At 11 a.m. on February 20, 1959, the Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announced the abandonment of the revolutionary Avro Arrow aircraft project. The hunter was extremely expensive, but had supported 25,000 Canadian high-tech jobs. At 3 p.m. that day, Avro announced to employees (via its public address system) that they were being laid off. John Hodge, a British engineer born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, was among the thousands of them.
The subsequent career of Hodge, who died at the age of 92, embodied the aspiration, triumph, catastrophe – and planning – that made up the spaceflight saga during the Cold War years, when scientists from all over the West were drawn into this vast American enterprise. . In 1969, following the moon landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, BBC space correspondent Reginald Turnill, citing “Anglonaut” Hodge as an example, told Radio 4 listeners that “the amazing thing about America’s post-Apollo space plans was that they were largely written by the British ”.
At that time, Hodge was managing NASA’s forward mission program. “What is needed is some sort of reusable system, a space shuttle,” Hodge told Guardian reporter Adam Raphael just before the Apollo 11 triumph. With the right money, he continued. , it was not unreasonable “to think that we will have landed on Mars before the end of the century”.
Booms and falls in aspirations and funding, as well as geopolitics were the stuff of the space race. In 1958, reacting to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 the previous year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and, within it, the Space Task Group (later Johnson Space Center, Houston). Human spaceflight was the order of the day, but at the start of 1959 the STG was still down to only 100 men.
Avro CanadaThe collision with reality provided American aerospace with its biggest boon since 1945, when the United States picked up the alumni of the Nazi rocket program. NASA recruited 32 of Avro’s leading Canadian, Irish, French and British technologists, including Hodge. He was appointed Technical Assistant to Chris Kraft, Head of STG’s Operations Division. Kraft later became NASA’s first flight director, and Hodge succeeded him to become NASA’s second, in 1963.
In May 1961 – after the Earth’s orbit of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – the successor of Eisenhower, John Kennedy, promised Americans would land on the moon before the end of the decade. NASA’s Gemini program perfected the technology for the lunar attempt, but in March 1966 it also generated the first potentially fatal crisis. Hodge was the Houston flight director for Armstrong and David Scott’s Gemini VIII mission. The operation involved the first docking with an Agena target vehicle, but the combined craft was out of control.
The astronauts separated the capsules, but the roll persisted, at 360 degrees per second (one thruster had bypassed). Eventually Armstrong and Scott shut down the main thrusters, brought the Gemini VIII back under control – and used a lot of fuel. Hodge made a courageous and crucial decision, ending the planned three-day mission in the capsule’s seventh orbit.
As he recalled in a oral history interview for the Johnson Center: “If someone ever asks, ‘What have I done in the space program? “, It was to make sure that Neil Armstrong was there to fly on Apollo.”
Worse yet, in what has become a defining moment for NASA, Hodge, the accomplished planner and his colleagues. The Apollo program, which began in 1961, aimed to fulfill Kennedy’s promise. In January 1967, with Hodge as the flight director and dismayed witness, Apollo 1, thanks to faulty design and construction, caught fire during a rehearsal, killing astronauts Roger Chaffee, Edward White and Virgil Grissom.
In the book Apollo: The Race to the Moon (1989) by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Hodge, with his history of flight testing, reflects on a tragedy that upset some of the team. “You understand the risk is there,” he said, “and when that happens it’s terrible… You wish it didn’t happen, you wish to be smarter, but you know it’s going to happen, and so you learn to live with it. “
In the wake of Apollo 11 and the triumphant mission of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins, enthusiasm for the lunar adventure waned. The Cold War momentum was lacking – both sides had an abundance of nuclear-tipped rockets to destroy the planet – and Soviet-American space collaboration grew.
Hodge was a flight director until 1968, left NASA in 1970 and held positions with the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation and the Department of Transportation in Washington DC. But in 1981, as he predicted, the first space shuttle took off, and in the Reagan era, in 1982, he was back with NASA, leading the Space Station Task Force. In 1984-85, he worked on the Space Station Freedom project – which would evolve into the International Space Station.
Hodge, the son of John and Emily Hodge, was educated at Minchenden High School in Southgate, north London. In 1949 he obtained a first class engineering degree from the Northampton Institute (now City, University of London). He then spent two years in the aerodynamics department at Vickers-Armstrong in Weybridge, Surrey, before moving to Avro Canada in Toronto.
From 1987 to 2003, he was president of an international management consulting firm, JD Hodge. He received eight NASA awards, including his Outstanding Service Medal in 1967 and 1969. City University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1966 and he was an associate member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
In 1952, Hodge married Audrey Cox. She survives him, as do their children, Robert, Janice, Nicola and Jonathan.