Ask a Veteran
These Museum staffers and volunteers once served their country in the armed forces. Now they serve in a different way.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, November 10, 2011
Dane A. Penland
Edgar Durbin was a U.S. Army platoon leader in the central highlands of Vietnam from December 1966 to February 1967. “We made numerous company-sized air assaults on unsecured landing zones, looking for the enemy,” he says of the 20 to 30 men he commanded. “Sometimes we found them, and mostly we didn’t.”
Of his time as a platoon leader, Durbin says, “When you operate with the company, you go where the company commander tells you to go, so we were usually in a file with three platoons in a row following a trail. There were several occasions when we were sent out as a platoon to set up ambushes at night, and so we would be broken up—there would be five-man patrols that went out to designated locations on trails and set up ambushes, then wait for the enemy to come by.”
Durbin was wounded on patrol and returned to the States. After he recovered from his injuries, he earned a PhD in physics and monitored research and development programs related to satellites that the CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office were building and operating.
In 2004, Durbin had been a volunteer at the Museum for about a year when curator Paul Ceruzzi suggested he take a look at the Saturn V instrument ring that was being prepared for exhibition. Durbin was quickly hooked. The Saturn V booster had its own inertial system, separate from the guidance systems on the command and lunar modules. The inertial system was contained in an instrument unit located between the third stage of the rocket and its moon-bound payload.
The unit carried about 100 different electronic boxes and components, and Durbin set about identifying them, using historical NASA documents. His research led to a 2010 article in Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly. “There’s a lot of things to learn about,” he says. “Still a lot of things I’d like to know about it.”
Now retired, he volunteers at the Museum three days a week, conducting research, and is currently writing a history of all of the guidance systems for the rockets developed by the Wernher von Braun group, starting with the V-2, and going to the American rockets, the Redstone, Jupiter, Pershing, and then the Saturn.
Durbin is pictured with the Museum’s Saturn V instrument unit, which is on display in the Human Spaceflight exhibition station at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.