I'm John Pursley...
I'm one of the "old guys" born right at the dawn of the space age...barely a year before Sputnik. Yes, I can remember things like John Glenn's first flight, the Gemini Program, and manically watching (and recording on audio tape) every minute that I could of the coverage of the moon landings of Apollo. These are the years I most fondly remember and constituted the wild-growth years of model rocketry which coincided with the heyday of the Apollo years.
I got my start in 1963. My first model rocket was an Estes Scout purchased with a dollar (which bought the kit AND the motor!) that I had earned working at a produce stand of a childhood friend (well, it was his mom's produce stand) during summer vacation at the "wilderness" of southwest Houston.
Most of my school years saw me accompanied by the ever-present Estes catalog, a sketch pad full of designs, and various publications like Model Rocketry magazine, Model Rocket News, and the Handbook of Model Rocketry. I remember getting a couple of my science teachers in intermediate and high school hooked on model rocketry.
Then, in the late '60's, I discovered motorcycles and the art of racing...
Fortunately, model rocketry and model building were not shelved passions during my racing years (which spanned from '68 to '93...too long for any sensible person). Frequently, if I knew a racetrack was located near a good flying field, my rockets went with me on my weekend jousts on the two-wheeled battlefield.
During my motorcycle years I managed to nurture a serious interest in scale model rocketry and won my first scale model rocket event in 1970 with a scratch-built Soviet Vostok (built using G. Harry Stine's data in 'Model Rocketry' magazine...the news clip at left appeared in either the Houston Chronicle or the Houston Post...time blurs such things when you get old like me...).
In 1977 it was only chance that early one Sunday morning while I was driving along NASA 1 and across the Armand Bayou/Clear Lake bridge to pick up racing buddy who lived in a community adjacent to JSC that I saw through the fog what I first thought was an "ocean liner" that had somehow become lost moving unusually close to the shoreline. That "ocean liner" turned out to be one of the large barges used to transport the stages of the Saturn V and I was witnessing the arrival of the first of the stages at JSC. I made it a point to be onsite for the arrival or movement of several other Saturn components which paid off big for me many years later.
I was one of the founders of the NASA/Houston Section of the NAR (which survives today as the NASA-Houston Rocket Club) way back in 1976 along with Don Carlson, Rob Justis, Frank Bittinger, Ron Goforth (the first NASA/Houston President) and others. Frank Bittinger was the ever-present NASA-employee-type that I remember was a fountain of news about NASA's trials and tribulations. I still see Frank from time to time at rocket meets. Rob Justis was the contest director for NARAM 21 in 1969. Ron served his sentence in the hobby as the NAR's National and World Records chairman in the 1980-1982 timeframe (a position I filled after him in 1982-83) as well as the contest director for NARAM 25 in 1983.
I began a stint as editor of American Spacemodeling (it changed name from "The Model Rocketeer" with my first issue...though I had nothing to do with the name change) beginning in 1984 and continuing to the early '90's. It was during my tenure that full color and glossy paper became the standards of the magazine. I (foolishly) handled just about everything from graphics, layout, writing, bookkeeping, ad management and sales, hobby shop distribution...I even did the "lick-and-stick" of address labels, sorted, bagged, and delivered to the post office...all from my living room and garage. I was also a member of the NAR Board of Trustees along with my wife (Connie Pursley) during 1984-1992. I would have to say that I am probably NOT fondly remembered by some of my fellow Board members...that's a story for another time (if ever).
Soon after the loss of the shuttle Challenger in 1986 some of the rocketry types in my area and I had begun to get together to fly rockets (by now I was living on the west side of Houston). In 1988 my wife (Connie), Terry White (long-time NAR Southwest Regional Contest Director), and myself formed the Challenger 498 rocket club which remained active off and on until 2003. Between 1988 and 2003 Terry White and I (along with others such as Dan Stuettgen) competed in NAR competition on behalf of Challenger 498. Most of the "members" of Challenger were Compaq employees we sort of wound down when HP "merged" with Compaq and we subsequently found other sources of employment. We let the NAR Charter lapse. I discovered soon thereafter that Challenger 498 was "picked up" by another group of modelers a few miles away and Challenger 498 continued until 2010 and it's NAR charter faded.
In the 1990's I had much more time to devote to model building. Scale models, Sci-fi models, and boost/rocket gliders are my passions with NAR Scale and Sport Scale competition being the focus of most of my attention. Though the Saturn V and Soviet vehicles are really my forte it has been with the Mercury Redstone that I have made my mark in NAR competition wining Team Sport Scale at the NAR Nationals with various incarnations of the Gus Grissom's ride (Liberty Bell 7) in 1998, 2000, and 2002. There has also been a Saturn V and a Vanguard in there, too. My 2000 Mercury Redstone went on to win, out of about 600 entries, Best Spacecraft, Best "Other" and Best-of-Show at the Annual IPMS show in Austin that year (IPMS is a "plastic/static" model organization). I've been told this is the first and only flying model rocket of any kind to take such honors at an IPMS show.
My career has taken a variety of strange twists and turns, all of the interesting and enjoyable and all leading to bigger and better things which somehow went full-circle from a childhood rocketry hobby, through 15 years in motorcycles and the motorcycle industry (as a racer and Yamaha service manager), through almost 13 years self-employed running a graphic arts company (and computer support to the graphics industry), 7 years with HP/Compaq, and then 2003-2005 being affiliated with the conservation efforts for the Saturn V vehicles at Johnson Space Center in Houston and the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL.
It was my involvement in model rocketry and my specific interest in the Apollo program and the Saturn V that led from my building Saturn V models in the 1960's to also building models and working on the real thing the past few years.
My "career" with Compaq was terminated somewhat suddenly in July 2003 after its acquisition by HP (such is big business...). I decided to lick my wounds and take an extended vacation. It was on that vacation and over a thousand miles from home that I heard from someone in the hobby that I had been referred to Conservation Solutions Inc (CSI) as a model builder. They were searching for someone to build a large Saturn V model to assist in their bid to do the conservation work on the Saturn V at Johnson Space Center. When I returned home I contacted CSI and was soon contracted to build two 1:72 scale Saturn V models. In the course of a few e-mail exchanges with Joe Sembrat (CSI President) he became aware that I new a bit more about the Saturn than just building models. I soon sent him a DVD full of photos that I had taken on an ongoing basis of the JSC Saturn since its arrival in 1977. That led to more questions and, discovering I had CAD abilities and a bit of knowledge about how the Saturn was built I was hired to do a series of 3D and 2D drawings that would be used for documenting the vehicle. In early 2004 I was asked to meet with Mr. Sembrat and some of the folks that would be working onsite on the Saturn and that led to me becoming "consultant" (my official title) and part of the assessment crew that would crawl under, over, and in the vehicle to document its condition, inside and out from tip to tail.
In early 2005 CSI landed the contract to do the conservation on the Saturn V at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. I spent several weeks, a couple of highway trips, and several air trips shuttling from JSC in Houston to working onsite at USSRC doing, for several weeks, the same thing I was doing on the JSC Saturn...crawling under, over, and in the various components of the grand-daddy of Saturn V vehicles.
The highlight of my association with the USSRC conservation project was a few months after I had more or less completed my work there that I got to return to do a presentation on the CSI conservation work as part of the annual Apollo Reunion at USSRC and shared the stage with Wally Shirra (after stumbling and nearly depositing myself in his lap as I took the stage).
The History Channel began work in 2004 on a documentary on the JSC conservation project as a part of their "Save Our History" series. The segment eventually was called "Apollo: The Race Against Time." I sort of became the "Saturn V guy" to the History Channel folks while they were onsite at JSC. As the months passed I provided some technical information and unwittingly got my "15 minutes of fame" during the show. I was surprised to see that I got a couple of end credits for contributing to the show including one as cameraman (a few chunks of video that I shot with my trusty Handycam escaped the cutting room floor and were presented and credited to CSI and the Smithsonian). Ironically, "Apollo: Race Against Time" aired at precisely the day and the very hour that I was doing the presentation at USSRC and I didn't get to see it until about six weeks later when the History Channel folks sent me a tape of the show.
I left the conservation projects in October 2005. But my "Saturn" career hasn't ended and has taken yet another couple of twists. Over several months in the 2005-2007 time frame I traveled and collected even more Saturn V info (in fact, I probably collected over twice as much data in the six months after leaving the project as I had collected in the previous 35 years). I've begun work on the latest of many Saturn V models that I hope will be my "ultimate." And, looping back on my career track a bit, I again became involved in the computer business as a Network Administrator.
Another tidbit concerning my tenure with CSI is that I got to work on doing some conservation work on a big section of the Titanic that had been retrieved from the bottom of the Atlantic a couple of years before. We had moved the CM and LES to a warehouse near Houston Hobby airport to perform the conservation work on them there. CSI had earlier moved the Titanic piece to that location (I still don't know why the Titanic piece ended up in Houston, of all places). I spent many days disassembling the CM with the "Titanic" literally only eight or ten feet away. I admit that I was rather indifferent to it (other than my passing interest in the Titanic history) but when I was asked to work on the piece it suddenly became "magic." I would be terribly neglectful not to thank Joe Sembrat for the CSI experience...and some wonderful folks like Patty Miller (an even bigger NASCAR nut than me), Jee Skavdahl, and Jerry Pullin that I got to work with on an extended basis.
So, that's my story as far as my hobby and related careers go. I hope you find something of interest (or perhaps inspiration) at this site and hopefully you will return to it many times in the future.
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I joined the NAR in 1976. Most of my rocket-flying buddies and schoolmates moved on to other hobbies once high-school was behind us. But I was addicted to scale modeling and always had some kind of scale model rocket under construction and was building up a fair collection of built-but-unflown scale models. Don Carlson, editor of "The Model Rocketeer" soon contacted me (he lived in Houston at the time) and I became involved to a minor degree in the "inner workings" of the NAR. Other NAR members began contacting me and I discovered a whole "different" world of model rocketry that I had only caught a glimpse of in being an Apollo/NASA "groupie (Apollo/NASA was a rocket club that flew at the Manned Spaceflight Center just a few miles from where I lived...they sprang onto the scene in the late 60's, dominated as a NAR club for a couple of years and hosted the National Championships in 1970, and promptly vashished by 1973).
I teamed with Rob Justis in NAR competition and assisted him in the construction of his 1980 Internats scale Saturn V. My exposure to Rob's Internats model led me to a position on the 1983 US Internats Team (spending a couple of weeks in Europe that I will never forget).
By 1977, NASA/Houston was very actively working with other NAR clubs in Texas. Somehow the word got out about my scale modeling and I was judging the Scale events at contests such as TOILIT BOWL (no kidding!). I got REALLY hooked on boost gliders (though I had developed an interest and skills in that aspect of the hobby by building three or four (!) Astron Spaceplanes in Intermediate and High School and falling in love with the "Bumble Bee" which appeared as a plan in Model Rocketry Magazine.
Today (2011) my enthusiasm for rocketry as it was exercised by in the 1960's and 1970's has "exploded." As you can see from the rest of my web site I have begun turning my "Clock of Memories" back thirty or forty years. I have recently built my last remaing '60's vintage Astron Spaceplane and have a vintage Mars Snooper and Interceptor (the original with injection nose-cone and wooden antenna's on the fins). Hopefully, I will soon be back on track with my scale modeling and getting ready to again compete at the local, regional, and national levels of NAR competition.
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