Adena native remembers his part in Columbia flight

HONOR — Neal Mullins, left, vice president of technical support at Rockwell Space Division, recognizes Adena native Eugene Yakubowski. It was 40 years ago in April that Yakubowski opened the hatch for the astronauts after the Columbia shuttle landed. -- Contributed

ADENA — April 15 marked the 40th anniversary of the initial flight and successful landing of the space shuttle Columbia, the first reusable spacecraft. When the Columbia landed in the Mojave Desert, Adena native Eugene Yakubowski played a part in aeronautic history, as the senior space vehicle test mechanic at the Kennedy Space Center was chosen to open the shuttle’s hatch and greet the returning astronauts.

Yakubowski was presented NASA’s Silver “Snoopy” award for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to manned space flight programs.

Now residing in Titusville, Fla., with wife Shirley, Yakubowski remembers the days leading up to the flight and his role in opening the hatch to allow astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen to emerge.

“It’s a great accomplishment. I was chosen with another technician to open the hatch. Prior to the launch I flew to Houston with some engineers and we did a validated emergency egress procedure in case something happened at the pad, because that was the only vehicle that had ejection seats, and they were no more after that first flight. But we went out to California and took all our gear out there and validated it, because we didn’t know how much fuel would be left in the vehicle. We had to off-load it in order to make sure that the 747 could ferry it back.”

He recalled seeing the shuttle prepared for launch.

“It was a big structural thing where it had two cranes and all these different level platforms,” he said. “They raise the platforms, bring in the shuttle and position it, bring in the 747 and we would mate it to the 747 for a ferry flight back.”

Yakubowski was among those making certain the shuttle launch was flawless.

“We also used escape suits, rubberized, pressurized suits to service the different rockets on the vehicles. Some of them were deadly hyperbolic fuels that could kill you if you got a breath of it. We were trained to use the suits. We would suit up in a trailer off the pad. They would check our OIS and ferry us to the base of the pad. We’d get to whatever level we were leaving a guy on and take over fueling the vehicle,” he said.

“I worked on the aft (near the tail) on most of the systems. There was the hydraulics, pneumatics, most of the systems were in the aft section, plus the three main engines,” he said.

Yakubowski also remembers when the astronauts presented him and his fellow technicians with their Silver Snoopys.

However, Yakubowski said being part of the Columbia flight was not his proudest moment.

“I think my greatest accomplishment was during the Apollo program. Working on Apollo 11, the flight hardware that went to the moon and back. In the operations checkup building where I worked was a clean room,” he said. “It had two big altitude chambers. Once we received the command service module it was installed in the chamber and then all the ground support equipment was hooked up to it externally and internally in the chamber and then we did all the systems checks, and then after all that was done, they installed the lid and we did an unmanned altitude run. What they do is pull the chamber, but the back is a vacuum on that chamber to simulate outer space, and then engineering from the control room would power up all the systems and verify that they’re A-OK for flight, then repressurize it, then we’d do a manned one with three astronauts.”

Yakubowski also participated in the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 when the Apollo module docked with a Soviet probe.

“I think Apollo 11 where we were the first to put men on the surface of the moon was my greatest feat. Of course, opening the hatch on one of the first shuttles was also one of my great feats during my career,” he said.

“I graduated from Adena in 1956 and I went into the Navy and I got into the aviation branch of the Navy stationed at Pensacola, Fla., for three years, and there worked on the flight line prepping aircraft for flight and it was a training center for new pilots and foreign pilots,” he said.

After being discharged from the Navy, he worked for North American Aviation in Columbus starting in 1961.

“They were looking for people to come to Florida to transfer onto the Apollo program, so I put in a transfer slip and my manager OK’d it,” he said. “I feel it was a great career and most of it was my training around aircraft and different fuels.”


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