launch telemetry commentator Skip Mackey announces news
that the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft has
successfully deployed from the Atlas rocket's Centaur upper
stage to complete the launch.
J. " Skip" Mackey Jr. was in the ROTC and went to
Dartmouth on a scholarship. He wanted to be a Forest
Ranger, but Dartmouth didn't have a Forestry program so
he opted for engineering. After graduating, he moved
to Cocoa Beach for the job at NASA and was there for the
duration. He retired in 1996 after serving 40 years as the
Telemetry Engineer in Hangar AE.
Telemetry is defined as: (n. The science and technology
of automatic measurement and transmission of data by wire,
radio, or other means from remote sources, as from space
vehicles, to receiving stations for recording and analysis).
During the 60's or 70's, he became the "Voice
of NASA." NASA started doing broad casted
countdowns for the public for the first time, and Skip was
"the voice" that was piped out to the masses. He was
involved with all the unmanned vehicle programs like the
Delta program, which was the last program he worked on.
In the 80's, he worked on the top-secret military program
which allows us to intercept nuclear missiles.
Exceptional Service Medal
In 1976, he was awarded The NASA Exceptional Service Medal,
the second highest award in the NASA Incentive Awards Program.
It is granted for significant achievement or service characterized
by unusual initiative or creative ability that clearly demonstrates
substantial improvement in engineering, administative, space
flight, or space-related endeavors which contribute to NASA
Present during the Kennedy administration, when Space was
considered the final frontier, Skip was privileged to be
a part of a rich history.
Here are just a few of the stories from that era.
YOU NEVER KNOW... by
Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey
understand this story, there are a few things you really need to know.
Some rocket launches, particularly the interplanetary ones, have what
is called a launch window. What this means is that, in order for
the spacecraft to reach the designated target, the liftoff must occur
at an exact time, with little allowable variation. It is much like
trying to throw a rock at a moving car. You have to let it go at
exactly the right time, or you will surely miss. For many launches,
is of the order of 15 minutes, occasionally much less. The shortest I
remember was 1 second! Since the actual launch is often the culmination
of years of preparation, it is important that everything go right the
first time. What most people do not realize is the size of the support
operations surrounding the actual launch.
Aside from the many personnel involved in the actual launch preparations,
there are routinely several manned tracking stations scattered all over
the world that must be ready, including airborne aircraft, and occasionally
ships and tracking satellites. All of these sites must also be interconnected
by elaborate communications systems. The actual number of highly
trained technical personnel involved in this support is always in the
hundreds, often over a thousand. Since the countdowns last for well
over the normal eight hour day, most of these people are getting at least
some overtime! Also, it seems that the planetary alignment usually
occurs on either Thanksgiving or Christmas, which may mean double or triple
Now, everyone knows that these rockets are not toys, and occasionally
go awry, often with spectacular displays of pyrotechnics. Because
of this, the USAF insists that the sea areas under the flight path be
clear of all shipping, right down to small outboard fishermen. If the
safety people could see a kayak on the radars, the kayak would no doubt
also have to get out. To assist in this effort, they have several Coast
Guard boats and USAF helicopters crisscrossing the area to check on any
radar echos, and, if necessary, to escort the vessels out of the area,I
am not sure what this support actually costs, but figures between $500,000
and $1,000,000 per launch attempt have been bandied about. Remember,
this support includes that required for the launch vehicle, as well as
range safety and the spacecraft. What I am driving at is that a
launch slip can possible add $1,000,000 to the cost of the mission.
Needless to say, there is a concerted effort not to have a slip.
one particular launch, exactly which one has disappeared from my memory
with age, the countdown was approaching the last few minutes, and the
range safety officer let everyone know that the range was not clear
for launch. It seemed that a shrimp boat was in the danger area,
and at its present rate of speed and direction, it would be in the danger
area at the launch time. To make matters more interesting, this
boat had another shrimp boat in tow, limiting its speed, and there was
a rain storm right over these two boats. The noise level, with
the big diesel and the rain, was such that neither captain apparently
could hear or see the helicopter hovering right over the boats, attempting
to get their attention. All attempts to contact these vessels
over the usual ship to shore communications channels, and bull horns,
were in vain. For some reason, it appeared that they were not
listening to their radios.
range safety office finally announced all this over the operational
communications net, for all to hear, with his assessment that the boats
would not be clear of the area in time. He also noted that if
the boat doing the towing would merely make a sharp turn to the left,
he could clear the area in time, but there was no was to tell him that.
that point it dawned on me that these shrimpers were probably talking
on their CB radios, rather than the “official” VHF marine
radios. The “official” communicators had no way of
knowing this, or of contacting the boats if they did know. At
the time, I was manager of a NASA telemetry facility, but I was also
a part time commercial King Mackerel fisherman, and we all used CB radios
rather than the VHF marine radios for several reasons. Because
of this, I knew that the shrimp fleet used CB channel 13 (out of a possible
40). One of my co-workers had a CB radio shop, and had a CB radio in
his car. This some time before we all had them in our cars.
I asked if I could use his radio, and we went to his car. Sure
enough, there were two shrimpers gabbing on channel 13. When one
of them said he had to go below and check the bilge pumps, I knew I
had the right guys, and I broke in. I explained our problem, and
the towing captain said he had no problem, and would turn left at once.
ran inside and called the test conductor on a secondary communications
channel, and told him I had talked to the boat, he was going to move,
and not to scrub the launch. As I was explaining to him how I
had done that, the range safety officer called on the main channel,
and said that, for some reason, the boat was turning in the correct
direction, and would be out of the danger area on time. The launch
eventually went on time, and the multi-multi million dollar mission
was a success.
You never know what knowledge outside of your general
area of expertise will come in handy.
Keep Learning! (See press coverage below)
Skip enjoyed his job at NASA for 40 years, He retired in 1996.
Skip passed away on November 19, 2013
Tribute to SKIP MACKEY
Photo: Courtesy of NASA
January 23, 2014, the team at NASA placed Skip's name on the Atlas
V rocket used for the TDRS launch as a tribute to him. This
is the story carried by Channel 13 and written By Greg Pallone,
Brevard County Reporter.
CAPE CANAVERAL --.
An Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,
piercing the clear night sky on a mission to carry a NASA Tracking
and Data Relay Satellite into orbit.
rocket launched at 9:33 p.m. Thursday, carrying not only the
TDRS-L satellite, but also special tribute into space honoring
longtime NASA engineer Capt. Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey
Jr., who died in November.
was the "Voice of NASA" in the 1960s and '70s, when
he broadcast countdowns for the agency's rocket launches from
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
It was Mackey's voice the nation heard when NASA began broadcasting
countdowns to the public for the first time. Mackey stayed in
that role until retiring after decades of service.
onto the side of the Atlas V was a tribute that read:
memory of our colleague
Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey Jr
The NASA and ULA Team
Those who worked with him knew Mackey to be a professional,
a pioneer and a gentleman.
way of delivering the data in a way everybody could understand
was what made it so interesting to listen to him," said
George Diller, NASA's public affairs information specialist
and current "voice" of many launches from Cape Canaveral.
"He had an insight into what was really going on without
( the listener ed.) being a rocket scientist
said Mackey inspired him, and his style reflects what he learned
from the etching on the rocket, the launch of a tracking and
telemetry satellite is a fitting tribute to Mackey as well.
It represents the same type of work "Skip" did with
TDRS-L is the second of three next-generation satellites scheduled
to launch from Cape Canaveral to replace older satellites already
in orbit. It's designed to help improve the space agency's Earth-to-space
Courtesy of NASA
Prior to the launch the commentator read the following tribute:
As far back
as the 1960's, following every ELV launch, the only voice you
would hear over the communications channels was the voice of Skip
Mackey. Skip was the "Voice of NASA" serving as the
launch commentator for all of NASA's science and communications
satellites. There were many launches back then...most went well,
some went bad. But you could always count on Skip to remain the
constant...letting you know how the mission was progressing.
He was like the roving reporter on the ground, informing you of
the latest news in a breaking story.
In more recent years, the video camera set up in Hangar AE would
catch the image of a frenetic Skip running from "archaic"
stripchart to stripchart...in his fashionable "fish"
tie...enthusiastically calling out critical rocket milestones
for all to hear!
Whether you were a Cape worker on console for launch, or a launch
guest at a viewing site, you relied on Skip to tell you how the
rocket was performing on its mission. Skip had a knack for quickly
and accurately translating all of the telemetry data he was seeing
into a clear and concise message for everyone to understand. He
was particularly effective in describing events such that the
every-day-person could clearly understand what was happening...in
other words-he boiled down the jargon so you didn't have to be
an Engineer to "get it".
When not working a launch, Skip was always willing to teach new
engineers what he knew. He knew that not everything was written
down and would be passed on to future generations. So he took
it upon himself to teach others...like Mark Lavigne and Rob Gagnon.
They each have taken on the challenge to provide post-launch commentary
for launches. Skip shared his knowledge with them so they could
be successful and carry on the rich history of documenting launch
Skip was a boss to some, and a co-worker and mentor to many. He
left his legacy with hundreds perhaps thousands of men and women
throughout the space industry. A legacy that hard work, intelligence,
commitment, enthusiasm, friendship, and love can coexist and flourish!
He will be missed dearly by his NASA and ULA family.
Mission Accomplished Skip
of the launch, taken by Sam Wolfe in Vero Beach, Florida, is so
appropriate. Skip was an avid fisherman and, in the end, he is
shooting line toward the Big Dipper.
Photo and video courtesy of mynews13.com
NASA Public Affairs Information Specialist George Diller remembers
the late 'Voice of NASA,' Arthur J. 'Skip' Mackey Jr., ahead of
the launch of an Atlas V rocket containing a tribute to Mackey,
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 -(58 megs) VIEW
VIDEO WHICH WILL OPEN IN A NEW WINDOW
On August 31, 2004 Lockheed Martin launched the last of Atlas IAS
rockets on a classified mission for the National Reconnaissance
Office. This launch marked the final flight of the stage-and-a-half
Atlas booster and the end of one of the longest chapters in the
history of American aviation. In the 47 years since its first launch,
Atlas became a workhorse and an American icon as it achieved a string
of historic firsts. This DVD is dedicated to four generations of
men and women who worked to build the legacy of Atlas... a legacy
that will live on as Atlas V carries the dream into the future.