Tuesday, 8 February 2011

It's Space Age Britain - and he's John Hodge

Congratulations to Louis Barfe http://cheeseford.blogspot.com/ for successfully identifying our Mystery Man. Almost making it off his planet to orbit was Mondo http://planetmondo.blogspot.com/ . Piley is still on the Pad http://piley.blogspot.com/ ,we started the lift-off without him.

Yes, it's John Hodge. Originally from Leigh-on-Sea, then via Avro Canada to Nasa, becoming amongst other things, the second Flight (or Mission) Controller appointed, during the Gemini programme.

The story of the Avro Arrow project cancellation and 'what happened next' to a group of highly talented engineers and scientists is told very well in the book Arrows To The Moon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Arrows-Moon-Avros-Engineers-Apogee/dp/1896522831/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297164713&sr=1-1. As the book description puts it:

"On 20 February 1959 the Canadian government shut down the CF-105 Avro Arrow jet interceptor programme, putting the cream of Canada's aerospace engineering talent out of work. Many of the Avro engineers had just arrived in Canada from Great Britain. A brand new U.S. organisation called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was charged with putting U.S. astronauts into space, and in 1959 it desperately needed engineering talent. Within 10 weeks of the demise of the Arrow, 25 Avro engineers were working for NASA, and another seven joined them later.

Other Avro engineers found work with the aerospace contractors that built spacecraft and boosters or NASA. A little more than 10 years later, US astronauts were standing on the surface of the Moon in the climax of one of the greatest stories of technology and exploration in human history. This book tells for the first time the story of the Canadian and British engineers from Avro Canada who played key roles in putting Americans on the Moon and in building today's US space programme, including the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station."

Hodge became deputy to Chris Kraft and effectively number two in the Mission Control business. He was the second Flight Controller appointed, by, and after, Kraft himself. More here:


Perhaps the most famous incident that Hodge was involved in was a potential disaster scenario in space, as Gemini 8, crewed by Neil Armstrong (yes that Neil Armstrong) and Dave Scott (later Apollo 9 & 15), attempted the first docking between two spacecraft in Earth orbit, an essential precursor technique to achieving any lunar mission.

All went well until a manoeuvring thruster jet stuck 'on', resulting in the whole spacecraft spinning up to about one rev/second, approaching the danger level for humans, even test pilots, to endure. Armstrong kept his cool and stopped the spin by using the re-entry thruster fuel to do so; unfortunately, it meant an early return for Gemini 8. Hodge made the call, and Gemini 8 returned to an unscheduled, but safe landing. You can hear him in action here. You can tell who's who pretty easily.

For those people who ever wondered what it would have been like if Britain had carried on with it's own space programme, then I guess that the old recording of an English voice running the show would give you a little flavour.

The longer film of the incident itself is below. Incidentally, the CapCom in this film (an astronaut who's job it was to be the only direct point of contact to the astronauts in space, to prevent confusion) was Jim Lovell, later to fly around the moon on Apollo 8 and 13).


A few more links here -



(Good to see that the Southend Timeline is on to him, I'm looking at you Mondo and Piley)

(Flight Controllers - Clockwise from lower right: Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney and John Hodge).


Mondo said...

Incredible - I should have got that, having read The Right Stuff last year. Which is well worth adding to your bedside pile if you haven't yet

BPP said...

You're damn right there! It's a wonder we can get a doctor's appointment at all with all these immigrants flocking in from Um Bongo Bongo land.

And speaking of immigrants: Why not listen to the new Hot Potatoes podcast via that iTunes thing?


office pest said...

WHAT are you talking about now BPP?

Anyway, Mondo, The Right Stuff is a good account, if you enjoyed it try 'Apollo - The Race To The Moon' by Charles Murray (2nd hand via Amazon is the best bet) for the follow on story from Mercury, through Gemini to Apollo.

For old colonials like Perry, and students of Britain in general, 'A Vertical Empire' by C.N. Hill tells the pretty much unknown story of the British Space Programme. AND they don't teach it in schools, neither, BPP. Harrumph!!

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