NASA Flight Director John Hodge Recalls Avoiding Disaster In Gemini 8 Mission

John Hodge, who worked on some of the first human spaceflight missions as NASA’s second flight director, died May 19 at his home in northern Virginia. He was 92 years old.

His quick thinking was crucial during the Gemini 8 mission, when a faulty thruster put astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott in a dangerous spin and forced them home early.

“If someone says, ‘What have I done in the space program? Hodge said during a oral history with the Johnson Space Center, “It was making sure Neil Armstrong was there to fly on Apollo.”

He also helped develop the systems needed to communicate with astronauts in space, and he would later work on the space station program which was a precursor to the International Space Station, according to NASA.

“He didn’t want to take credit for anything,” said his daughter Janice Schrager. “It was the team. It was the team that succeeded, not just one person. “

Hodge was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England in 1929. He grew up wanting to be a biochemist, but WWII ended just before he went to college and most university places were reserved for those who had served in the war.

The only program he could enroll in was aeronautical engineering.

“It was the first thing I did without planning, and that’s how I got into aeronautics,” Hodge said in his oral history. “… Whenever I give speeches about what I’ve done in the past, what I tell people is what you think you’re doing, you never do. Planning things is good, but you have to be prepared for something else to happen. “

He moved to Canada to work for an airline, but was laid off when the government canceled his contract. NASA caught wind of these unemployed engineers and went north in search of talent, hiring Hodge and many others.

“So when people say to me, ‘How did you get into the space program?’ I say, ‘I was fired,’” Hodge said in his oral history. “It’s not at all a question of planning.”

He joined NASA in 1959 as a member of the Space Task Group at Langley Field, Virginia, then moved to Houston with his team.

As flight director, Hodge said the Gemini 8 mission was among the most memorable.

Armstrong and Scott were supposed to meet the target vehicle Agena, then Scott would perform a spacewalk.

Gemini docked with the target vehicle, but then “it was falling, it was rolling out of control,” Hodge said. Mission control was to get the crew home as quickly as possible.

“We had about eight minutes in Hawaii to talk to them and tell them what we wanted to do,” Hodge said in his oral history. “And feed all their retro information, when they should fire rockets, what angle they should be at, what time, all that stuff… The question was, would anyone find (Armstrong)?” It turned out everything was very accurate, and he landed nearby, quite close to (US Navy destroyer USS Leonard F. Mason), and they picked him up.

Gemini 8 was in 1966. In 1967, Hodge was working on a launch pad test when a fire killed astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. They would have flown on the Apollo 1 mission.

Hodge, who had been appointed head of the flight controls division in 1961 and head of the flight controls division in 1963, retired as flight director in 1968. He became head of the advanced programs office. at the Johnson Space Center, where he helped design the last three. Apollo moon landings.

As a child, Schrager remembered tying his father’s shoes or stealing his ties so he couldn’t return to work.

“I was always nervous on a mission for my father because I knew he was (nervous),” she said. “And he was always very aware of those human lives he worked with.”

As he grew older, Schrager came to understand the Fortran programming language through “awesome math sessions with my dad.” She was proud of her accomplishments and her passion for helping people, including herself, realize their potential.

Hodge left NASA in 1970 but would return 12 years later to manage the design studies for the space station. He became NASA’s associate administrator for the space station in 1984, working on the space station program which was a precursor to the International Space Station.

Hodge retired from NASA in 1987 and formed JD Hodge and Co., an international aerospace and management consulting firm.

He is survived by Audrey Hodge, his wife of 70 years, his children Robert Hodge, Janice Schrager, Nicola Parker and Jonathan Hodge, and his grandchildren Jake, Emma, ​​John, Jenny, Laura and Kara. There will be a private family memorial service at a later date.

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