Going Back to My Roots

Fri, 02/25/2011 – 15:36 — Tim Pickens RCS…
I’ve been honored to have had multiple opportunities to speak lately about the Rocket City Space Pioneers’ Google Lunar X PRIZE Mission. I spoke to both Huntsville Rotary Clubs this month and am scheduled to speak at the NASA Software and Systems Engineering Forum in May. One event I am really looking forward to is next Thursday, March 3, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Huntsville Public Library. I will be giving a presentation to the Huntsville, Alabama L5 Society (HAL5), the Huntsville chapter of the National Space Society (NSS). http://chapters.nss.org/al/HAL5/
HAL5 was formed in 1983 by a good friend of mine, Gregory H. Allison, former executive vice president of the NSS and chair of the 1993 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). Greg worked hard to get a local NSS chapter going with encouragement from several of Dr. Wernher von Braun’s team members, particularly Konrad Dannenberg.
HAL5 is a grassroots, space education, and advocacy organization whose members share the enthusiasm that space development can stimulate our world with immeasurable benefits in the areas of education, energy, environment, industry, resources, and ultimately room to grow for our society.
Over the past 25 years, HAL5 has sponsored numerous educational projects and activities in Huntsville and hosted a continuing series of public lectures, forums and events on topics related to space at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the Huntsville Public Library. Topics have included the International Space Station, space science, launch vehicles, planetary defense, and public and private efforts to achieve affordable space access.
I first joined HAL5 after attending a meeting at the Huntsville Public Library in late 1993. It was then that I learned this local chapter had some really cool ideas and people as members that I resonated with. The group had just finished up the most successful ISDC in NSS history, and it had happened in Huntsville. Now they are doing it again in 2011.
Profits from their hard work running ISDC was what allowed some really cool history to begin in Huntsville with an Amateur Space Shot attempt that would reach 36 miles in 2006. I was honored to be the Team Lead on this historic low-budget rocket project. I signed up in 1994, and we poured concrete soon after at my dad’s farm. We tested all our engines there. It was so cool. We tested hybrids from 5-lb thrust to 1,200-lb thrust. We worked at my home “man cave” two nights a week. That was a magical time. It was also a precursor run for what would become my full-time career and later the founding of a company I called “Orion Propulsion.” That is another story.
Anyway, we built a few rockets, and on May 11, 1997, HAL5 made history for amateur rocketry altitude and the world’s first high-altitude ignition of a hybrid rocket. This feat was later recorded in the 2000 Guinness Book of World Records.
Here we are 16 years later, and we are looking at another ISDC. We have some great guys running the show like Yohon Lo and Bart Leahy and many more folks making it all come together. Greg is sort of a “gray beard” advisor these days.
The theme for this year’s ISDC is “From the Ground Up . . . How Do we Get There?” I’m looking forward to that conference being in the Rocket City this year! The theme pays tribute to Huntsville’s journey from humble beginnings as a cotton town all the way to its current “Rocket City” status.
I am looking forward to seeing a successful ISDC 2011 in Huntsville. I am also looking forward to seeing what cool ideas and projects could be offshoots from such an energetic event.
Godspeed, HAL5!

Tim Pickens displays some of the team’s earlier work in his garage “man cave.”

HAL5 Team Members at Project HALO Test Site in 2003.