Retirement speech by John Raymont

John Raymont joined University College London (UCL) in September 1960 as a technician and retired at the end of March 2004 as Experimental Officer. He spent essentially all his career working at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), which was originally part of the Physics Department, and later became the UCL's Department of Space and Climate Physics. The Laboratory gathered to celebrate John's career on 16 July 2004 (click here for a few snapshots), and on that occasion John gave the speech transcripted below. This has been expanded with more memories and images to record some of the events in the history of MSSL (follow the links below).

The speech

I would like to thank you all for coming here today (and a special welcome to my retired friends, who may not like to remember the actual number of years they have known me). Many thanks to Keith [Mason] for making today's occasion possible and for his kind words. I know that Libby, Madeleine and Margaret and many others have been heavily involved. My very special thanks to everybody who have put in such a lot of effort.

I would like to briefly recall some of my time and experiences at MSSL.

I am proud of the work I did in testing space experiments for many years, from those which flew on many sounding rockets in the 60s, to more than 10 satellite missions through to the 90s.

I have great memories of the work, of the many places it took me to, and of colleagues and friends. Lately I turned to more in-house testing and calibrations, and as part of this, I was closely involved with the Leybold vacuum chamber for many years.

I started at UCL Gower Street in September 1960.

It was Department of Physics, I worked as a technician to a PhD student wiring up valve circuits, making mechanical pieces, etc., and building these into some strange experiment in a cage, almost the size of a room, and my weekly take home pay was ~ 4 pounds.

In the Physics Department was a group, called the 'Rocket Group' and a friend of mine was a technician in this group. He was leaving and I decided to ask Dr Boyd [the Head of the Group] if I could be considered as the replacement. 'On trial' was the answer and I started in September 1961 in the electronics workshop. I never received formal confirmation that my 'trial' period was completed. I built electronic units for sounding rockets and worked on spare parts for UK1. First big step was to lay-out and wire a rocket payload for a recently graduated PhD student (Alex Boksenberg).

Immediately after this wiring task Alex said I should do the testing, my first ever testing !!!! Testing in UCL was followed by day trips to RAE Farnborough for testing on the whole payload (we were the only instrument) and then much to my surprise Alex said that I should go to Woomera, Australia, for the launch.

The return flights were every 2 weeks and my stay was for 6 weeks. There was no freedom or choice in how you flew, it was London to Adelaide on a Government charter flight. I had never been on a plane before and a 3 day propeller plane flight to Adelaide was quite an experience. Work was done in Adelaide and then weekly flights to Woomera for the launch. The flight was successful and Alex got his data.

I came back to UCL and did very much the same sort of activities and then we moved to MSSL.

This was quite a decision as my family home was in Hertfordshire. I decided to try and, as you can see, I stayed.

The move to MSSL (Sept./Oct. 1965) brings back such strange memories. I think it was about 12 of us who first moved (some are here today). I think we had 2 telephones in the corridor, plus a TELEX machine. NO computers, NO photocopier, NO E-Mail. We eventually got a photocopier, it was single sheet and very cumbersome to use.

The group started expanding after approx. 1 year and the workshops and design offices moved down to MSSL.

Work continued in various styles, the new association with ESRO (now ESA) and visits to contractors in many European cities, some pleasant, others not so. Travelling (yes, even with its complaints about rates) was a large part of the job. Over the years I was happy to be going to so many countries, seeing them, working and then going home (Australia, Europe, the Arctic Circle, Kenya, the U. S., French Guyana are some examples I remember).

The pleasures and problems of rocket/satellite integration after the sometimes years of building and testing at MSSL were challenging, but they were good. Many events stick in my mind, but my 'first' rocket launch was an experience, the shear noise, mixed with the emotion of your 'first' launch, then on to a satellite launch, quite different but still a huge experience. One unique pleasure was to do MSSL's first 'post-flight' de-integration, of the Spacelab 1 instrument after a 10 day mission in space. The mission, 10 days work on 12-14 hours shift team duty at the Houston Mission Control Centre, itself was something special. Naturally another hugely exciting experience was the Giotto mission and the encounter with Comet Halley.

One of the saddest moments was the loss of Cluster. So many people, so many hours of work and dedication. And, somehow, the decision was taken, build again, and so we did, and Cluster 2 is up there, now with Double Star.

In conclusion, I must say that MSSL has been a fantastic place for me to work. I have always appreciated the location, the opportunities it offers and the spirit that drives the work we can do so well. I thank those of you who worked with me for the help they gave, the discussions we had and the (often long) hours spent together to ensure that what works on the ground works in space as well, and that we can eventually make sense of the data we get from space. Sometimes I have thought that the changes that have been imposed on MSSL have not always been for the best, but I understand we cannot still function as yester-year. I am sure it has been more difficult for some people than for me.

So, I come to the end.

With best wishes to you all, and to the Laboratory for its continuing success.