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Technical director of NASA to speak at Veterans Day Gala in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A retired vet with a fascinating career at NASA will be speaking at the upcoming Veterans Day Gala in Santa Barbara.

During the Korean War, Don Nichols of Santa Barbara joined the Navy to avoid the draft. 

“In the Navy I got training on the guidance which ended up being the focus of my entire career after I got out," Nicols.

Nichols training in the Navy landed him a career in spaceflight, hired by NASA, where he worked on the design and testing of a variety of Apollo spacecraft.

“When I first joined NASA, it was the middle of the Mercury program the first launches we just put them up into space and brought them back for us to go to the mall we had to have navigation and so that was when I was hired for for the Apollo program," said Nichols.

He was also the lead project engineer on Gemini 4.

The veteran went on to chair the Test Control Board throughout the Apollo program, and defined the goals and configuration of the Space Shuttle program. 

“The goals have changed dramatically. With the Mercury and Gemini program it was … could we survive … could man survive in orbit and that was really the question that had to be answered … we knew we could put a vehicle into orbit, but we weren’t sure about men and that’s why the first couple launches were dogs in the spacecraft not men," said Nichols.

He served as the Technical Director for the Space Shuttle program at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and later took an early retirement from NASA.

This allowed him to work as the Aerospace Corporation manager for the Space Shuttle program at Vandenberg, making him an inspiration for the community. 

“A rare individual, he’s 91 but he can speak better than I can, he’s just a treasure for America, and for the military of the things that he’s done and been part of and … we all look at that with admiration and respect," said founding director John Blankenship of Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.

This year, Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation (PCVF) will present Nichols as the guest of its 26th Annual Veterans Day Gala.

“His whole theme of everything that he did was about never being forgotten and that’s what we uphold .. it is our main or would you say … heart of our essence of what we try to do," said Blankenship.

Organizers of this years Veterans Day gala are projecting about 300 guests and tickets are still available.

“My hope is people will understand what this is all about … and to support us 

… and really showing the people this country cares about 

 it’s veterans … because we’ve all served and we’ve all put our lives on the line," said Blankenship.

During the gala Nichols will share his remarkable experience in space flight and the history of the U.S. space program.

“I would hope that when I get done at the Santa Barbara area would realize what all has happened transpired, and the contributions have been made at Vandenberg Air Force Base," said Nichols.

Funds from the gala will help support veterans and active duty members throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Maria - Lompoc - North County
Apollo program
Don Nichols
Gemini program
Mercury program
Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation
Santa Barbara
space industry
Vandenberg space force base
Veterans Day Gala

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Patricia Martellotti

Patricia Martellotti is a reporter for News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Patricia, click here.


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