Control Room to Court Room; Remarkable Career - Space, Defence, Law

Article excerpt

Byline: Loretta Bryce

AS THE space shuttle Columbia lifted off from the John F. Kennedy Space Centre on April 12, 1981, millions of people across the world were glued to television screens to watch its launch.

Young Geoff Skelton was intent on a screen of another kind - a computer screen that tracked the movements of the shuttle.

These days you'll find him in the courtroom defending people charged with criminal offences but law is career number three for this solicitor.

He was dealing with evidence in Commonwealth legal matters since 1999 but Geoff qualified as a lawyer in 2007 and moved to Hervey Bay a year later.

The 58-year-old slipped into the world of law with apparent ease but there's more to him than meets the eye.

Behind the quiet, unassuming facade is a man with a brilliant mind and some fascinating stories of rocket science, national defence strategies, history and politics.

Geoff graduated from the University of Newcastle in 1974 with a degree in electrical engineering.

Four years later he was working for NASA as a data handling engineer, sending commands to spacecraft and tracking and correcting their orbits.

"I was around for the first shuttle mission and that was pretty good stuff," he said.

"I worked in Canberra but spent three months in the US in 1979 for training and planning for missions.

"In the control centres in the US there was a big screen used to plot where the satellites were, plus smaller screens on individual consoles.

"NASA had control centres all over the US as well as other parts of the world, including Canberra, Western Australia and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

"The control rooms were quite big and were where all the data from the different satellites and spacecraft would coalesce."

He worked for NASA until 1983, seeing through Columbia's first five missions.

His next career was in the Department of Defence doing a combination of "engineering and political-military type stuff".

"I did political-military briefings, science and technical briefings on satellites and launch vehicles, IT security and the provision of evidence in some espionage trials the department was pursuing.

"I would describe the threats in the area and the type of threats the country might meet, so the department could plan adequately."

His 20 years working for the defence department gave him insight into the nature of conflict and the power plays between nations.

"The world is in constant conflict at different levels.

"Australia, the US, the UK and Canada have fairly common interests geo-politically and in a strategic sense. …