Gerry Griffin spent four years in Sunnyvale, California, in the early 1960s, helping launch satellites into orbit for the military. The Satellite Test Center was an exciting place to be, especially those precious moments when a rocket lit and thundered successfully into space. He enjoyed the team atmosphere and the mechanics of the control room, and he became recognized as an expert on the rocket's upper stage, known as the Agena.
But Griffin's heart was elsewhere. He desperately wanted to work for NASA.
“With the lunar missions being the ultimate goal and America in a race with Russia to see who could get to the moon first, I knew it would be a real hoot, if we could pull it off,” he says.
Griffin, who was married with two children, had interviewed with NASA several times; they could never agree on salary or a position. But as the space program progressed quickly from the one-man Mercury missions to the two-man Gemini flights, Griffin decided he'd better latch on wherever he could, if he wanted to be part of the moon journeys. So in 1964, NASA hired him—and sent him back to the Satellite Test Center to continue working on the Agena, which had just been chosen as the rendezvous target vehicle to be used during the Gemini program.
“I had taken a pay cut to sign on with NASA,” Griffin says, “and here I was right back where I had been. But at least I had my foot in the door. And it was the best step I ever made.”
He had barely settled into his old chair in Sunnyvale when NASA called with news so wonderful, Griffin worried that it was a prank. “They