Q: What is your family history?
This has turned out to be an interesting question. It seems that as a result of my oldest son’s genealogy study of our family history, my first ancestor to come to America came here from Spain and was named Diego Romero. Diego fought in the Battle of New Orleans for Andrew Jackson and later settled in the Louisiana area. Through the years, the family name transition from Romero to Romere occurred with some of my early relatives, likely due to the French influence. I can still identify relatives in Louisiana and Southeastern Texas with both names. My grandfather, Pierre Emil Romere, died in 1918 at the age of 23 and I have found his burial site in the old Humble, TX graveyard.
My Mother was Edith H. McClanahan, and was a descendant of a Captain Rockett, a ships Captain, who came from England and settled in Charleston, SC with several streets and buildings having been named after him. I was at a technical conference in Williamsburg, VA in 1984 to present several papers on my work on the Space Shuttle aerodynamics and happened to see a friend named George Ware, from Langley Research Center, with whom I had worked on multiple Shuttle wind tunnel tests. Both he and I had our wives with us and we went to dinner one evening, and the conversation turned to the genealogy work being done by our son. When I mentioned Captain Rockett, George asked if Rockett was spelled with one t or two, to which I said I could not remember. George then said, Well let me tell you something. When Captain Rockett settled in Charleston, he married a Miss Jane Ware. To this I said, Well, Hello cousin. George later loaned me a copy of a book published by John Ware in 1962 that traced my association with Captain Rockett down through me and my brother. Turns out it is a very small world.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I was born on October 18, 1938 on my Grandmother McClanahan’s 21 acre farm three miles South of Mexia, TX. My Grandmother delivered me at the farmhouse. I had a brother who was born 15 months later. We lived there until after the war and moved to Houston in the summer of 1948, where my dad, who had served as an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Corps, started a career as a mechanic for Trans Texas Airlines at Hobby Airport. I met a kid, Donald Hare, who was also nine years old and said he was going to go to Texas A&M and become an Aeronautical Engineer. We both liked to build model airplanes and I thought that sounded like a plan I’d like to pursue, so I made it my goal. Donald never attained his goal, but did end up working at Hobby Field gassing up airplanes.
Q: What kind of household chores were you responsible for?
Since we were definitely not a wealthy family, but certainly managed a comfortable life, chores were a fact of life, consisting mainly of keeping the yard in shape and picking up after ourselves. This continued after Betsy and I were married and began to build our family of three sons. She was working as a Nurse, usually on the evening shift, so I’d pick up the boys at the hospital nursery after work, feed and bathe them and put them to bed. Household chores also meant I learned to do laundry, clean bathrooms, and some of the cooking. Our marriage was definitely a sharing process and still is so today after nearly 48 years of marriage.
Q: What elementary, junior high, and any other schools did you attend?
I started school at the Forest Glade School, an eight grade country school located one mile south of my Grandmother’s farm on the Mexia to Groesbeck Highway. For the first and second grades, I had as my teacher, Mrs. Ward, who also taught my mom. For the third grade, I had Mrs. Fowler, also my mom’s teacher. I began the fourth grade at Garden Villas Elementary School in Houston and my teacher was Mrs. English. I do not remember my fifth grade teacher, but do remember my sixth grade teacher was Mrs. Williams.
Then I attended Jackson Junior High School, followed by attending Austin High School.
In the fall of 1957, I started my first year at Texas A&M. I managed to muddle my way through and graduated with a BS in Aeronautical Engineering in 1962.
Q: Do you remember your parents stressing the importance of applying yourself to your education?
School was always easy for me and I wanted to make the good grades throughout my early days. I can only remember that my mom was very supportive of my attending college, especially since I was to be the first in our family to go to college.
Q: How did they encourage you and what did they sacrifice themselves to make it possible for you?
My mom continued to work as a waitress at Hobby airport to pay my way through college. She did not want me working unless absolutely necessary, so I only worked weekends in Houston during my last year at Texas A&M.
Q: What teacher(s) made a difference in your life?
I think the teacher I credit the most for making a difference was Mr. Johnston, my homeroom and typing teacher at Austin. He found I wanted to go to college and encouraged me in every way to always strive for that next level, regardless of how tough the going may be.
Q: When you looked forward to graduation, what were your expectations of how things would be for you then…and, in reality, what was it truly like?
Obviously, as I have already said, my goal after high school was to go to Texas A&M. I was really looking forward to it, but very apprehensive as to whether I could make it through to getting my degree. I had liked ROTC at Austin High, so that training really helped in my blending into the Corps of Cadets. Making the Freshman Drill Team was a bonus, as it got me out of the dorm in the evenings due to drill practice, thus shielding me from a lot of the hazing from the upper classmen that went on every evening. Still, I like to remember that if I did not pack my footlocker every evening and every morning to get ready to go home, it just wasn’t a usual day. Still, I gutted it out and am really proud of the accomplishments.
Q: What did you do after graduation?
While in my last year at Texas A&M, I worked every weekend at the Humble station at the corner of Telephone Rd and Park Place Blvd. There I met many people who had just moved to Houston and were working for the NASA Manned Space Center, which had set up temporary offices all around the area of Southeast Houston. I decided that I’d like to work for NASA and it sounded like an exciting job. I applied for a job and was accepted, with my starting on June 18, 1962, two weeks after graduation from A&M. My first day there, I was given a stack of reports on planetary Landers and their associated experiments. I couldn’t believe that I was looking at technology that was years in advance and was feeling so lucky to be in such a job. Things only got better from that point on.
I worked on the aerodynamic analysis and development of all the manned spacecraft, as there were still two Mercury flights to be flown when I started to work. I was also involved with the ground floor wind tunnel testing for the Apollo Program, aero data base development and flight data analysis, and actually got to see the final launch of Apollo 17. My work largely consisted of both analytical and experimental aerodynamics, wind tunnel testing, and later developing Shuttle flight test maneuvers and doing flight test analysis.
In 1969, the decision was made to develop a reusable space vehicle and I was one of three aerodynamists selected to take part in a Skunk Works study to develop such a vehicle. We were locked in a secure loft area with several people from each vehicle discipline, i.e., aero, heating, structures, environmental systems, etc. We worked for 9 months and came up with a system for a Space Shuttle that was nothing like what we all are used to seeing today. Our system consisted of a fly-back booster stage on the back of which the orbiter was mounted. The vehicles looked more like the standard airplanes with straight wings and a horizontal tail and were huge, since all fuel had to be carried internally on both the booster and orbiter stages. This resulted in a booster over three hundred feet long and an orbiter that was right at 200 feet long, twice the length of the actual Shuttle Orbiter we know today. This concept is what was used to sell the Program to Congress and gain funding to proceed. Shortly after, it was determined that the available funding would not allow developing both the booster and orbiter, as designed, and the vehicle was redesigned to what we see today as the Space Shuttle.
For the last ten years with Johnson Space Center, I was the Aerodynamics Subsystem Manager in charge of developing and managing the data base used to fly the vehicles, both the integrated launch vehicle and the orbiter. Staying involved from the technical side while at NASA has served me well in that I have been called constantly to provide consulting services for many of the developing space systems over the past years since my retirement in 1997. Like I say about that, it keeps my skills up and lets me buy new toys every once in a while.
1969 Shuttle Configuration Flyback Booster
Q: Tell how Betsy come on the scene?
Now this is one of those stories that everyone who hears it is fascinated with. When I was beginning my last year at A&M, in September 1961, Betsy was just starting college at Texas Women’s University School of Nursing in Denton, TX. There was a tradition at both A&M and TWU in which an incoming freshman at either school was to write to their Post Office Box number at the other school. Betsy did this and, due to her bad handwriting, the letter got put in the wrong PO Box at A&M. The guy next door in my dorm got the letter and gave it to me, as he knew I was not going with anyone at that time. I answered the letter, we wrote back and forth several times, and I finally invited her down to A&M for a football game. We continued dating and even more so after I graduated A&M and Betsy had been moved to the Houston Medical Center to continue her Nursing Degree training at the TWU facility there. Finally on March 28, 1964, during her junior year at TWU, we got married in her home town of Port Arthur, TX.
Q: Do you have children/grandchildren?
We have five grandchildren. Our oldest son, David, who lives in Owasso, OK and works for American Airlines, had two sons. The oldest is 20 and the youngest is 16. Our middle son, Steven, who lives in Tomball, TX, has a girl, aged 8. Our youngest son, Bill, who lives in Austin, TX, has a daughter and a son. The daughter is just 16 and their son is 13.
Q: If you could change anything: your life at SFA, education, where you would like to be, like to go?
You know, as I stated earlier, I set my goal of going to Texas A&M to become an Aeronautical Engineer when I was nine years old and always did what I felt was necessary to accomplish that goal. Looking back on it all, I still would not change a thing in that regard. I really enjoyed SFA, particularly the ROTC, as I liked the discipline it instilled. That is the one thing that definitely served me well in the A&M Corps of Cadets. I doubt I would have made it through it without that prior training at SFA. As to where would I like to be or like to go, I am very happy with my life and where I have managed to steer myself and my family through these many years. I would be hard pressed to change a thing, but would have liked to have been able to become a bit more secure, money wise; however, that doesn’t happen working for the Government as easily as in private industry. My feelings towards that are, I made the choice to work at NASA those 35 years and do recognize that I am certainly not on the poor side and lead a very comfortable life here in this beautiful continuing vacation in the woods outside of Bayfield, CO. I absolutely have no complaints.
Q: What do you do for entertainment?
Betsy and I love to ski and do so every chance we get at Durango Mountain Resort, only about an hour drive from our home. Due to my age, I get a full season pass for only $138, so we ski many times during a season. We both like to hike and do so often in the National Forest that surrounds our land on three sides. Betsy and I like to dance, although I don’t consider myself a very good dancer, and she did manage to teach me the Cajun Two-Step, which serves me well enough to get by. Betsy likes to raise and tend flowers, so I built her a greenhouse to help that along. I like to fish and Elk hunt, too. My other passion is to do woodworking in my shop in the walk-in basement behind the garage.
Q: Have you traveled a lot? If so, where? Do you have some pictures?
We live in a constant vacation, in our opinion, and have traveled very little until three years ago. At that time, we decided it was time to make our first trip to Las Vegas, NV on our 46th anniversary and ended up joining the Hilton Grand Vacation Club. Since then, we have been back to Las Vegas two more times and to the big island of Hawaii. Hawaii is now scheduled for a return trip, as we had such a great time there. We took the round the island bus tour, the helicopter ride to see the island and the lava flows and waterfalls, rode some really great ziplines, toured the top of Mona Kea and saw the many observatories there, and generally acted like tourists. As to pictures, we usually don’t take very many, but I am sure I can come up with something along that line to share.
Q: Were you in the service? If so, what branch and where did you serve?
I did not go into the service, as soon as I graduated A&M in May 1962, NASA said that they wanted me and I ended working for them for 35 years before retiring in 1997.
Q: Do you speak any foreign languages?
I took a year of Spanish in high school, but can only still speak very few words of Spanish.
Q: In life, what makes you the happiest?
Having the great wife I am blessed with, and knowing that all three of my sons are self-supporting, have great families, are themselves happy, and have presented us with great Grandchildren is all anyone could ask for.
Q: What events had a lasting effect on your life?
First and foremost, I would have to say my marriage to Betsy Wellburn on March 28, 1964, certainly qualifies as an answer to this question. To sit back and realize that this union in still the most important factor in my life is very special and really accounts for my wonderful life, as I know it.
The loss of the Challenger in 1986 was significant, in that I had to review film of the explosion, track the crew portion down, and attempt to develop a history of the speed and attitude of the craft during its fall from the sky. It was an extremely sobering event for me. This was again the case after the loss of Columbia, after which I was called back to consult on how to assure that removal of the foam ramps would not cause high heating issues for the bipod spindles the foam had previously protected. The wind tunnel testing program I help set up was successful in proving that it was safe to fly without the ramps.
In January of this year, I lost my brother to Leukemia. I was asked to donate stem cells and was tested for compatibility, but was not a good match. Another donor was located and harvested, but Dean passed away before they could be used. At his memorial service in San Antonio, I was asked to give a eulogy, which turned out to be the hardest thing I think I have ever had to do in my life. It was extremely moving to me and will always be with me.
Q: Who has made the most impression on your life?
I have a hard time singling out any one person other than my mom and dad. My dad instilled a work ethic in me and my mom pushed for achievement, particularly to go to college. As I said in a previous question, my dad served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as an aircraft mechanic. Following the war’s end, he worked for a bout a year at the Luscomb Aircraft plant in Dallas and took flying lessons under the GI Bill. We then moved to Houston in 1948, where he worked at the Emsco plant near Garden Villas until finally settling in a job as mechanic for Trans Texas Airways at Hobby Airport. He had the drive to make things happen when it came to acquiring a new toy, such as the boat we wanted. He got the plans for a thirteen foot runabout from Popular Science and extended them to a sixteen foot boat, horse traded for a Ford Interceptor Marine V-8 engine to put in it, and the three of us, my dad and brother and I, built the boat from scratch. It turned out to be one of the fastest boats on Clear Lake. This is an example of the can do attitude my dad helped instill in me.
Q: What would you change if you could?
I think that I have been so oriented towards my career over these many years that I can see that I could have slowed down a bit to enjoy life a bit more through vacations and doing more with my kids. I did many things, such as working little league baseball and refereeing soccer, but one can always identify with the fact one can always come up with something more that could have been done. Still, I am at a happy place, which does in itself say a lot in these days and times.
Q: What are your feelings about the position of the government at this time?
Since before the last Presidential election, Betsy and I have become much more involved in trying to change the direction this country seems to be headed. We have become members of the 4-Corner Liberty Restoration Group to support getting back to our Constitution as a way to run our Government. We are not Tea Party, but do support many of their ideas. I am very concerned about the UN Agenda 21 ideals which are, and have for many years, slowly being instilled into our Government and everyday life. Many don’t know what Agenda 21 is, but if one will Google it and starts reading it, it does get very scary. I know many don’t like to discuss politics, so I won’t say any more here.
Q: What person have you met that you would like to spend more time with?
I would have to say that I can’t limit this answer to a single person. Over the past few years, in particular, I have met several, including those I became reacquainted with at the Texas A&M 50th Reunion last April. One couple that particularly comes to mind that I have always admired, respected, and would like to spend more time with is Jim and Joan Harrison, whom I saw at the Reunion.
Q: Whom would you like to meet?
There is one person in particular, Charles Roxburgh, who was my best friend in SFA along with Edmond LeBouf. We all ran around together and basically have not seen each other since our college graduation time period. These were dear friends with whom I have lost track, and would someday like to tag up with them again to share each other’s life experiences.
Q: What are you working on now?
I currently am doing limited Aerospace consulting, but with the government’s funding problems for new and even existing projects, the work likely will continue to be very limited. Maybe I should not complain and start really taking on the role of a retiree.
Q: So what about your future?
I have set a goal, since Betsy and I like skiing so well, to be skiing when I am 100 years old. Other than that, I plan to do what traveling I can manage and basically enjoy my life and my family for the rest of however many years the Good Lord will grant me.