Adventures Of A Rocket Man

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Few men have watched the night sky light up with atomic tests, driven by an "angel buggy" loaded with 10,000 pounds of nitroglycerin, felt the vibration of an Atlas rocket at liftoff or designed explosive bolts on the space shuttle.

Retired aerospace engineer Roger Kreimeyer has done those things and more.

"In the aerospace field, the journey has probably been more important than the destination," Kreimeyer said.

He spent his boyhood in Nevada near Hawthorne, the largest naval ammunition depot in the world.

"Mom would get me up at 4 a.m. when they were testing the atomic bomb. The sky would be black as midnight and then everything would light up as bright as noon. For a few seconds, I could see the distant mountains. Then, when it was black as pitch again, I'd feel the rumble like an earthquake," Kreimeyer said.

Fascinated by the challenge of space and overcoming the engineering problems, he pursued his degree at the University of Nevada at Reno.

He graduated in 1962 at about the same time the Russians put up the first satellite.

"That was a shock to Americans because not only did that mean the Russians had the atomic bomb, it meant they had the capacity to go to space," Kreimeyer said.

He chose defensive rocket systems over the moon launch program at the outset of his career and went to work on the Minuteman ICBM in Utah.

"I am glad I did, because that is where I met my wife, Linda," he said.

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In Corolla, N.C., Roger Kreimeyer (kneeling on the right) and the crew prepared to test the forward "accelerometer" on this Atlantic Research Corp. rocket. The rocket's temperature was minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. When the glue holding the bracket broke, Kreimeyer used his saliva to freeze the accelerometer to the end of the rocket, knowing the forward thrust would hold it once it moved. The test was successful.

One of their early dates was to the "static firing" of a rocket.

"How come the rocket is not moving?" she asked.

"It had better not be!" he said.

The test was to measure thrust.

As a flight test engineer, he would check the rocket in the "cure bay" where nitroglycerin sometimes leaked from the rocket.

Steam heated the bay, so there was often water on the floor. Not knowing which pool was water and which was the nitroglycerin that would send him to his maker, Kreimeyer stepped carefully.

Still, the most dangerous moments came years later, at another company, when he heard an explosion in the adjoining building.

When he ran outside, no people were emerging, so Kreimeyer, although he did not want to see pieces of bodies or know if there were any more dangerous explosives, rushed in.

He lifted a metal table off a woman and, after putting out a fire in the next room, helped another man out of the building.

Military and space programs saw Kreimeyer's hand, over the four decades of his career including, Trident, Tomahawk and Peacekeeper missiles on the strategic side and the Stinger, Patriot and AMRAAM warheads on the tactical side.

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Roger Kreimeyer, age 5, in 1944 with one of his first rockets.

He worked on the PAC-3 anti-missile system.

"We successfully shot down an incoming warhead in our first test at White Sands. This is like shooting a bullet head-on with another bullet and it's a direct hit," Kreimeyer said.

He designed the eight bolts that hold the space shuttle's million-plus pounds of thrust until the solid rockets light up and and explode the bolts.

Kreimeyer was also responsible for designing and testing small explosions.

The cats-eye, night-vision helmets Navy pilots wore caused broken necks when the pilots ejected.

"They came to us at Pacific Scientific to create a small explosive device that would kick off the night-vision goggles as part of the ejection sequence," he said.

Titan II, Delta, Pegasus and Taurus satellite launchers also saw Kreimeyer's hand.

When he showed his children the tall test structure for the Taurus, built with 24-inch I-beams, they asked if he could bring it home for a climbing gym.

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Hercules Incorporated's graphite rocket case with two regular and one flexible o-ring was their answer to the space shuttle's steel case and infamous inflexible o-ring. The lighter Hercules rocket could put 5,000 pounds more payload in outer space. Still, after Challenger, the Hercules contract was canceled.

Kreimeyer worked on the balloon that made the Mars Rover's landings soft.

In fact, he joked that he is worried about identity theft on Mars, as his name is on the Rover.

Early in his career building missiles, Kreimeyer was concerned he might be "participating in the demise of the human race as we know it."

"If you have moral principles to guide your usage of weapons systems, you can increase the safety of the world. That's why we have to be careful about leadership," he said

Kreimeyer believes that space flight will get cheaper and that someday we will not only have bases on the moon and Mars, but find new energy resources in outer space.

"I'm going to live to be 100, so I'll probably be around when it happens," he said.

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