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Bob Spencer Collection

Identifier: MC-29
a program plan, a technical memorandum, a Saturn booster diagram, handwritten calculations.


  • 1963 - 1987


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research in the Archives & Special Collections reading room. Handling guidelines and use restrictions will be communicated and enforced by archives staff members.

Conditions Governing Use

This material may be protected under U. S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S. Code) which governs the making of photocopies or reproductions of copyrighted materials. You may use the digitized material for private study, scholarship, or research. Though the University of Alabama in Huntsville Archives and Special Collections has physical ownership of the material in its collections, in some cases we may not own the copyright to the material. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in our collections.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 box.)

Biographical / Historical

Work in Progress!

Robert "Bob" Spencer was born in 1931, in Northport, Alabama.

Spencer moved to Miami, Florida, and he lived there for seven years. He moved back to Tuscaloosa into Mobile, back to Tuscaloosa for a year in college, and then to New Orleans, and from there went into the Air Force in 1951 for four years, where he was a jet engine mechanic.

Spencer went through pilot school, then he returned to the University of Alabama, earning degrees in mechanical engineering and aeronautical engineering. He then went to Pensacola, Florida, to work for Columbian National Corporation, which manufactured zirconium for the atomic submarine program.

From there, Spencer joined Boeing. He was in the facilities department, and he helped design and install the 33-foot boring perk of Orangeville, which was used to manufacture the wiring for the Saturn V moon vehicle, and designed and installed a load-testing fixture, which would do the proof floating with a forward handling ring for the S-IC Saturn rocket stage.

From there, Spencer moved to Huntsville with Boeing, and he transferred to NASA in 1964. He worked in the Quality and Reliability Assurance Laboratory for about four years, and then he transferred to Program Development under Dr. Lucas. Spencer was the study manager for the tethered satellite system and the early studies on the LAGEOS satellite. After the phase A and phase B studies on LAGEOS, Frank Williams from NASA headquarters asked Spencer to move there and serve as the program manager in 1974. Spencer remained there through the launch of the satellite in May 1976.

There was opposition to the LAGEOS program because about that time, the Global Positioning System (GPS) concept was being finalized, and the early stages of development were taking place; the Global Positioning System would do the same thing LAGEOS did, but better.

LAGEOS is the only satellite to require the use of the full general theory of relativity in every aspect of its operation (its orbit determination, its tracking, the positions of the global tracking stations on Earth). LAGEOS was also one of NASA’s fastest and least expensive programs. Spencer ended up not needing all of the funds he had been given, so he returned what he didn’t use, about a million and a half dollars. He was almost fired because his bosses wondered “what he didn’t do that he was supposed to do.”

Spencer was not involved with the plans and launch of the second LAGEOS, “an identical copy” of the first, by the Italians. Spencer was involved in the planning for the ground tracking of LAGEOS. As the ground stations were being planned, Spencer’s team contended with a tight budget. Spencer believed NASA only funded two ground stations, and that these stations were not funded under the Ledgers Program, but the CSAT Program.

Setting up the program plans was done not at headquarters, but at Goddard. Spencer was not heavily involved with it.

After his work on LAGEOS, Spencer was transferred back to the MSFC. He became the chairman of the Source Selection Committee for the tethered satellite system, and after that was completed, he accepted a position with the Spaceman Program in Germany as the resident manager; he was on that program for nearly four years. Part of Spencer’s job was integrating the contributions of each member of the European Space Agency and making sure everything supported the requirements of the shuttle. Spencer found that the countries followed the letter of the contract, not necessarily the intent, so they sometimes did only the bare minimum the contract required of them.

Once Spencer returned from Germany, he served as a system engineer in the Spaceman Program, and he retired a year later in 1981.

Spencer died January 6, 2021.


For further information, see:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert Spencer, 2006.

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, and competing priorities. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections as they are acquired and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.
Megan Sullivan
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama in Huntsville Archives & Special Collections Repository

M. Louis Salmon Library
301 Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35899 Alabama 35899 United States of America