Manistee resident played inside role in NASA’s technology revolution

Technically speaking, Dale Picardat used to look at the moon as a destination – as a place that we just HAD to go to – and not just as a celestial night light.

The 82-year-old longtime Manistee resident would look up at the night sky and “remember seeing the Russian Sputnik in 1957 orbiting the Earth,” before he would become, a few years later, part of a highly-trained team of technicians trying to ensure America would do one better – be the first to fly to the moon and return.

Manistee resident Dale Picardat served at various Air Force and NASA installations during his military career. He worked as a program analyst, intelligence analyst, and missile and space program officer. Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the moon.

Manistee resident Dale Picardat served at various Air Force and NASA installations during his military career. He worked as a program analyst, intelligence analyst, and missile and space program officer. Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the moon.

Flying to the moon and back – and landing on the moon and walking across its powdery surface – became this country’s great technological obsession of the 1960s, and Picardat shared that obsession.

Then a U.S. Air Force officer who was concerned with intelligence preservation throughout his military career, Picardat was assigned to the Pentagon for four years where he worked elbow-to-elbow with the technicians and astronauts of NASA, often flying to mission control in Texas to meet with them face-to-face.

Over the course of that spectacular era, Picardat met with the best technological minds in America.

Everything Picardat and the others of NASA sought to achieve – and did achieve – centered around pushing the boundaries of technology.

“At that time I was intimately knowledgeable on all space programs,” Picardat said. “We had the best technology available, and communicated freely with NASA. We had the best engineers and contractors in the world. We had the biggest and best computers in the world. We were the first government agency to receive the newest computers in the world.”

But, technology being the ever-changing creature that it is, can’t always balance a scale between generations.

The technology of today, is far different from the technology that took this country to the moon, and back.

“All the computer technology we had aboard Apollo 8 – our first manned mission to the moon – doesn’t equal the technology in a simple smartphone today,” Picardat said, smiling. “We made use of the best technology that was available to us at the time, and that took us to the moon.”

 

Dale Picardat is a graduate of both the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and of the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. From 1967 to 1971 Picardat served as the director of space in Research and Development for NASA. (Courtesy photos/Jeanne Barber)

Dale Picardat is a graduate of both the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and of the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. From 1967 to 1971 Picardat served as the director of space in Research and Development for NASA. (Courtesy photos/Jeanne Barber)

ON ASSIGNMENT

Picardat is a graduate of both the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and of the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

As a retired officer from the Air Force, he served at various Air Force and NASA installations – as well as the Pentagon – throughout his career.

His jobs were those that young adventurers dream of, including missile and satellite research and development, where he served as a program analyst, intelligence analyst, and missile and space program officer.

While assigned to the Pentagon during the 1960s he served as the contact officer for the Air Force, assigned to NASA.

“My assignment included many trips to Houston to meet with (NASA),” he said. “All the time my office was in continual contact with NASA regarding all space programs of common interests.”

From 1967 to 1971 Picardat served as the director of space in Research and Development.

He became friends with Bill Anders, one of the three crew members of Apollo – the first to orbit the moon in 1968.

“I ended up seeing Bill quite frequently,” Picardat. “Very nice man, very easy-going.”

Later Picardat would become friends with another astronaut, Jim Irwin, who, as part of Apollo 15 a few years later, walked on the moon’s surface.

“Jim was also quite nice,” Picardat said. “I met with him in Colorado Springs a few times. I remember him telling me about his trip to the moon, and how he saw Earth from that surface, and everything else, helped him to become a better Christian. One of the last things I recall was him telling me he was going to make a trip to Africa so that he could share his Christian thoughts there.”

Irwin died of a heart attack in 1991.

“A lot of my work was on the intelligence side of things,” said Picardat. “Very classified. Very technical. And I never, ever, took it home with me. If it didn’t get done at work, then it didn’t get done.”

He said technology changed just as fast back then as it does today.

“I remember buying my first hand-held adding machine – all it did was add, subtract and I think, multiply. It cost me a hundred bucks and it was as big as a book is today. And I remember all the storage area we had to have to keep our paper work in, too. Lots and lots and lots of storage area for all our papers. Today, all those ‘papers’ are stored in something, again, that is small as a cell phone. To say technology has come a long ways is an understatement.”

 

Picardat (right) pins an award on a fellow Air Force member.

Picardat (right) pins an award on a fellow Air Force member.

AN AMAZING ACCOMPLISHMENT

Technically speaking, Dale Picardat still looks at the moon as a destination – but now as a place that we HAVE been to – and not just as a celestial night light.

“You look up and you ask yourself, ‘Wow, we’ve been there?’” he said. “Pretty amazing accomplishment, really. Lots and lots of good people – thousands of people – worked as a team to get us there. That teamwork, the technology, was really something.”

Picardat’s longtime friend, neighbor and golfing buddy, Gary Cushing – both Picardat and Cushing worked as accomplished engineers in differing fields – also marvels at how much technology has changed things over the years, and then changed them again, and again, and again.

Cushing, also of Manistee, remembers using crank-handled telephones, then rotary dial phones, then push-button phones and more. This week he was actually thinking of buying a new cell phone.

Even everyday journeys have been paved with continued technological change, Cushing said.

“Oh, (technology) sure has changed things,” said the retired engineer. “Every day things have changed, and continue to change. The first vehicle that I drove, other than a tractor, was a Ford Model A truck that did not have a heater or a defroster. Now, my Ford truck has many bells and whistles, including speed control and sensors in the back to warn of objects before we hit them. My 2012 truck gets 20 miles per gallon, compared to 10 miles per gallon that a similar one got back in 1979. That’s a remarkable improvement, (that’s technology).”

While only a portion of Picardat’s technology-seeking 22-year career in the Air Force had him standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the astronauts, technicians, engineers and others from NASA, he said so much of the technology NASA introduced during its hey-day missions to the moon has been integrated into the every day lives of the American population.

NASA played important roles in improved global communications,” Picardat said. “It was everyone working together – NASA, the Air Force and everyone else – that helped us to succeed.”

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Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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