking on his current role as director of human spaceflight for Special Aerospace Services.

* Gonzalez-Torres earned a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University in 1998 and currently serves as a senior lecturer at his alma mater. At NASA, he trained astronauts for spacewalks, working in Mission Control for ISS assembly and Hubble Space Telescope shuttle missions, overseeing 12 spacewalks, before serving as a flight director from 2011-16 and leading Expedition 42. Gonzalez-Torres was recently appointed the Iowa Space Grant Consortium director by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement.

Apollo 11 panelists bios

* Larsen received a Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue’s Department of Aeronautics, Astronautics, and Engineering Sciences in 1968, a Master of Science in applied physics from the Catholic University of America, and a doctorate in computer science from the University of Maryland. At NASA, Larsen designed real-time mission support systems, worked in mission computer control for Apollo and conducted research on advanced mission support system architectures. He subsequently served as an academic administrator for the University of Maryland and dean of information sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, before retiring in 2017.

* Harmon received a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from Purdue in 1963, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California and an MBA from Pepperdine University. Harmon has worked at Rocketdyne for 42 years, spending 25 years as a chief systems engineer. His work on the Apollo 11 mission included development of the lunar module ascent and command module engines.

* Janes received his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue in 1957. Janes worked for Atlas Missile and Atlas-Centaur Programs in Cape Canaveral before joining IBM at the Kennedy Space Center as the mechanical systems engineer. During his time with IBM, he became department manager for mechanical systems, wrote mechanical systems procedures for Saturn V programs, managed the department that helped launch Apollo 11 and became a part of management in manufacturing engineering, which led to him visiting China to work on process control for the IBM Series I computer.

* Collicott earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and master’s and doctor of philosophy degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. He has been a faculty member of the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue since 1991. His Apollo-era experiences were limited to childhood fascination with everything Apollo. Since 1981 he has been involved in engineering and research in the field of “zero-gravityfluid dynamics.” His decades of work at Purdue include design of successful space station experiments, 38 parabolic aircraft flight experiments, seven sub-orbital experiments on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, launches with Exos Aerospace, and teaming with industry to create and deliver superior on-orbit propellant gauging services to the communications satellite industry. Collicott’s science advocacy efforts have included invited testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee and service on National Academy and CASIS committees concerned with increasing the research benefits from spaceflight. 

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Writer: Madison Sanneman, msannema@purdue.edu  

Media Contact: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu 

Source: Stephanie McKinley, events specialist for College of Engineering, samckinl@purdue.edu

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