Jim Meyer had plans to become a Professional Baseball player someday. He once hit four home runs at the age of 16 on Bosse Field, where Madonna filmed “Field of Dreams.” His league won many playoff games, entering them into the World Series. Being the lead hitter sparked this career dream, but his family recommended he pursue something else.
Jim attended the University of Evansville to study Engineering. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, getting my degree,” Jim says. He kept himself occupied with a difficult degree and joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Indiana Epsilon chapter, where he enjoyed their lawn parties and dancing to the live band. Jim expanded on his membership by upholding rush chairman twice and president. Something he didn’t realize at the time was that their first-ever SAE sweetheart was going to become his wife someday.
A few months upon graduation, Jim came across an ad in their union blog that mentioned a NASA personnel manager was coming to interview engineers to work on the Apollo Program. Once Jim met with them, he was encouraged to apply and got accepted to Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) and Kennedy Space Center (KSC). He secured his job with MSC outside of Houston, Texas, and spent the next year and a half there as a Design Engineer.
He designed seats for Jim Irvin (Apollo 15 LM plot) to use while certifying the Lunar Module. Irvin was the first astronaut he had met. He also designed a Command Module and LM mockup for underwater training, which made the cover of Aviation Week.
In 1968, he transferred to KSC because of an opening in the Spacecraft Operations Office. This was just in time for his first launch, Apollo 7. He arrived in March of that year, and his boss took him under his wing to learn about their contractors and functions. He also took courses on their hardware and met extraordinary operation and engineering folks. He was only 24 at the time.
“The thing that impressed me most was how dedicated everyone was and how great of a job they did!”
Jim ended up with 165 missions consisting of every launch NASA had for 37 years, except the Shuttle. Jim had 35 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, one in Kodiak, Alaska, and two out of Wallops. The rest were from Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center.
A lot of fun, memorable experiences came out of his NASA journey. He got to be a part of a test conductor when backup was needed. He escorted Neil Armstrong to the CM once and even gave Jim and Marilyn Lovell a tour of the CM. His boss volunteered him to be an astronaut subject for the White Room closeout crew, and they played many beer softball games with Apollo astronauts.
Jim retired in 2003, after the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers Missions to Mars, as the Lead Launch Operations Manager. It was time for him and his family to settle down. “I still enjoy following all the launches and enjoy watching them from my front yard in Cape Canaveral,” he says. “I always tell folks that I traded the “fire breathing birds for the ones that go tweet, tweet” since I’ve gotten into bird watching.”
He has a book in the works that has stemmed from his bird-watching habit. It will cover details of his life, from his college days in Evansville, his start at the Manned Spacecraft Center, to his days at the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape.
His 1969 “Gray Ray” corvette has been a big part of him and reflects greatly on his career path. He had to wait six months for it since Jim Rathman Dealership was leasing them to the Apollo astronauts and taking a lot of the allocation. He drove it out of the Indian River Dealership three months before launching the Apollo 11 Mission to the Moon. Since he called his hot ride “Gray Ray” for its 30th anniversary, he got a license plate with the name on it. For its 50th anniversary, he drove it out to the Cape and KSC and visited everywhere he had worked there in those 35 years.
Great story. I can understand the part where he said, “the hardest thing I’d ever done was getting my degree.” I’m still finishing up undergraduate school here at Mississippi Gamma and I’ll say with sincerity and sympathy that it has been a journey.