I haunted the UofM Duluth physics department as a kid, and after I won a blue ribbon in the regional science fair for a LASER I built, I bamboozled Prof. Donald E. Olson into letting me be an intern in his Atmospheric Electricity group at the age of 15.
Apollo 12 & 13
I missed quite a bit of my senior year of high school, doing many trips for the UofM Atmospheric Electricity research program as an intern. At the age of 17, I made several trips for the UofM to Cape Kennedy during Apollo 12 and 13 to launch instrumented balloons, because Prof. Olson had to teach and could not go. I was among the first to suggest to frightened NASA metrological officials what caused the Saturn V to be hit by lighting during launch which nearly caused an abort of the fully fueled rocket a few hundred feet off the pad. The “Field Mills” we installed at the Cape at that time were later adopted by NASA as one of the principal methods for lighting prediction, and newer commercial versions are still in use to this day. Besides these adventures to KSC, I was asked to fly our instrumented ballon packages during the solar eclipse of March 1970 from Nantucket island, and also during the largest non-nuclear explosion that was staged in Medicine Hat in July.
Computers & Networking
After seeing how important computers were for data acquisition at Cape Kennedy, helping move in a cool CDC 3200 computer at the UofM Duluth, and seeing the movie 2001, I became interested in computers as tools for science and telecommunication. I started by building a home made computer from discrete TTL chips, then early LSI microprocessors, and later developed 50 single board computer kits with a college roommate, before Apple. I used some of these to build a computer terminal for the blind, control a mass spectrometer for Lunar sample analysis, demonstrate new local area networking technology, and build an I/O interface for a supercomputer of the day. Others at the University used them to control experiments ranging from a cauterizing scalpel to space shuttle ground support, or just as a personal computer running a hacked version of MS Basic for the Altair.
I was enthusiastic about the AT&T Picturephone…. It helped shape my interest in computer networking as a tool for human collaboration, and view that the Internet should be a vehicle for it… details here.