Jack A. Kinzler
January 9th, 1920 to March 4th, 2014
January 9th, 1920 to March 4th, 2014
"NASA’s Mr. Fix-It, Jack Kinzler dies at 94"
March 15th, 2014
The Eastern Tribune
The Skylab’s savior and NASA’s Mr. Fix-It, Jack Kinzler has gone. He is no more available for the development of $2.5 billion worth US space station – Skylab. Mr. Jack, aged 94, died on 4th of March 2014, leaving behind his extraordinary service for United States of America.
Fortunately, Kinzler gave a great service as a scientist, and had done all those things that Skylabs always needed. One of his works includes securing the ‘launch of thermal shield’ in 1973, when it was prone to severe risk. It was at that time; Mr. Kinzler took complete responsibility in resolving the issues, providing a better solution for NASA. He ultimately saved it with a parasol.
Also known as a constitutional tinkerer, Mr. Jack, was for decades NASA’s employee who was later famous by name – Mr. Fix-It. He offered complete dedication in constructing the impeccable full-scale models of the Gemini, Apollo and Mercury spacecraft, which were deployed in a combination of preflight tests. Jack resolved several technical issues at his time, was responsible for solving a spate of other mechanical problems since years. This was all without the benefit of a college degree.
He was the executive chief of the Technical Services Center at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, and was also praised for placing six flags, six plaques on the moon. Jack was known for assisting the possibilities of the rarefied sport of lunar golf.
In a press interview organized in 1973, Kinzler said in a statement, “Whenever we run into trouble…that’s when I really get interested.” Kinzler started working with the committee’s aeronautical lab in Langley, Va., and initiated his career as a novice toolmaker and model maker.
In his early career, Kinzler was named as the assistant administrator for a local machine shop. It was after few years; Jack emerged as a chief of technical services at NASA, working from 1961 until his retirement.
"Jack Kinzler, Skylab’s Savior, Dies at 94"
March 14th, 2014
The New York Times
Had Jack A. Kinzler not built model planes as a boy, had he not visited the post office as a youth and had he not, as a grown man, purchased four fishing rods at $12.95 apiece, Skylab — the United States’ $2.5 billion space station — would very likely have been forfeit.
Providentially, Mr. Kinzler had done all those things, and Skylab, imperiled by the loss of a thermal shield on its launch in 1973, was saved.
Mr. Kinzler saved it with a parasol.
A constitutional tinkerer, Mr. Kinzler, who died on March 4 at 94, was for decades NASA’s resident Mr. Fix-It, building the impeccable full-scale models of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft used in a welter of preflight tests, and solving a spate of other mechanical problems over the years — all without the benefit of a college degree.
Mr. Kinzler, the longtime chief of the Technical Services Center at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, also put six flags — and six plaques — on the moon and helped make possible the rarefied sport of lunar golf.
“Whenever we run into trouble,” he told The Associated Press in 1973, “that’s when I really get interested.”
Mr. Kinzler’s finest hour indisputably came after the launch of Skylab, designed as a scientific research station. En route to what would be a six-year mission, it went up unmanned on May 14, 1973; a three-man crew was due to follow the next day.
But the loss of the heat shield proved a grave concern. Though Skylab was able to ascend to orbit, it would be uninhabitable without sufficient protection from the sun. Temperatures would be unbearable, onboard food and film stores would spoil and overheated plastic components could exude toxic gases.
The crew’s departure was delayed until a solution could be found. Without one, NASA knew, Skylab would remain forever untenanted, a ghost ship in space.
The proposed remedies, urgently solicited by NASA from its own engineers and from outside contractors, included ideas ranging from “spray paints, inflatable balloons and wallpapers to window curtains and extendable metal panels,” as the aerospace website AmericaSpace reported in a commemorative article last year.
Mr. Kinzler bought fishing rods.
Jack Albert Kinzler was born in Pittsburgh on Jan. 9, 1920. His father, a photoengraver and inventor whose formal schooling had ended with fourth grade, held patents on several photoengraving devices.
An ardent model-plane builder, Jack flew his creations in national competitions. He was offered a scholarship to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh but declined: College, he felt, would take time from aeronautical pursuits.
He took a job as a bank clerk. One day when he was in his early 20s, he stopped into a local post office. There he saw a help-wanted poster seeking builders of model airplanes.
The poster was from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the federal agency, founded in 1915, that was a precursor to NASA. With the war on in Europe and the threat of war preoccupying the United States, the committee was seeking recruits to build accurate models of military planes for testing in its mammoth wind tunnels.
Mr. Kinzler joined the committee’s aeronautical laboratory in Langley, Va., becoming an apprentice model maker and toolmaker before being named the assistant superintendent of the machine shop there.
In the late 1950s, when the committee was superseded by NASA, Mr. Kinzler moved with the new agency to Houston; he was its technical services chief from 1961 until his retirement in 1977.
When Skylab shed its shield, most of the proposed solutions entailed a spacewalk, with all its inherent dangers. To Mr. Kinzler, that was an unattractive prospect: The commander of Skylab’s crew, Charles Conrad Jr., known as Pete, was his next-door neighbor and friend.
What was needed, Mr. Kinzler knew, was a fix that could be done from the inside. He learned that Skylab had an airlock — a narrow passage meant for use as a camera port — near the site of the damage. It might be possible, he thought, to build a kind of flat, collapsible shade tree, which could be extruded through the airlock and, once outside, made to bloom.
He phoned a sporting-goods store and ordered a set of fiberglass fishing rods. The salient thing about them was not that they caught fish, but that they telescoped.
To build his prototype, Mr. Kinzler arranged four rods like the ribs of an immense umbrella, securing one to each side of a piece of parachute silk roughly 24 feet square. Folded, the parasol would just fit into the airlock. Once extruded, its canopy could be snapped open by means of springs.
Normally, Mr. Kinzler said in interviews, the design, building and approval of such novel equipment might take NASA six months. His parasol was ready in six days — six days in which he and his staff of more than 100 lived, worked and slept in the Johnson Space Center.
The finished parasol, built from telescoping aluminum tubes and silver-and-orange fabric of nylon, Mylar and aluminum, was stowed aboard the crew’s Apollo spacecraft. At 9 a.m. on May 25, the crew — Commander Conrad, Joseph P. Kerwin and Paul J. Weitz — took off from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Just before midnight they docked with Skylab, where the interior temperature was approaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit; wearing spacesuits, they could work there for short periods.
On May 26, after ensuring the station was free of hazardous gases, crew members pushed the parasol through the airlock and released the canopy. It did not open fully — it remained partly puckered — but in the end that did not matter.
Over the next few days, Skylab’s inside temperature fell to a companionable 70 degrees. Shedding their suits, the astronauts completed their 28-day mission.
For his work, Mr. Kinzler received the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest honor.
By the time he saved Skylab, Mr. Kinzler was already an experienced unfurler. In the late 1960s, as the United States raced to put a man on the moon, NASA officials asked him to suggest what that man might do to mark the occasion once he got there.
Plant a flag, Mr. Kinzler said, and leave a plaque.
Mr. Kinzler was charged with designing a moonworthy flagstaff. He ordered a large American flag and, recalling how his mother used to hang curtains by sewing a hidden sleeve at the top and inserting a rod through it, did likewise.
In his design, the sleeve was supported by a collapsible crossbar attached to the flagstaff. Just such a staff, neatly folded, was stowed aboard Apollo 11 when it set off for the moon on July 16, 1969.
Planted on July 21, the flag, held by the crossbar, remained permanently snapped to attention in the moon’s airless atmosphere. (In a photograph taken before the crossbar was fully extended, the flag, hanging in folds, looks as though it is rippling in a breeze.)
Each of the five succeeding crews to reach the moon planted one of Mr. Kinzler’s flagpoles. He also oversaw the design and manufacture of the commemorative plaques attached to all six lunar landing vehicles, left on the moon after each crew decamped.
In a covert operation — a golfing holiday seemed out of keeping with NASA’s august mandate — Mr. Kinzler’s department helped fabricate the collapsible club, comprising a 6-iron head attached to the handle of a lunar-sample scoop, that Alan Shepard carried aboard Apollo 14 in 1971.
Mr. Shepard hit two balls, shanking the first but connecting with the second.
Mr. Kinzler’s survivors include his wife, the former Sylvia Richardson, whom he married in 1947; two sons, John and James; a daughter, Nancy Kinzler, who confirmed her father’s death, at his home in Taylor Lake Village, Tex., a Houston suburb; and seven grandchildren.
Skylab, which over time was home to two additional crews, remained in orbit — Mr. Kinzler’s parasol still in place — until 1979, when, unmanned, it disintegrated on re-entering the atmosphere.
On the moon, Mr. Kinzler’s flags still fly. His plaques endure. And, thanks partly to him, two small white spheres now grace the lunar surface, one of them hit some 200 yards in what will forever remain the most famous golf shot in the universe.
"Jack A. Kinzler: The Man Who Saved Skylab"
Nobody better illustrates the youthful, can-do exuberance of NASA’s early years than Jack Kinzler. Stumped for a way to get his new model of the Mercury capsule at Langley Research Center fitted to an Atlas rocket in Cape Canaveral, the whiz kid got some rope and tied it down on a mattress-padded flatbed truck for the journey from Virginia to Florida.
For nearly 20 years, Kinzler, who never earned a four-year college degree, worked as a modelmaker, toolmaker and machine-shop superintendent for the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics. He took his reputation as a fix-it man to the Space Task Group and later became chief of the Technical Services Center – an all-purpose machine and tool shop – at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Among the innovations spawned in Kinzler’s shop at Johnson were the flexible rubber boot between a space capsule and its re-entry heat shield that softened ocean landings, the plaques placed on the lunar surface by each of the Apollo moon landings, and the hand-held maneuvering unit used by Ed White in the first spacewalk by a U.S. astronaut during the Gemini IV mission. Kinzler himself, dissatisfied with the plan to have an American flag displayed prominently on the side of the lunar module, devised a permanent fixture: his 3-by-5-foot freestanding flag, stowed on the underside of the module’s ladder, was unfurled and driven into the moon’s surface by each of the lunar landing crews, though the Apollo 12 crew was unable to deploy the telescoping bar that extends the flag outward.
Kinzler also helped design the special six-iron club head that Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard fitted to the handle of a lunar sampling scoop to make his two famous golf drives. But the achievement that earned him NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal was accomplished within a period of 10 dramatic days in May of 1973.
During the launch of the Skylab Space Station on May 14, 1973, a meteorite shield prematurely deployed and created atmospheric drag, which set off a disastrous chain reaction: the meteorite shield was ripped off, along with one of the solar panels, and another solar panel was jammed partially shut by the debris. As Skylab reached orbit, it had very little power, and its laboratory area was exposed directly to solar heat. The temperature inside the laboratory would conceivably rise higher than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, spoiling the on-board film and foods and making the station uninhabitable.
The launch of Skylab’s three-man crew, scheduled for the next day, was postponed as troubleshooters throughout NASA puzzled over how to salvage the $2.6 billion outpost. While many focused on the idea of repairing the shield from the outside by a spacewalking repairman, Kinzler looked for a simpler solution. “I found there was a sally port – that’s a camera port, 8 inches square, right on the side of the spacecraft – where the heat shield had ripped off,” Kinzler later recalled. He immediately had the thought: “Why don’t we use this sally port opening to deploy something from the inside?”
Kinzler quickly sent technicians on three errands: driving to a Houston sporting-goods store to buy four telescoping fishing poles; acquiring a 24-foot square of parachute silk; and ordering an 8-inch diameter tube from the metal shop. Kinzler built his prototype – a parasol that could be pushed through the camera port and unfurled by activating springs and telescoping tubes – and demonstrated it to higher-ups on the floor of a space center hangar. “It laid right out on the floor,” Kinzler said. “Talk about impressive. They said, ‘That’s it!’”
After docking with the space station on May 26, the crew of Skylab 2, Pete Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz, entered the laboratory and inserted a slender 4-foot long container into the camera port. They pushed through the shield, an aluminized 24-by-28-foot Inconel parasol, and deployed it. The temperature inside soon dropped to 70 degrees, and the crew began its scheduled experiments in relative comfort.
Kinzler’s greatest source of pride was that the parasol was conceived and executed almost entirely by government employees. “We stayed awake and worked for six solid days, around the clock,” he said. “We had a hundred employees working on this thing, and we did everything. We made all the parts. We demonstrated how it’s to be done. And we completely pulled that thing off without any outside help.”