An excerpt from the upcoming book, The Rise of Air Force Space Command.
After my initial tour as a brand new 2nd Lt and Electrical Engineer in Manchester, the Air Force sent me clear across the other side of the country.” I was e-interviewing retired Maj. Warren Pearce and he was explaining his involvement in early SCF (Satellite Control Facility) ops. This wasn’t Manchester, England; rather Warren is referring to the lesser known town in NH bordering Massachusetts. One of the nation’s first satellite ground tracking radar stations was built in this remote eastern region of the U.S. in the early 1960’s and in the middle of the woods to catch a glimpse of the Corona as it passed overhead every 90 minutes or so —this radar station is known as NHS. Accessed at the time down a dirt road, NHS is a 16 square mile forested area with several ponds. “The ops [operations centers] were on two opposite corners of the area. Now, all the ops buildings are in the area close to the front gate. Except for the ops building areas, it is all forest,” Warren described. It wasn’t in Manchester proper, which is the largest city in NH—the AF built the small tracking station in New Boston, 15 miles due west of Manchester. Warren was told he would be assigned to a civil engineering unit working on power meters when he was assigned to NHS; he had no idea he was beginning a career in early Air Force space development and operations. NHS is still operational, but today it tracks the more commonly known—and unclassified—ISS (International Space Station).
Warren has been retired from the Air Force for 29 years now, but he clearly remembers his assignment in LA in the early 1970’s as one of his favorites. “I worked for DVEH at the SAMSO SPO”, Warren continued the interview. “That’s S-A-M-S-O. It stands for Space and Missile Systems Organization; and SPO is the System Program Office,” he explained. When queried about who or what DVEH was, he apologized for the acronym soup and clarified it was simply a four-letter designation for the DeVelopment Engineering Hardware branch of this particular space systems acquisition office. It was at this office the then Capt Pearce would discover he would be pushing the limits of a traditional electrical engineering degree, evaluating designs for new space-related systems, or more specifically, the next generation ground systems for analyzing and processing downlinked data coming from satellites on orbit around the earth. “I remember a project I had in 1972-1974 called the Paperless Printer.” Paperless Printer was a revolutionary concept of displaying satellite telemetry data on a TV-like monitor instead of the then widely used dot-matrix paper plots! “The Vela ops folk at the STC didn’t want the system installed in their area,” Warren marveled. He couldn’t understand why the operators would not welcome such a technological improvement which was intended to greatly modernize the way the Air Force conducted satellite command and control. “I found out later that the reason was that the line printers had a consistent rhythm until it sensed a bird [satellite] passing overhead; at which point, the printer would skip two lines, print the word B-O-O-M, skip two more lines, then return to the standard rhythm.” Sensing I was not connecting the dots (no pun intended) Warren continued, “the change in sound told the operators it was time to stop reading their magazines, put their coffee cup down and go look at the printer. They were guessing they would have no such cue with the Paperless Printer.