The One and Only Ken Johnston

Aspiring Martians is thrilled to announce that starting this month we will begin posting articles featuring insight from none other than Ken Johnston. He is a man whose knowledge and many accomplishments in the U.S. space program give us much pride and excitement in the opportunity to provide to you his thoughts and experience on the Mars One Program and everything space exploration related. As a brief introduction, we have selected an article written by Oklahoma City University about Ken back in 1978 which chronicles his early fascination with space as well as the beginning of his journey into achieving his dream of going there.

Brothers Ken, second from left, and A.R., right, Johnson visit with OCU President Dolphus Whitten, Jr. during Homecoming. Joining them was Ken's daughter.

Brothers Ken, second from left, and A.R., right, Johnston visit with OCU President Dolphus Whitten, Jr. during Homecoming. Joining them was Ken’s daughter.

Imagine two young boys living on a west Texas farm.  It’s a warm summer day and they are playing on some rusted old farm equipment making all kinds of strange sounds and talking a strange kind of language.

If you were a science fiction buff you would soon realize these boys with the active imaginations were using this setting to pretend they were Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon making imaginary flights into outer space.

Boys grow into men and Ken Johnston and his brother, A.R., never let their dreams of a real adventure in outer space die.  As adults both have pursued careers in the space industry with the goal of becoming astronauts.

Ken Johnston joined the Marine Corps at the same time that his older brother, A.R., joined NASA in 1962. During this time he visited his brother at Cape Canaveral where he witnessed a launching. The space bug bit and he too decided the space industry was for him.

From the Marine Corps he went to work as a test engineer for crew systems and test operations as a liaison for the Grumman Aerospace Corporation.  In this job he assisted in the designing of the crew compartment of the Lunar Module (LEM) which included developing procedures for testing the LEM and instructing the astronauts in how to fly the craft.

However, during the late ‘60s the space program suffered a general setback with the cutting back of federal funds.  It was during this general slowdown that A.R. decided the excitement of the program was about over and it was time to seek another career.  Giving up his dreams of becoming an astronaut, he went back to school and obtained his law degree and became a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas.

However, not one to be disillusioned, Ken decided to go back with the space program, following a brief stint in other business activities, and kept his hopes alive of one day becoming an astronaut.  Although he was not among the 40 selected in January [1978] for the first phase of the Space Shuttle program, he plans to try again. And, it appears his chances are pretty good.

Ken is qualified both as a pilot and engineer.  He has flown simulations in the lunar module for over 3,000 hours sitting with an astronaut each time to explain the spacecraft’s functions. During all these hours he kept a spacecraft log book which each of the astronauts initialed.

“We used to joke that that [book] and 10 cents would buy me a cup of coffee,” he said.  However, he has now been told it may be worth a lot more.

During a discussion with one of the astronauts involved in the selection of new astronauts, Ken was told his experience in the module might be the key to his selection next time.  Meanwhile, he plans to complete work on his doctoral degree, get more advanced flying experience, and continue to exercise on a regular basis to keep in top physical condition.

The average age of the astronauts, not counting those announced in January, is 43 and within the next few years many will be retiring or getting out of the space program.  The 40 selected in January will not be enough to take their places and within the next three years another group will be selected.

Ken feels that his prior experience (only a few astronauts have more time in a spacecraft than he) plus his background in the Space Shuttle program should put him near the top of the list.  He hopes to be among the next group and eventually fly on a Space Shuttle. Who knows, maybe those pretend trips of 25 to 30 years ago will turn into real trips, even to Mars.