When Neil Armstrong took one small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind on the moon in 1969, he did so with the help of many people. They were the thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians who helped to make the Apollo moon-landing program a national triumph. Those individuals included NJIT alumnus Stanley Barauskas, of Diamond Bar, CA, who recently received one of six NJIT Alumni Awards.Barauskas, fascinated by space travel as he grew up in Jersey City, avidly read science fiction and watched TV “space operas” like Tom Corbett Space Cadet and Rocky Jones Space Ranger. In elementary school, he recalls, “I wrote an essay about how I wanted to become a chemist and work on fuel for rockets.”
Space flight was much more than grist for imaginative entertainment when Barauskas enrolled at NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering. U.S. technological complacency had been shaken by the Soviet Union’s launch of the first artificial satellite and its development of nuclear-armed missiles. In 1961, the year that Barauskas graduated, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth, followed in catch-up mode by Alan Shephard’s sub-orbital flight.
These events — and President John F. Kennedy’s inspiring commitment to surpass the Russians by landing humans on the moon — gave Barauskas the opportunity for a fulfilling aerospace career. But it’s a career that actually began by chance. At NCE, Barauskas earned a degree in mechanical engineering, a discipline he found more appealing than chemistry. Upon graduation, he considered jobs in various fields, not necessarily one related to space.
Fortuitously, Barauskas saw a newspaper ad placed by General Dynamics, a major aerospace contractor. The ad led to his working on the first U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile, the Atlas. Moving to California and eventually to employment with North American Aviation, Barauskas was responsible for the installation and operational certification of the attitude-control rocket engines critical to guiding the Apollo service and command modules to the moon. After the moon program ended in the early 1970s, he contributed his expertise to the Skylab missions and the symbolically significant linkup of U.S. Apollo and Russian Soyuz spacecraft in Earth orbit.
Next, with Space Shuttle contractor Rockwell International, Barauskas worked on the system that powered hydraulic operation of the main engine valves upon takeoff and flight control when the Shuttle descended through the atmosphere to land. He was involved with this aspect of Shuttle technology until the recent final mission of the program.
As a Manned Flight Awareness Honoree, Barauskas has been accorded NASA’s highest tribute to professional abilities that support the human presence in space. He has also received two Astronaut Achievement Awards, presented to individuals personally selected by those who have flown in space for contributions to mission safety and success.
Barauskas acknowledges the considerable economic challenges of manned space flight, and that private-sector companies may be able to take over transporting humans to the International Space Station at acceptable cost. Robotic craft also have their place in exploring the depths of space.
“But only humans have the resourcefulness to react to the unexpected in ways that exploration really requires, as well as the intelligence and imagination that lead to important discoveries,” he says.
When it comes to the cost of returning humans to the moon and traveling on to the asteroids and Mars, Barauskas asserts that the worth of such journeys should not be judged by short-term profit. He is sure that the knowledge gained would ultimately yield invaluable dividends for all of humanity.