Hot Springs Village resident Ed Klein grew up in Harvey, Illinois, served in the Navy from 1964-1968 as a sonar technician and then went to work at the University of Illinois Medical Center as a television engineer while going to night school.
The university purchased some new fancy cameras – RCA TK-44s – and sent Klein to school to learn how to use them. Turns out the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was using that same camera system to color-convert lunar video. They found out Klein was learning the new camera system and offered him a job.
Thus, in July 1971, he began an amazing 37-year career that would have be a part of well over 100 space flights, many as a ground controller.
He began working in Houston for the Apollo 15 flight, color-converting video. The results of his work were utilized by several ground control operators. “It was inspiring. Getting to work there, meeting the astronauts, learning the job. It was all interesting,” Klein said.
In January 1976 Klein was placed in the Computer Maintenance and System Department where he and others installed and tested IBM 370 computers that were used for future Space Shuttle flights. These flights didn’t begin until 1982. Klein said it took two-to-five years to prepare for those first flights.
He enjoyed the work but wanted back in operations. In March 1982 he transferred to the Operations Plan Division where he stayed for only a few months. The duty here was to carefully plan what a flight would undertake, what experiments might be done for example. “This was to keep a smooth operation going,” Klein explained.
Then in June 1982, he became command controller for Space Shuttle flights (Shuttle Transportation System) STS-4 through STS-9. His main job was to coordinate with other command sites around the world so all was ready when the shuttle (which he called the orbiter) flew over each site. To do so he would communicate with each site and test the interface for the system between his site and the other sites. “It was quite interesting and a challenging operation,” Klein said.
In 1984 he became a ground controller which put him in charge of several facets of a flight – telemetry, command, air to ground video and more. Klein did this for 83 Shuttle mission – STS-41B through STS-95. He loved the work and excelled at planning the missions.
Later he became ascent and entry ground controller. As such, he would coordinate all of the ascent requirements with Cape Canaveral and also be familiar with all launch criteria. “I had to make sure the system was a go for launch. This was really trying when you’d have problems because everything had to be done in seconds,” said Klein. For re-entry he performed the same functions.
Later he became head ground controller for all Department of Defense (DOD) flights. In this role Klein had to come up with encrypted data and design and test all the secret interfaces with ground control and the U.S. Air Force.
In that role he was sent to California – Vandenberg Air Force base – to get ready for Shuttle polar orbit launches from that location. But problems arose and the idea was abandoned.
In 1998 Klein was made International Space Station (ISS) ground controller, again doing the same tasks. He told me much of his time was spent dealing with Russians, our space station partner.
His final mission was an ATV (Autonomous Transfer Vehicle) mission. This was a French vehicle used to take supplies to the space station. After doing our interview, Klein showed me a short video. It showed the astronauts at the space station talking to Klein on his last day at his console, wishing him a happy retirement.
Aug. 1, 2008, marked the end of a career spanning 37 years. Klein was obviously beloved by many at NASA. His home has several reminders of a job well done and best wishes from many friends and colleagues at NASA.