A Slice of Life
Unknown to most Americans; when Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon in July of 1969, the “Space Race” was essentially over. The U.S. continued to send men to the moon until 1972, but the Apollo manned lunar landing program was spinning down all the while.
By the time the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to earth, construction of most of the hardware for the rest to that program had already been started, completed or cancelled. Layoffs of hundreds of thousands of contractor personnel across the country began, and those layoffs included thousands of contractor personnel at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) where I worked. In one respect, I was fortunate to be in one of the final waves of contractor personnel laid off after the launch of the Skylab and its 3 astronaut replacement missions.
In 1973 Rockwell International (RI) gave me the opportunity to return to the North American Aviation (NAA) plant in California (my point of origin) or be laid off. I had no prospects of a job at the home plant, and the cost of living there was twice what it was here in Florida. We would have to virtually give our house away as the bottom had dropped out of the housing market, and we didn’t have the money for a down payment of any kind on a house there. On top of all that, DiVoran had let me know, in no uncertain terms, that she hated Los Angeles (we had spent 8 years there while I was going to college) and if I took the transfer back to the home plant, I would be making the trip alone!
The problem with taking the lay-off was that by 1973 so many people had been laid off from the KSC that literally all the jobs in the central Florida area had been taken. A person couldn’t even get a job pumping gas at the local gas station, and Wal-Mart wasn’t here yet. I flooded the area with resumes to no avail. Sometime after my 16 weeks (as I remember) of unemployment benefits ran out, a friend who was a building contractor, helped me get a job with his rough carpenter as a laborer at minimum wage. This was a miracle job, because by then our family was trying to survive on food stamps, and any job was a gift from God. That was a really hard job for this ex-engineer who had spent the last 8 years mostly writing hardware installation procedures for the space program and overseeing their implementation (essentially a desk job).
Then one day at church a friend, who was an electrician and owned his own small electrical business, offered me a job working for him as an “Apprentice’s Helper.” This was another minimum wage job, but at least it had the potential of higher wages if and when the company won a government related contract. I spent the next two years following George around trying to learn the electrical trade. This actually consisted of being his go-fer, digging a lot of ditches and building a lot of shelves in his warehouse/office to support his expanding business inventory.
In 1975 George’s business had dropped off to the point that he had to lay me off. My contractor friend had suggested that with my mechanical engineering degree, and letters of recommendation confirming my two years’ experience in the construction field (even though it was at menial jobs) from the companies I had worked for, he thought I would qualify to apply for my General Contractors License. I studied, took the required classes and applied to take the state Contractors test. While I waited for the test to be given in my area, our family took the opportunity to take a camping trip to visit friends and relatives (see “Our Trip Across America” blog-10/10/2012). It was just about this time that one of my resumes found its way to the Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. (LMSC) and they hired me to work on their Trident I submarine missile flat pad development program. What a marvelous answer to prayer that was.
—–To be Continued—–