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John Saxon


John Saxon, 2007 Born in northwest London (England) in 1935, middle of 5 kids and the only boy. We were evacuated to northwest Wales at the start of WW2 but returned to London for much of the blitz and all of the V1s and V2s. I spent some of the "Welsh" time at a boarding school in Herefordshire - pretty tough for a 7 year old. But (except for the rationing) on the whole I enjoyed WW2 - very exciting times for a 7-10 year old! But I doubt if my parents enjoyed it at all. Then off to one of the lesser English "Public" schools at age 12 for 5 years. The main lessons learned there were a hatred of the English class system, and a lifetime abhorrence of all forms of ritualised violence - specially capital and corporal punishments. Couldn't wait to leave and start work. When I did, it was wonderful! People actually called you by your first name!

When I left school I took up an apprenticeship with Marconi Instruments in St Albans (now almost part of north London). There I learnt about Electronics and many other things while studying one day and 3 nights a week for 5 years to get my engineering qualifications. Also spent the last couple of years on the development of the first 12 channel electro-encephalograph and sundry other bits of medical equipment. Then tried selling moisture and PH meters to farmers and dye works in Yorkshire (a bit like James Herriott - many stories from that time!). After that I spent 18 months in Marconi's central London sales office (In Marconi House at the end of the Strand - the site of the first full time radio station in U.K. (and the world?)

Got a job as works manager with a subsidiary of an American company called Seismic Instruments. Stayed there 18 months until the Americans decided to close European operations, despite the U.K operation making a healthy profit. I developed a more efficient seismometer while I worked there - mainly by just using more modern materials - but it was also easier to manufacture.

Then went to work at Elliot Brothers in Hertfordshire, working on the development of one of the world's first Inertial Navigation systems. No one knew what IN was in those days - so I was not alone! That took me into the flight trials unit stationed at AVRO's plant in Lancashire, close to Derbyshire and some of the best pubs in U.K! Then the whole unit decamped to Australia (Weapons Research Establishment outside Adelaide, South Australia). I was very lucky as I got to fly 2-300 hours as navigator plotter in British "V bombers" dropping nasty devices over the Woomera rocket range in central Australia. The planes were Vulcans, Victors, and Valiants, the main part of the British Nuclear deterrent at that time; and what we dropped were VERY impressive devices. Once got up to 50,000 ft in a Victor in about 8 minutes - not bad for an 80-ton aircraft. Made several trips "down-under" over the 3 years or so on that project, and really got to like the place. I was also lucky enough to be involved in the analysis of the flight trials results after each launch. More information on the Blue Steel project and various reunions can be found in the Blue Steel section of my webpage.

Then back to UK for a stint on flight trials and analysis of the navigation systems for the ill fated TSR-2 fighter/bomber project based at Boscombe Down near Salisbury with occasional stints in Farnborough. Got to fly terrain radar test runs in a Comet-4! Also saw several first flights at Boscombe including the TSR-2, P1127 (the predecessor of the Harrier), and HS-748. When the TSR-2 was dumped in favour of the F-111, I spent 18 months or so trying (without much luck) to sell Elliot's mainframe computers in Eastern Europe and South America. But you have to lie too much in sales, and by this time I was busting to get back to Australia!

NASA: I had always been interested in Space travel and technology, knew I would never make it as an Astronaut, but luckily three of NASA's tracking networks (Scientific, Manned, and Deep Space) were all starting tracking stations in Australia. I was interviewed for them all (in London) and was lucky enough to get job offers from two of them, eventually deciding that Manned Spaceflight (the Apollo project was just getting underway) sounded more exciting. So we emigrated to Australia and I started work at the Honeysuckle Creek station in what was to be nearly 30 years with NASA and the most exciting career imaginable. I was so lucky to have joined at what might be regarded for many years to come as the "golden age" of space exploration. I worked the main station operations console for all the Apollo missions (and we had the prime contacts for many of the most exciting times - including the Video of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the lunar surface). In some ways the 2-year Skylab project was even more satisfying as our crews had time to really become a pretty slick act. Eventually Honeysuckle closed and the 26-meter antenna was moved to CDSCC (Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex) at Tidbinbilla ACT where I moved as well. Became a Shift Supervisor there, and eventually Operations Manager. Again I was lucky enough to take part most of the major mission events with the Viking, Voyager, Pioneer, Magellan, Galileo spacecraft, and numerous other projects. Those were the days! More information on Spaceflight, reunions, etc. can be found in the Spaceflight section of my webpage.


John and Mike at the Ops Console

John Saxon (with cigarette) and Mike Dinn at the Honeysuckle Creek Operations Console
in early April 1970 during a pre-mission simulation for Apollo 13.

Finally retired in April 1995 and much to my amazement I was offered a small consulting contract with JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena California. I travelled there fairly regularly and had my last working trip in 1997. It's nice to think that some considered that it was a shame to "waste" all those years of experience in Spaceflight operations.

CAREER LOW POINT: A supersonic spin from 46,000 feet to 16,000 feet in Victor bomber. Luckily the pilot pulled the tail chute (A trick he learned from test flying delta wing fighter aircraft) and pulled us out of it. The plane was stressed way beyond design limits, and we needed chase planes and runway foam etc. But as we survived and considering the altitude - perhaps it could be regarded as another high point!.

CAREER HIGH POINT: A 5-minute conversation with John Young and Charlie Duke when they were on the lunar surface during Apollo-16 (due to loss of communications between Honeysuckle and Houston because of a major earthquake in LA). We mostly talked about beer! Swan larger in particular, and Swan sent us 48 dozen for our splashdown party! I finally got to present John Young with a Swan during our Apollo-11 25th Anniversary party in 1994.

Work took me on a couple of visits to Australia (see above). After those visits, I couldn't wait to get back here. Specially because I married Betty from Queensland, and we finally emigrated in 1966 with our 8-week-old first daughter. Now 40 years later, we have a total of 4 children (3 girls and a boy) and 8 grandchildren (7 girls and 1 boy) - so far! So here we all are - mostly in Canberra.

11 December 2007