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Moonstruck: Jack Pool recalls NASA days

 
Moonstruck: Jack Pool recalls NASA days
PASCALLE BIPPERT — Jack was a member of the team of engineers and experts who helped land astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the moon in 1969. Now retired, he lives in La Vernia.

From a Jewish Boy Scout troop to the U.S. Navy, to sending men to the moon with NASA, life’s been a rocket ride for La Vernia resident Jack Pool.

He was born in San Antonio to a Jewish mother and a Baptist father. Jack attended Hebrew school -- but not for long, he said.

“The teacher pulled my ear and hurt me,” he recalled. “My father put an end to that.”

He was in a Jewish Boy Scout troop as a youth and enrolled in classes at San Antonio College after high school. In 1951, at the age of 18, he dropped his four classes to join the U.S. Navy. The Korean War was in full swing and Jack spent three years at sea on the fleet tanker USS Guadalupe AO32.

“She was the oldest fleet tanker still in service by the time she was de-commissioned,” Jack said proudly.

Electrical egghead

“When I got out of the Navy I wanted to be an electrical engineer, so I went to Texas A&M,” he said. He was told he first needed to finish the four courses he’d started before joining the Navy, so he returned to San Antonio.

It was there Jack met the love of his life, Mary; they married in 1958.

He got his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1960 from Texas A&M.

“There were no women students in classes there at the time. It was an all men campus,” Jack recalled. “Mary and I lived in an old veterans’ barracks there. Rent was $33 a month, all inclusive.”

He got his master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1963 and worked for A&M for four years on a large-scale analogue computer.

Jack then went to work for Motorola in Scottsdale, Ariz., for several years.

“We worked on antennas, microwaves, spherics, low frequencies and higher frequencies, big slot arrays, tracking radars, and military electronics,” Jack said. “We had super-secret high-security clearances. I’m not even sure if I can talk now about some of the things we did back then. We could not talk about the things we were doing back then. Korea was still winding down. We were developing surface-to-air missiles and antennas to pick up enemy transmissions.”

Man on a mission

After Motorola, Jack and Mary moved to Houston. He went to work in 1968 for TRW -- Thompson Ramo Wooldridge -- a major American industrial corporation providing advanced-technology products and services, primarily in the automotive, defense, and aerospace sectors.

“We were their egg-heads,” Jack said. “NASA was TRW Houston’s only customer. 450,000 people from all over the world worked on the space project. The main operator was NASA. We were competing with Russia.”

Jack, as a department head, had special clearance and was at NASA all the time and went into Mission Control.

“Not the part you see on TV,” he said. “But the back room, where all the engineers hung out answering all the technical questions from the astronauts.”

He got to talk to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin while they were on the moon.

“Communicating was not the best, so I told the astronaut to tap the faulty part -- Gimbal system -- with a screwdriver to get it working and communications were restored,” he said.

He and Mary lived in the same neighborhood as the astronauts.

“Neil Armstrong lived just down the street and our kids played with their kids,” Jack said.

During the Apollo 11 events, reporters surrounded the Armstrongs’ house and their cat, Christopher Columbus, got out and went to the Pools’ house.

“Our son recognized him and tried to take him back, but he couldn’t get through all the reporters, so we kept him until the mission was over and the reporters left,” Jack said.

Moonstruck

They were exciting times, he said. He wasn’t immune to the excitement and glamor, either.

“I would be in the lunch room and see the astronauts sitting at the next table eating. I would be putting lettuce in my ear because I was so star-struck,” Jack recalled, miming missing his mouth with his fork and aiming for his ear, instead. “They were the rock stars back then!”

One treasured photograph shows Jack shaking hands with Apollo 12 astronaut Richard Gordon.

“Each member of the flight engineering staff got a package of Kodachrome slides of the photos taken by the astronauts,” he said. “These are some of the same pictures we see today on the news and in National Geographic magazine from 1969.”

Each member of the flight support team got a Snoopy lapel pin and a commemorative medal. Jack still has his security badge from Apollo 13.

A Boy Scout again

While in Houston, Jack was the Boy Scout commissioner for the entire bay area.

“There were over 9,000 scouts in the Houston area,” he said. “14 of the astronauts were Eagle Scouts.”

“Whenever the Boy Scouts needed any kind of financial support, all I had to do is pick up the phone and call one of the astronauts,” he said.

He left TRW in 1971, returning to San Antonio to take over his dad’s business, Farm and Ranch Service Company.

“My dad put in that concrete water tank in La Vernia and we bought all our vehicles from Koepp Chevrolet,” he said.

Jack ran the company for 28 years, then retired.

He and Mary were members of Epworth United Methodist Church in San Antonio. They started attending the La Vernia United Methodist Church and moved to La Vernia soon after. He’s lived here 13 years now.

“I’m 81 years old. Just think what I’ve seen in my lifetime and what advances in science and technology you’ll see when you’re 81 years old,” he marveled. “It’s amazing!”

 
 
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