Grandfather Chuck - NASA's JPL First Satellites and more

Charles William Watson (born 13 March 1918)

Studied electrical engineering at Oregon State and then at University of Pittsburg Dec 20 1940 appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers Reserve while at Oregon State

Jan 27 1942 called to active duty; sent to Signal Corps for orientation, Harvard for Electronics, then the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T. where he studied radar; then back to Signal Corps specializing in airborne radar. I think somewhere I saw a doc that he was also sent to Princeton.

From December 42 was promoted to Captain then to Major, but his military record is blank until his discharge from active duty in 1946. He was given clearance for “access to secret & confidential crypto systems and devices of the U.S. Army”.


Called up again for the Korean War.

During the time from his marriage to my mother until we left for the Bay Area in 1957 post-Sputnik he was in and out of the Air Force in various capacities and at one time had an office in the Pentagon. He also had an office at Andrews Air Force base. Upon launch of Sputnik he was sent to Moffett Field Naval Air Force Base in Mountain View, Ca to work on U.S. satellite project.

The first was the Explorer series; he travelled a lot, to Cape Canaveral I think, and down to JPL. His field was telemetry. He then worked for Lockheed at the Satellite Testing and Command Center at Moffett field on the Discoverer program, known as the Corona program. He travelled often to Vanderberg Air Force base where the satellites were launched (I went with him once) and to Hawaii where they had one of their tracking stations and where they would capture the satellite upon re-entry. See Wikipedia for details of Corona.

The satellite program was a joint Air Force/C.I.A. project. It was contracted to Lockheed, then that division was separated and became Aerospace Corporation.

He built our house in Los Altos Hills, with my brother Van helping him. It is still there.

He took early retirement and moved to Hawaii in 1970.