Don P Bennet Biography

Stabilization & Control

System (SCS)

Apollo program Commendations & awards

 Man Space Flight Award in April of 1973 - Trip to watch Apollo 13 launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

 Silver Snoopy Award in May 1973, presented by Dick Gordon. (The Snoopy pin was flown on Apollo 12 prior to presentation)

 Three NASA Achievement awards for special studies and work performed during mission support for anomalies.

NASA Group Achievement Award for support of the ASTP guidance and control- working group during preparation for the mission.

 Many other group achievement awards and letters of commendation for closure of problems and special studies performed for Apollo, Skylab, ASTP, and the Space Shuttle. Some of these documents either prepared by Don or under his leadership, were released by the NASA to be used as reference material at the University of Illinois in the mid 70's. The special ASTP documents were used as a model for across the board Safety assessments on the Space Station

Don was an East Texas farm boy, forced to leave the farm in 1944 since his home was destroyed by fire. Beaumont Texas was the next stop, where Don finished High School in 1951. Afterwards, he continued his education in college at Lamar State College of Technology where he studied electrical engineering.

He left college in 1953 to join the United States Air Force. Don jokes about his so-called "overseas" assignment since it was in St. Johns Newfoundland. Don says, "that's one of the few places on earth where one can have dense fog with a wind velocity of 60 knots."

His specialty in the USAF was automatic flight control systems, and he was assigned to the General's maintenance crew. Don functioned to keep the Generals autopilot and many others working properly during his two year tour there. Additionally, he modified instrument and electrical systems for arctic operations. "The duty was rough at times, "according to Don," but offset by a lot of good times as well." Among Don's most intriguing assignments was the transporting of Cardinal Spellman on his trip around the Northeast Air Command before Christmas. Don indicates that he was the only non-Catholic member of the crew but spent several hours in discussion with the Cardinal. According to Don, it I was these talks and those with the Command Chaplain that helped Don focus his religious convictions that have remained with him to this day.

Don was honorably discharged from the USAF in the fall of 1957. He returned to college and later earned his BS EE degree.

His first career assignment was with the Boeing Company in Seattle, Washington where he was assigned to the flight control system on the DYNA-SOAR project. This program was a manned or unmanned space plane with a skip-glide reentry profile. Both his engineering degree and his military teaching experience of approximately eighteen months were instrumental in his selection for this assignment at Boeing.

Disarmament was the order of the day in those times, and since the DYNA-SOAR carried a weapons system designation, the program was discontinued and Don was reassigned to the Minuteman program. This assignment led to his joining North American Aviation in Downey California. North American was staffing the Logistics Training Department at that time (1962), in preparation to support the NASA Apollo program. Don was assigned as lead instructor for the Apollo flight control system, and was specifically assigned to prepare and present courses for Apollo astronauts, flight controllers, launch operations and engineering support personnel. Flight crew and flight controller training began in early 1964. Prior to that time classes were being conducted for company personnel at the manufacturing and launch facility. Don worked with Honeywell instructor/engineers Fred Herman and Frank Mussato to develop and implement the training. The complexity of the Apollo Stabilization & Control system required the three instructors to cover the various subsystems, so they performed as a teaching team.

Don recalls that the first astronaut classes were conducted at Ellington AFB near Houston, when the now famous Johnson Space Center was under construction. He also recalls his manager's words before leaving to conduct the first class, "make it good or don't bother to come back," he echoed. Don stated that it must has been good since he spent most of his time either traveling or presenting classes on the Apollo guidance & flight control systems until he resigned in January 1968. During Don's career at North American he presented classes to astronauts, flight controllers, engineering and test personnel at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Kennedy Space Center (KSC), MIT, Lincoln Labs, AC Delco, and to company personnel at Downey, California. Don and an associate instructor Al Sohler, were the first to receive the division's Outstanding Performance award for 500 and 1000 hours of classroom training. Astronaut Frank Borman presented the awards.

In January 1968, Don returned to work for the Boeing Company and was assigned to the technical integration contract supporting the NASA on the operation and acceptance of data related to the Apollo flight control system. This contract began with the acceptance of spacecraft 2TVI for testing in the vacuum chamber at JSC, to the CSM for the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). Don also supported the JSC Engineering Directorate through the completion of Apollo 11, and was assigned to Systems Safety for the remainder of the Apollo related programs. As lead safety engineer, he was responsible for the publication of detailed special safety studies and mission safety assessment prior to each Apollo related mission. The safety support activities included the Skylab and ASTP missions. With the assistance of one engineer, all the command service safety documents were provided to support the ASTP. Also, he worked with the Russians to receive their equivalent mission support documents for language translation. The mission safety document to support the ASTP was very unique since it addressed both vehicles, as well as the docking module, for on orbit operations.

Don was already working on the Space Shuttle flight control and guidance systems before the ASTP mission. He continued to work all aspects until an increase in manpower allowed the development of a group to work all avionics and software safety activities for the Shuttle. Don was promoted to supervise the group. By the last Challenger mission he was in charge of all Space Shuttle safety activities, and was working the backup Safety Counsel for that mission. His team performed many special studies for all parts of the Shuttle operation until the operation (SR&AQ contract) was changed to another contractor. He continued with special activities with the new contractor until his retirement in 1995.

Don has retired in his home state of Texas.