Spaceman Dave

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The space kid Dave used to build 1950's Flash Gordon-style rocket ships out of junk in the back yard when he was about five years old, setting fire to wadded-up newspaper inside their "rocket engines" to send him, his sister, and his neighborhood friends soaring among the planets. Well, his patent-attorney father put a stop to these dangerous eyesores by building a 14-foot tall, silver-painted plywood rocket ship that Dave and crew could use to "really" fly to the Moon and planets. This picture of six-year-old space helmeted Dave in Teaneck New Jersey appeared in the New York World Telegram   in 1953. The screeching of brakes was a frequent sound as motorists would stop short for a glimpse.

Things haven't changed much for big-kid Dave. He considered it fortunate to be working on the NASA Voyager Project during its flight from Saturn to the more distant gas giant planets, when he and his partner Donald Whiting The big space kid started Space Craft International in 1987. Dave was always giving public talks about Voyager's mission, eager to tell about Voyager and its discoveries in the outer solar system. He was making models of the Voyager spacecraft out of copper and brass to give to friends and family, when he discovered a good way to mass produce them so that thousands more people could enjoy them. Until then, the only available models of Voyager and other interplanetary spacecraft were made by professional model shops. They cost more than several hundred dollars each, and normally could only be found in the NASA offices and hallways.

Since interplanetary spacecraft have to be designed to be lightweight to begin with, Dave realized that paper card stock could be used to mimic their structures. He first tried die-cut versions, but the steel knives that do the die-cutting could not make satisfactorily intricate cuts, and they would jam when they tried to cut sections out of the paper. Laser cutting was the answer, a new technology at the time. Together with lithography and metal foil bonding, laser cutting achieved the needed level of detail and accuracy. The mass-produced intereplanetary spacecraft model kit had arrived!

Dave researches and designs each SCIENCE KIT, and manages SCI's operation. He has been a columnist in The Planetary Society's magazine, The Planetary Report,   and his articles appear once in a while in Sky & Telescope Magazine and other publications. Check out his latest online tutorial, The Basics of Space Flight.

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