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Race to Space

The race to develop reliable rocket boosters was part of the race to space, and Lynch saw pioneer astronauts such as Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Alan Shepherd and others every day.

From rocket boosters to test reactors, Jon Lynch has seen the glamorous and often exhausting sides of several major national projects in more than 40 years with federal contractors.

Persistence, determination the formula to a long career

by Jason Bohne, The Star

(This article is reprinted from the lab publication LMITCO Star of August 1998.)

A hitchhike from Michigan to California for a summer job turned into a long career journey for Jon Lynch.

Now a project engineer at Test Area North, Lynch has worked for federal contractors for over 40 years, including almost 30 at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

His career includes work in the space program at Cape Canaveral, Fla., during the race to space ,and key roles in designing the Loss of Fluid Test reactor and coordinating the spent fuel consolidation program. But it all started with a cross-country hitchhike.

In 1957, Lynch had just completed his first year at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich. His brother worked for Aerojet in Sacramento and arranged a summer job for him, so Lynch hitchhiked his way to California.

After returning to Eastern Michigan for his second year of college, he was hired by Aerojet to work in the General Liquid Rocket program, so he left school and moved permanently to California.

Race to space
The work there was hectic as Aerojet raced to design a reliable rocket booster that could fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and space launches. Data from tests in Florida were shipped to Sacramento for processing, and Lynch worked the night shift reducing telemetry tapes into graphs and tables for the engineers.

Before long, his hard work was recognized and Lynch was offered a position at Cape Canaveral.

“I had many good mentors,” he said. “Plus, I wanted to learn, and I did.”

“It didn’t seem fair to get sent to Canaveral so soon, because others had been there [at Aerojet in Sacramento] longer than I had,” Lynch said. “But they liked my work.”

“They said, ‘you’re the one we want, so make up your mind.’ The next day, I told them I’d go.”

He left the night shift sorting through masses of paper for a new position checking Titan rocket engines before launches. Lynch worked on the Titan I, Titan II, Titan II Gemini and Titan III missions. He also got an office that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.

“It was quite a change,” he said.

The race to develop reliable rocket boosters was part of the race to space, and Lynch saw pioneer astronauts such as Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Alan Shepherd and others every day.

The job at Canaveral was glamorous, he said, and very exciting. It was also exhausting, as he sometimes worked 24 hours a day, and stressful.

“We had panics there that were really panics,” he said, laughing.

Besides several spectacular explosions over the ocean during early testing, Lynch was there to witness the success of the Titan rocket boosters and the space program in general.

Lynch’s time at Canaveral came to an abrupt end shortly after Americans set foot on the moon. With the race to space won, massive layoffs in the space program left Lynch without work.

Fortunately, Aerojet wanted to keep him with the company, so he was sent to Idaho’s National Reactor Testing Station, the predecessor to the INEEL.

In close to 30 years at the Site, Lynch has worked on several very important projects, but he treats every job as important.

“When Jon’s on a project, it’s the most important project here,” said Kevin Streeper, Lynch’s manager. “Because he’ll nag you until it’s done.”

LOFTy goals
His tenacity to complete a project was evident when funding restrictions threatened construction of the Loss of Fluid Test reactor. The tightened budget meant the Site couldn’t afford to machine all new parts for the reactor, so Lynch began searching.

“It was either scrounge the entire country for equipment or scrap the project,” he said.

Project managers gave Lynch the long lists of what they needed, and he scoured stacks of paper and made countless telephone calls searching for equipment.

“It was fun, in a way,” he said. “It was also a lot of work – all day on the phone.”

To find parts, Lynch traveled around the country, including to the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., to get equipment from the nuclear ship Savannah. Some parts even arrived from the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam.

In all, Lynch’s efforts saved the project millions of dollars. But he shrugs it off as part of the dedicated effort by all those involved who made LOFT happen.

“We just made it work,” he said.

He said he is proud of the success of the LOFT program and its critical role in nuclear safety.

LOFT also presented Lynch his most challenging assignment during his years with the Site – assembling the 25-foot -long LOFT fuel assemblies.

“It was very tedious, very unique work,” he said.

Lynch stayed involved with LOFT after its completion and continued to deal with spent fuel.

He was heavily involved in the dry rod consolidation program that proved to reduce dry storage by half. He was involved from the conceptual design through the cold testing and mock-up fuel assemblies before funding ran out and the project was scrapped.

The work wasn’t wasted though, as British Nuclear Fuels visited with Lynch and a few others from DOE and the Site two years ago to see about using the technology. Officials with the Yucca Mountain permanent storage project have expressed interest, also.

Lynch is currently coordinating the technical aspects of the West Valley, N.Y., spent fuel shipments and is the main point of contact for those shipments at TAN. He’s also traveled to the Nevada Test Site several times inspecting equipment for the Savannah River Site.

Over the years, Lynch has found a simple formula for success.

“Two things guarantee success: persistence and determination,” he said. “It’s how much you want it.”

For more than 40 years, from an office in Sacramento to the shores of the Atlantic, and finally in the high desert of Idaho, he’s applied that formula. And he’s still working at it.

Department of energy

DOE Office of Nuclear Energy
DOE-Idaho Office