Connecticut has played a significant role in the Space Race and other NASA programs since the 1960s. Read our story about Hamilton Standard. Innovation Destination: Hartford had an opportunity to sit down with Hal Taylor, who worked with United Technologies Corporation (UTC) during its years working for NASA. His experiences offer us a unique viewpoint on the immense collaboration the space program demanded and provide an intimate look at the work that was done.
An Entrepreneurial Mindset
Taylor spent his summers during college working at Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford, CT, where his father also worked. In those days, engineers worked at long rows of desks with a supervisor at the front. This image drove Taylor throughout his career—he never wanted to be just another worker in the row.
Taylor attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering. He earned two additional degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Hartford.
Throughout his time in high school and while attending WPI, Taylor says he watched with awe as the fledging Russian Space Programs launched first Sputnik artificial Earth satellites, and then the dogs Laika, Belka, and Strelka (who Taylor later met in Moscow in her “stuffed” museum form) went into space. Then came Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, followed by Alan Shepard from the United States and Sovient cosmonaut Gherman Titov with the first multi-orbit mission. All of these great successes fueled Taylor’s desire to somehow work in the Space Program at Cape Kennedy and maybe even fly in space someday. But, at the time, he could not figure out how to do accomplish this.
Work with UTC
At the time of Taylor’s graduation from WPI, UTC was forming its Corporate Systems Center (CSC), a new division in Farmington, CT. UTC/CSC worked on projects that no other division was working on—things like weather systems, turbo trains, and inertial guidance systems for space travel.
Following President Kennedy’s vision to “put a man safely on the moon,” NASA was putting together a massive program called Apollo to develop everything needed including launch pads, Mission Control, the Saturn rocket, and the spacecraft.
At the same time that Hamilton Standard was engaged in the development of the Apollo spacesuits, UTC’s CSC won a contract for the lunar module inertial guidance platform. This along with the guidance computer from TRW in Los Angeles, CA comprised the back-up guidance system (BUGS) for the lunar module.
Taylor recalls that BUGS was a no-go as an acronym, so the system became known as the LM Abort Guidance System (AGS). The system worked in conjunction with the larger and heavier LM Primary Navigation Guidance System (PNGS). The AGS utilized a newly developed guidance technology known as strapdown inertial guidance. This weight-saving technology incorporated gyroscopes and accelerometers fixed to the frame of the spacecraft that rotated and compared the motion to computerized, fixed axes to determine speed and location. Other industry giants believed this technology would be a complete failure, but it became a prime example of great Connecticut ingenuity.
Work with Lunar Modules
Taylor worked on the team at UTC/CSC that created this secondary guidance system. The UTC division was mostly comprised of people with families, and so “resident young person” Taylor did the traveling.
To begin with, the system needed to be environmentally tested on the rocket sled at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, where Taylor worked with an Air Force team of rocket specialists. This is where he met some of the U.S. space program’s first “volunteers,” which were monkeys. The animals had large electrical connectors surgically installed in their skulls that were used to monitor their harsh rides on the rocket sled.
Taylor also spent time at TRW in Los Angeles working on full system checkout and at Grumman Aircraft (the Lunar Module prime contractor) in Bethpage, Long Island, for integration with the prototype Lunar Module. During his time in Los Angeles, Taylor met Carol, the two were married in Maine on July 20, 1968.
Taylor then moved on to Cape Kennedy for the integration and first Earth orbit mission of the Apollo 9 Lunar Module. During this time, the Apollo 8 mission without a Lunar Lander was launched carrying the first men to travel to the moon and back. Taylor fondly remembers flying along the edge of the NASA no-fly zone with the representative from TRW to watch this historic mission launch from the air and then listening to the historic “Christmas Eve message” from lunar orbit.
To the Moon
Working at the launch pad and in the white room at the top of the Saturn V rocket (the highest point in Florida) required Taylor to learn launch pad escape procedures and general launch pad protocols. Integration and checkout of the Apollo 9 systems went smoothly and, after launch, all systems were thoroughly checked in Earth orbit. Apollo 9 was quickly followed by Apollo 10, the first mission to check out both the Lunar Module and the Command Module in Lunar orbit.
Following the success of Apollo 10, Taylor recalls the heady days of preparation leading up to the launch of Apollo 11. Not just Cape Kennedy, but the entire United States was caught up in this mission to land men on the moon. “Never before had mankind taken on a mission of this magnitude and here we were, about to go for the gold,” says Taylor.
Once again, system checkout went smoothly and Taylor remembers the day when he and the Grumman technicians ascended the launch gantry lift to the white room to install the Apollo 11 guidance system in the Lunar Module. During this procedure, Taylor says he was standing at the very controls of the Lunar Module where, in a few days, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would be standing for their historic descent to the lunar surface.
Several days later, Taylor watched the launch of Apollo 11 near the VIP stands where Lyndon B. Johnson and other dignitaries were in attendance. He recalls the shock waves from the rocket thrust and laughs as he recounts interviews with the astronauts describing a smooth launch (the shock wave was behind them).
Immediately following the launch, Taylor’s mission was to fly to Houston to support Mission Control for the Lunar Module’s translunar flight, lunar orbit, landing on the moon, and return to lunar orbit for docking with the Command Module. Attached to the control room that movies love to portray is a room to the side for contractors, and Taylor sat in front of the direct phone connection to offices in Farmington in case a NASA official needed intel on the guidance system. All the while, he watched the mission and eventually, the “one small step for man.”
There was a swelling sense of accomplishment anyone at Cape Kennedy felt when the Americans won the race to the moon on July 20, 1969, and Taylor felt the same sense of pride. He recalls thinking, “What can we ever do to top this?” At the time he was 27 years old, celebrating his first wedding anniversary on July 20 in Houston Mission Control having left his bride at Cape Kennedy.
Following the landing, a celebratory dinner at the Houston Space Center was held for all of the “workers” including Dr. Werner Von Braun. “Heady days indeed,” says Taylor. At the completion of the mission, Taylor decided to celebrate in style and took a three-month sabbatical to tour Europe with his wife. As fate would have it, he joined the crowd at the Vatican gates cheering astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins as they arrived for their audience with the Pope.
Upon his return to Connecticut, Hamilton Standard was developing the new strapdown inertial guidance system for the Delta rocket and Taylor was soon off to McDonnell Douglas in California for integration of the system with the launch vehicle and then on to Vandenberg AFB and Cape Kennedy, where he worked as a launch controller “on the net” in the block houses for the launch of the first Earth Resources Technology Satellite and the first IMP satellite.
During this same period, the Apollo missions were continuing, including the ill-fated Apollo 13. While Taylor had no part in the Apollo 13 mission, he will tell you that there is more to the salvation of that mission than what you’ve probably heard. While stories and the movies say that NASA pulled together a herculean effort, the mission would have fatally failed if it were not for UTC’s work back in Connecticut.
After the oxygen tank exploded on the service module, the decision was made to use the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” to go around the Moon and return to Earth. This meant that the Hamilton Standard strapdown guidance system needed to be reconfigured to perform a mission from the Moon to Earth for which it was never designed. The Hamilton Standard experts in Farmington working with mission control in Houston accomplished this task successfully while their counterparts in Windsor Locks were faxing to Houston the design for a reconfigured CO2 scrubber made from suit hoses, cardboard, plastic bags, and duct tape. All of these changes were then uplinked to the space craft by NASA resulting in the successful return of Apollo 13 to its landing in the South Pacific with its cold and dehydrated passengers safely inside.
Follow-on programs in Farmington included the inertial navigation system for the Viking first two landings on Mars in 1976 and the inertial guidance system for Boeing’s Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) rocket.
After some time spent in marketing and sales for Hamilton Standard, Taylor was instrumental in winning the contract for the Boeing IUS and was promoted to Program Manager of the entire system. Around this same time, Taylor was thinking about using his NASA experience in another capacity. He applied to become a NASA astronaut but was ultimately not selected. As fate would have it, he was invited to Cape Kennedy to witness the launch of an IUS rocket carried in the Space Shuttle payload bay with several of his astronaut selection class on board. Sadly, that was the 1986 Challenger launch with teacher Christa McAuliffe.
As a natural progression, Taylor then moved on to his second career in International Marketing for Hamilton Standard and soon found himself en route to Russia with UTC executives who were looking to build a commercial aerospace business there following Perestroika. Expecting to start from scratch, the executives were amazed to find a UTC presence already in Russia: Otis Elevator had been operating in the country since their first elevator installation there in 1893, but communication with the American arm was closed for decades by the Communist government. In terms of building an aerospace industry there, however; it was a process of starting from scratch and it was determined that the best way was to create joint ventures with existing Russian firms.
For example, Hamilton Standard partnered with a company named Nauka, which created aerospace environment control systems. The two firms, in a truly visionary move, created a new Joint Venture named HS–Nauka, which continues today and produces aircraft ECS heat exchangers for aircraft worldwide including the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777. The venture is hugely successful and Taylor notes that he is very proud to be one of the founders.
Stories to Tell
Taylor’s experiences and stories after 26 years and 127 trips to Russia are legendary and probably form the outline for a “to be written” book. His stories include:
- Touring Russia’s Baikonur rocket launch complex in Kazakhstan.
- Touring Star City outside of Moscow where the astronauts train.
- Playing tennis in Cosmonaut Village with Cosmonaut Valeri Kubasov (Apollo–Soyuz) and breaking the racquet that Tom Stafford had passed to him through the hatch after the first U.S.– Russian docking mission.
- Working with Svezda, the Russian Space Suit manufacturer and with Guy Severin, the chief designer.
- Meeting and working with Vladimir Shapovalev, the man who tapped Yuri Gagaran on his helmet for good luck and then sealed the Vostok hatch before clearing the gantry.
- Being suited up in a Russian EVA Space Suit weighing 400 lb on Earth.
- Telling stories with Gherman Titov (the second human to orbit the Earth) over a vodka or two.
- Being given the honor of touring the “secret” tunnels under Red Square in Moscow and seeing the incredible redundant systems used to control the body of Lenin in his mausoleum.
“Incredible times. Incredible stuff,” he recollects.
Going to Places He Never Dreamed Of
Taylor retired on December 31, 1999. He has spent his time in this millennium traveling and running his own international business development company, Taylor International, LLC, which specializes in Russia. His Russian friends joke that he must work for the CIA (with whom he did interview with while in college), while his American friends are sure he works for the KGB.
His travels over several million miles have taken him to 108 countries. His trip to his 109th country, Cuba, is being rescheduled. In his spare time, Taylor says he makes an effort to “give back” by participating in Habitat for Humanity builds worldwide. This year’s build in Battambang, Cambodia, will be his 24th. He has certainly demonstrated that sometimes, in order to not sit in the row of desks with everyone else, doing the work that no one else wants to do will take you to places you could have never dreamed of.
Taylor makes his home in Connecticut by choice—his extensive travels have convinced him it is the best place. If you ever run into him near his home in the Farmington Valley, he has the best working knowledge of the Space Race and NASA’s operation than maybe anyone in the area.
For decades, numerous people like Taylor worked here in the Hartford area contributing to the colossal achievement of space exploration. In the Apollo lunar module alone, UTC developed the environmental control systems, the space suits, the secondary guidance system, fuel cells, and some engine parts contributed by Pratt and Whitney.
There were three modules on the Apollo crafts and then there were many, many missions carried out by NASA, each with Connecticut companies contributing. The bounty of manufacturing companies that have made their home here throughout the years have created even the smallest nuts and bolts that were used. Connecticut manufacturing truly was instrumental in our relationship with our galaxy.