Jay Newman said one of many worries about the first test of a space shuttle booster motor was that the thing was shaped like a banana.
"There was some concern because when you looked at it in the test stand, it was bowed in the middle," Newman, now retired and living in Perry, said last week.
"It kind of looked like a banana or a weenie, and there was concern that it wouldn't straighten up when they fired it."
The four-segment motor, on its side in the test stand, sagged because of the nearly 1 million pounds of solid fuel stuffed inside. As things turned out, the motor straightened out just fine when lit, but the bend was just one of the worries engineers, inspectors and contractors faced that first day, July 18, 1977, on the then-Thiokol Chemical Corporation's test site, 30 miles west of Brigham City.
Until then, nobody had actually lit one of those things. There was a lot to be nervous about.
"There was concern about the duration," he said. It was supposed to burn 120 seconds, but who knew?
"And during the assembly we found a number of things that were not right, like the O-rings and joints. We had to tell them to take those out and put them in right. They were always a concern."
And the motor worked. The next 50 test motors worked as well. If things go as planned the 52nd and final space shuttle motor test on Thursday will too. It is the last of a long line as the shuttle program winds down.
Newman worked for the U.S. Air Force, which had a hand in the space shuttle because it is used for Air Force missions. He was at the first test, DM-1 (Demonstration Motor-1) and "in fact, me and a fellow named Fred Blevins did 95 percent of the inspection on it."
Like everyone interviewed about this final test, he sees the need to end the shuttle program but is angry that ATK Space Systems is threatened with losing the next manned space program powered by the Ares booster system, which would use similar motors.
One Ares test is planned this year, but President Obama's 2011 budget proposal doesn't include funding for anything more. Congress writes the real budget, however, and it has not yet done so.
Workers at the complex isolated in Utah's desert, 30 miles west of Brigham City, have been working on the space shuttle program a lot longer than 32 years.
Thiokol Chemical Company was founded in 1929 and started making solid rocket motors for the military in 1949. It started laying the groundwork for the space shuttle at its Utah facility in the 1960s.
To prove the company could build the large solid rocket motors a shuttle would need, it built one that was successfully tested on June 25, 1968.
As with Thursday's that test was also feared to be the last.
After spending $3 million, "Air Force officials indicated there are no plans for production," the Standard-Examiner reported. "This halt in the large solid rocket program was immediately questioned by Sen. Wallace F. Bennett, R-Utah, who urged some action be taken to 'maintain U.S. technology and capability in this field.' "
Sen. Wallace F. Bennett was the father of Utah's current Sen. Robert Bennett, who says precisely the same thing about the Ares program.
The shuttle motors did have their problems.
The O-rings that Newman mentioned were what burned through on the Challenger flight of Jan. 28, 1986, destroying the shuttle and killing seven astronauts 73 seconds into the flight.
The mission was launched despite warnings by Utah engineers the morning of the launch that it was too cold at Cape Canaveral. Cold made the rings stiff so they didn't seal properly.
"You go back you'll find the Jake Garn flight was microseconds from the same problem," he said. "There were smoked O-rings on almost every one of them (before Challenger.) Some were burned very badly, some were just scorched."
Astronaut Don Lind, 79, Smithfield, likes to tell how his flight on Challenger on April 29, 1985, came within three-tenths of a second of disaster when an O-ring almost failed.
"I feel very grateful to the Lord for protecting me," he said last week.
Lind said that, despite that close call, he is sad to see the shuttle motor program end.
"We were very thrilled for the performance we got, and I'm very grateful for that," he said.
Lind's single flight is still fresh in his mind. His 110 orbits lasted "seven days, eight hours, 46 seconds," and he said it allowed him to put in a travel voucher for 3 million miles, which was denied because he was using a government vehicle.
After Challenger, there was a pause while investigators looked at the mechanics of the O-rings and the culture of NASA that allowed flight directors to overrule engineers.
The culture has changed, Newman said, especially after Columbia was destroyed on re-entry in 2003, "but the real fix is you'll never see a cold weather launch again."
That includes Thursday's test. The motor will be kept inside a warm shelter until the morning of the test so it doesn't get below 34 degrees.
Newman, who retired in 1997 after 53 years, won't be at the last test. "I don't like the crowd scene," he said.
Plus he's seen the motors pretty close already. "In fact, I've crawled up inside and inspected a lot of them."
That's inside with the solid propellent. Was he worried it would blow up?
"Kinda," he admitted.
But it never did.