As I write these words, I am sitting at a console in Central Florida in the Launch Control Center (LCC) for Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. I am currently monitoring the ongoing testing of the first Experimental Test Flight (EFT-1) of NASA’s new Orion capsule. It is scheduled for launch on December 4th. I am a Sr. Engineer/Scientist on the launch team, responsible for both the ground systems and telemetry systems which will launch this 47,000 lb. payload into space on December 4, 2014 aboard the 1,600,000 lb. Delta IV Heavy rocket; the most powerful launch vehicle in America’s space launch inventory. This will be my 57th launch vehicle that I have been on the launch team for, and have been launching vehicles into space for almost 30 years.
That all sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what on Earth does this have to do with the Calaveras Save Campaign? (Read on… it will all make sense eventually, I promise!)
I wasn’t born a rocket scientist. In 1973, I was a young kid growing up in Sheepranch, between Mountain Ranch and Hanford Hill, which is not really known as a high-tech hotbed. I was imbued with the inherent curiosity of youth, and not much else. Those were tough times in Calaveras county and from my meager upbringing, the very best I could hope for, and it was a stretch, was that maybe someday I might be able to get a job with PG&E or the telephone company. This was way before personal computers, the internet, or even individual phone lines, as Sheepranch still had the “multi-ring” system so that 4-6 of us shared the line based on the number of rings. Technology was far removed from my world growing up in the backwoods of Calaveras County.
In that somewhat technologically uninspiring backdrop, I grew up and in 1973 was a freshman at CHS. What was I going to study? What direction would my life take? I had no clue, but I knew I wanted to do something interesting with my life. My family was fairly poor, as were many of the families in Calaveras. College was completely out of the question, and I honestly did not know how I was going to rise above my circumstances. With all those questions in my head, I launched into High School. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was a lackluster student, at best. I was fine with getting “C” grades, because it really didn’t matter. Early in my freshman year, I happened by the football field where the marching band was practicing. I had always been drawn to music, but was woefully untalented – because I tried to play the clarinet, which I wielded much like a weapon of mass destruction, and could literally destroy any musical phrase or attempt at a song with my honking and screeching. Music did not seem to be a possibility for me. Then, I saw the drum section playing, and I was inspired. Luckily, Mr H was expanding the percussion section!
Within the year, I was in the band, playing percussion and moving my way through the drum line. I started pounding on the bass drum, went through toms and the tri-toms, and before long was one of the coveted snare drummers. I had found my niche in music and it was definitely in the rhythm section! (Besides, as anyone in band knows, it is the drummers that all the girls chased after! Right guys?)
By the time I was a senior, I had played in many concerts, marched in many parades, and enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship found within the Marching Redskins Band. I had also moved into choir and Camarada and found at least some outlet for the melody line, but one of my favorite musical expressions was through musical comedies we performed. That was the one place I could actually stand up and make a complete fool of myself, entertaining people in the process. I so enjoyed my time in those productions! Mrs. H and Marian Hayworth were so kind and helpful to me. I also had improved my drum skills to the point where I was the drummer for the Jazz band; which was a very, very rewarding experience. I still love jazz and I still play the drums whenever and wherever I can!
I had also been selected to head up the drum corps as its leader, and even elected as V.P. of the Band Counsel, which meant I helped to choose direction of the group, and serve in a leadership position for the first time in my life. Being in charge was a new and different experience for me. I had finally began to take school seriously and was getting straight “A” grades.
The things I learned about myself in music classes and on stage had transformed me in ways I did not understand at the time. For example, I had developed an inner confidence in myself and learned the importance of simple things like attention to detail. I learned how to effectively interact in a group setting and how teams work together in synergistic ways to accomplish a shared goal. I learned leadership and project management by building sets, designing lighting, and electronic signal flow by hooking up and operating speakers and amplifiers. I also learned how to effectively speak in public by performing in front of hundreds and even thousands of people without cracking under pressure. I learned all these things without really understanding their deeper meanings at the time. Nor did I grasp the significance that those skills would mean to me later in life. By participating in the music programs at CHS, I had grown from a shy boy from Sheepranch into a confident young man who was ready to take on the world, and take on the world I did.
I graduated in 1976, and after a successful military career, and 12 years of college I paid for while working full time, I used the skills gained in the CHS music programs and expanded on in the US Navy to begin my Aerospace career. I have been building, testing, and launching rockets since 1988. When I look back at how I got here, from feeding the young lambs in Sheepranch to launching rockets at Cape Canaveral, I honestly have to place a great deal of credit on those specialized skills I learned in the Music program at CHS. Under the patient tutelage (and frequent gentle corrections) of Mr. and Mrs. H, and with the support and guidance of many folks at CHS, both staff and students alike, I am living proof that one can rise above their circumstances and achieve their goals through hard work and effort.
I hope that there will ALWAYS be a music program at CHS and the opportunity for young boys and girls in Calaveras County to expand their horizons and reach for the stars, no matter how high they are.
Paul D. Fee – Delta IV Launch Team
More information about EFT-1 mission and the Delta IV launch vehicle at: