Thursday, 17 November 2011

NASA Moon rocks

We recovered a Porsche from South Wales that belonged to Al Burlingame, who I believe was a resident geologist with NASA around the time of the Apollo moon programme.
Al Burlingame had a bright metallic blue Porsche 911E 2.2 litre Targa, which had broken down in South Wales.  I was sent off to collect it, driving Chris Maltin’s 1969 Porsche 911T, YOU 4, which had a tow bar to which I hooked up our trailer to transport Al’s car on.
Chris had fitted DS11 brake pads to his road car, which were a racing compound. When you tried to stop his Porsche 911 from cold, the brakes hardly worked, so you needed to make sure they were well warmed up and kept warm if you wanted to stop. I arrive in Wales duly found and loaded Al’s car on the trailer and drove back down the M4 towards Maidenhead.
On the way back into Berkshire, I came down the long hill into Henley on Thames and went past a police Morris 1000 Panda car that was parked up in a lay-by. I hit the brakes as soon as I saw the police car but the brakes were cold and it took quite a time for them to slow me down and stop, so I went past the parked police car above the speed limit, a Porsche 911 towing a trailer with another one loaded on it! I watched in my interior mirror and the police car had commenced pursuit so I pulled into the next lay-by and stopped. The policeman came up to me and said, “Sir, did you know you were speeding entering the 30 M.P.H. limit”? I told him that the brakes had gone very hard, although they were still working but they were safe as I was a Porsche mechanic and I would check the brakes over once I was back at Hawthorn Hill. He accepted my explanation and told me to take it easy and I drove off with him following me for a while through Henley.
When Al Burlingame came to collect his car from the farm, I told him the capacitor discharge ignition box had failed which was a simple thing to replace. We got chatting about his work and he said, “NASA are having problems cutting up the moon rocks” they had brought back from the moon. Opening the from hood and taking some of these out of his car, he let me hold these rocks and it was quite something actually having these samples in my hands!
It was the height of the Cold War but behind the scenes the American scientific communities were working with the Russians on this and a number of other problems. I mentioned this to Chris and he took Al off to his office and Al called NASA on the telephone. The next day Chris had told me that NASA were very interested in licensing the rights to one of his machine cutting tools he had designed some years earlier for a tube manufacturing company in Maidenhead.
Chris had explained his cutting tool design to me sometime earlier and this was so revolutionary and simple that I could see instantly that it would do the job for NASA if anyone could. Normal cutting blades are circular with teeth cut around the perimeter of the disc. However these allow all the forces from the cutting teeth to project radially inwards to the centre-mounting shaft, increasing the load, which is not what you ideally want. Chris had designed his cutting tool originally to cut silicone tubes and the tool was mounted externally on the perimeter and the cutting teeth inside a hole at the centre. This allowed all radial forces to work outwards and work in your favour whilst cutting hence you had a much more efficient system.
I am sure Chris made a small fortune out of this but he declined to say much more about it as time went on and to this day I do not really how matters turned out. 

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