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A Proud NASA Veteran Sounds off About, and Laments, the United States Space Program

Updated on April 5, 2017
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The "Mercury 7" Astronauts.Neil Armstrong prepares to step onto the moon.  "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The Maiden Shuttle Program Launch of  "Columbia" on April 12, 1981.Mom and Dad from the heart of Dad's NASA career in the late '60's.
The "Mercury 7" Astronauts.
The "Mercury 7" Astronauts.
Neil Armstrong prepares to step onto the moon.  "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Neil Armstrong prepares to step onto the moon. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
The Maiden Shuttle Program Launch of  "Columbia" on April 12, 1981.
The Maiden Shuttle Program Launch of "Columbia" on April 12, 1981.
Mom and Dad from the heart of Dad's NASA career in the late '60's.
Mom and Dad from the heart of Dad's NASA career in the late '60's.


Olav Smistad is a proud veteran of nearly a quarter century of service to The United States Space Program during a remarkable and accomplished career with NASA. Beginning in the mid ‘60’s, and all the way into the late ‘80’s, Olav served in no less than five esteemed positions of Management and Leadership during what are indisputably the most glorious years in the history of The American Space Program.

Over those pivotal two-and-a-half decades he helped to land the first man on the moon, while also having a significant hand in taking both Skylab and The Space Station from the Engineering Drawing Board to the thrilling reality of pioneering voyages into the galaxy.

And he did all of this with incomparable character, pride and integrity.

And always with a deeply felt humility that remains ever strong today.

I know that he did.

I know that because Olav Smistad is my father.

I recently posed a series of questions to my Dad about the state of The U.S. Space Program: past, present and future. Here’s what a genuine expert has to say…

What do you believe was the driving purpose of NASA when you were employed with The Agency?

Research and Development for America’s Manned and Unmanned Space Program. Commitment to America’s preeminence in Space with both technical and National pride goals. A vision of Man’s exploration of near Earth, (The) Solar System and beyond supported by National Visions.

If possible, can you tell us what you are most proud of from your years with The NASA Team?

The technical and Agency accomplishments from The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs that thrust our Nation from a secondary position to the exploration of the Lunar System, and placed our Nation as the premier Space-Faring Nation.

What is your opinion of NASA today?

An Agency that lacks vision and pride that receives inadequate support and commitment from our Democratic branches of government, both administrative and legislative. A confused direction due to confused, and lack of, goals.

In summary, a dearth of National and Agency vision, commitment, leadership and the attendant courage.

What do you believe the future holds for The Space Program in our country?

NASA is a professional organization, still possessing technical expertise and desire, and an intensive desire to achieve exploration of The Universe. They will come back with enthusiasm and pride when their goals become clear and focused again.

Our Nation’s leaders will need to clarify our goals. NASA’s value to The Nation is Research and Development, in conjunction with Exploration of The Solar System and beyond.

Thanks, Dad. For what you’ve done on behalf of this great country in exploring the heavens. But more importantly, for what you’ve done for Mom, us kids and your grandkids here on earth.

We love you. And we remain steadfastly and abundantly proud of you.

And, finally, I'm all for "glasnost". But hitching a ride with Russia if and when you want to venture into space is now a harsh and jarring reality for America.

It should not ever be this way.

***Please read this excerpt from the superb essay "Why Working for NASA is Cool" authored by Software Engineer and former NASA team member Robert Harvey. Rockin' Robert!!

So what's so great about NASA? Well, first of all, they build really cool things, and I don't just mean spaceships. NASA's value is not solely in walking on the moon or colonizing mars; it is in all of the technologies that they spin off. The computer that you're using to read this text is a direct descendant of the Apollo Guidance Computer, the device that helped Neal Armstrong land on the moon. There are hundreds of other such technologies that are a direct result of the space program and aeronautical research. NASA works in partnership with private industry to bring these technologies to fruition. They have a vibrant earth sciences program. Their value extends far beyond space travel, and it 's all funded using a tiny sliver of the Federal budget.

Second, there are really smart people working at NASA, and you get to rub shoulders with them. Nothing skyrockets your learning curve faster than working with people that are smarter than you are, people who are willing to help you learn and encourage your professional growth. I worked for an aerospace contractor who maintained a small, agile engineering group at NASA, so I enjoyed some of the benefits of both large and small companies. I had a NASA email address, even though I was not a civil servant.

I saw some amazing things during my time at Armstrong Flight Research Center. I was there when they were flight-testing SOFIA, the flying infrared telescope. I watched space shuttle night launches from Cape Canaveral on 25 foot high-definition viewing screens, and got to see the blended-wing-body prototype (the future of airline travel) close-up. But for the pure spectacle of it, nothing beats an F-15 flyby, so close you can feel the exhaust and smell the jet fuel.

Alas, sequestration, government shutdowns and budget cuts finally took their toll, and my project was cancelled.

If you ever get a chance to work for NASA or one of their contractors, take it. I will always remember it as one of the most fun and enlightening experiences of my career.

NASA landed the first man on the Moon and returned him safely to earth, just as JFK mandated. Please join me now on this brisk tour of the Moon...


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