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Bermuda the launching pad for Robert’s NASA career

Robert Spearing was just five or six years old when he would watch aircraft coming into Kindley Field after the Second World War.

Unbeknown to him then, it was also during this time that his interest in space and flying began to launch.

The Bermuda-born engineer was able to turn his love for science into a long-held career at NASA.

Starting off as a junior engineer in space communications in 1962, he climbed the ranks to become Deputy Associate Administrator of Space Communications from 1998, until his retirement in 2007.

Mr Spearing also played a small part in helping American astronaut Neil Armstrong, take his historic first walk on the moon, in July 1969.

“That system that was being used to get the information back and forth from space was one I had been pretty heavily involved with,” the 73-year-old said:

“Watching it on TV, I was very proud and it’s something you never forget because you know that you had an integral part in the success of the mission. I was very happy.”

Mr Spearing was recently on Island visiting family and friends, but he resides in Alexandria Virginia with his wife Elizabeth.

His career started somewhat indirectly at age 20, while he was in Bermuda for the summer break. He would work at Cooper’s Island tracking station during the holiday months and got introduced to the space programme during that time.

His mother, Sylvia Spearing, had seen that the local tracking station had just opened up and heard they were looking for some extra help. She encouraged her son to take the summer job.

A couple years later, while he was a senior in college, he was interviewed by the NASA personnel recruiter at Clarkson College of Technology and was offered a job.

“I don’t think I ever thought a lot about working at NASA when I grew up,” he said. “I knew the personnel recruiter was coming to my school and thought ‘Well NASA sounds like it would be interesting’.

“I had interviewed with some other companies, but at the end of the day my college professor and I jointly believed NASA would be more of an adventure.”

The other draw to the space organisation was that there appeared to be a lot of opportunities for professional growth, he said.

In the early days of NASA, Mr Spearing found the career to be very fast-paced and said the people involved were all highly passionate about what they were doing.

“It was literally almost a 24 hour day, but in order to get things done and move on to the next phase it was necessary,” he said.

NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

It was established by former US President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1958, to manage the nation’s civilian space programme and to aid in aeronautics and aerospace research.

When Mr Spearing first started out he was placed in the area of cognicent engineering for ‘Command and Control’. He was on a team tasked with creating the system, which transmits communications and messages to spacecrafts.

Another career milestone happened years later when he helped implement a new project within NASA, which moved the tracking devices into space and allowed them to see more of orbit.

Mr Spearing said the career also inspired him to get his pilot’s licence in the later 1960s; he also has a half-share in a private aeroplane.

He currently works as an independent consultant in space communications, assisting organisations like NASA and other private companies.

Robert Spearing and his mother Sylvia Spearing (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published June 24, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 24, 2013 at 9:24 am)

Bermuda the launching pad for Robert’s NASA career

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