COLUMBIA CITY — Many people who’ve lived through the last several decades can say they have witnessed events that have shaped the world. However, Bruce Stach, of Columbia City, can say he’s not only seen those events, but he is partially responsible for some.
Stach’s career began as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force in 1963. He is both a mathematician and a physicist, and in 1964, he was one of the 128 USAF officers commissioned to work for NASA at what is now known as the Johnson Spacecraft Center in Houston.
Stach worked as a guidance and propulsion engineer on the Gemini project. Gemini was NASA’s first two-astronaut mission — its goal was to practice skills needed to prepare for the moon landing. Practice was needed docking the shuttle, propulsion had to be tested and extravehicular activities had to be reviewed.
When NASA was ready for the Apollo mission, which successfully landed on the moon, Stach worked on navigation and controls the lunar module, and as a mission flight planner. Stach worked on the space shuttle program at NASA from 1972-75.
Stach’s Air Force career continued with the National Reconnaissance Office during the Cold War. Though much of Stach’s experiences were covert at the time, some have been officially declassified.
One such mission was GAMBIT, a photo-taking spy mission. On May 1, 1960, American spy Francis Gary Powers’s plane was shot down in the Soviet Union while taking pictures of some of its top-secret military locations.
Though Powers survived, America was caught spying and tensions deepened between the Soviet Union and America.
President Eisenhower decided this spying method was too dangerous and the NRO was developed. The NRO took top-secret pictures from satellites in space and then sent the film back in an refrigerator-sized canister with a parachute.
Stach managed the development of the film re-entry vehicle for these missions, which ended with a plane catching the parachuting film capsule at 30,000 feet in the air over the Pacific Ocean.
Stach is currently the Program Manager for the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation-Small Business and Entrepreneurship Program, which helps area businesses get started. He also occasionally gives presentations about his contributions to history.
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