What NASA’s 60th Anniversary Means to Harris

By Murali Krishnan, Vice President and General Manager
Sep 17, 2018

On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Congress’ National Aeronautics and Space Act into law, laying the foundation for a civilian agency to lead the charge of expanding human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space. Fast forward 60 years and the agency we call NASA is a household word, having excited multiple generations with science and exploration missions that have opened our minds, piqued our imagination, and inspired many of us to pursue careers that advance technology. For Harris, NASA’s diamond anniversary holds special meaning.

Courtesy of NASA: NASA's Orion Spacecraft Earlier this year, we announced that Harris is providing the astronaut audio system for NASA’s first human deep-space exploration mission. It’s an exciting effort, not only because we will be supporting a mission that sends humanity farther into the solar system than ever before, but also because it continues a legacy of service that span’s NASA’s history and our nation’s space program. And what a history that is—60 years of technology advancements that have taken humans to the moon and back, landed exploratory robots on Mars, put data-collecting spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter, given us unprecedented insights into the universe from space-based telescopes, and provided extraordinary views of our own planet’s atmosphere.

Through it all, Harris has been there, starting when two engineering visionaries from Virginia moved to Florida’s Space Coast to found one of the very first companies to serve the technology needs of the emerging space industry.  Their company, Radiation, Inc., would become part of Harris Corporation in 1967, becoming the catalyst that would transform Harris into an electronic communications provider and set the stage for us to become the $6 billion technology innovator we are today.

In those early days, we Radiation Inc.employee, early days of Harris on the Space Coast provided specialized pulse-code telemetry for the nation’s first communication and weather satellites. Later, our technology was integral to the manned launches of NASA's Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. Harris contributions have continued to unmanned missions as well, such as the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, the Galileo spacecraft, and Hubble Space Telescope.

Jack Hartley was one of the young research engineers who joined Radiation, Inc. He went on to hold major positions of leadership at Harris, including chairman, president, and chief executive officer. Shortly after his retirement in 1995, he described the impact of NASA’s space program on our employees:

“Those were very exciting days—an exciting era when we were all part of this rush to the moon. . . . The equipment would not have flown, the people would not have flown if Harris had not done an effective job. I can remember well the astronauts coming through our factories and telling our people how important what they were doing [was] to their wellbeing, their survival. Of course, being right here at the Cape [Canaveral] allowed us to actually witness those launches and to feel a great sense of pride that we were taking part in a national program of this type, which, from an engineering perspective, was just a marvel.”

 First earthrise from moon is captured with Harris technology. Photo courtesy of NASA. With Harris’ acquisition of Exelis in 2015, our company’s portfolio of NASA experience expanded to include space imaging. This portfolio includes the photographic system that took pictures of the moon in preparation for the arrival of astronauts, the special color camera that allowed astronauts on the moon to take extreme close-ups of moon materials and features, and the sensors that helped to guide the Sojourner Rover and capture pictures of Mars’ surface. It also includes the optical subsystem for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which has been giving us amazing images of black holes and other space phenomena since its 1999 launch.This legacy technology and expertise, provided to NASA missions under the Kodak (later ITT Industries and Exelis) brand, remain with Harris. Today, we are building on them for new missions, like the James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

James Webb Space Telescope Testing Truly Harris has come a long way since those early pulse-code modulator days. Our Space and Intelligence Systems offerings now include complete space-to-ground solutions that enable global situational awareness, provide unprecedented Earth insights, and promote America’s superiority in space for a wide range of customers. And with hundreds of employees who have put their hearts and souls into NASA programs over the years—including many who grew up watching Apollo and Space Shuttle launches from their own backyards—Harris has had, and will continue to have, a unique, strong, and unbreakable connection to NASA and the nation’s space program. Now, through our involvement in exciting new programs like NASA's Orion Exploration Mission-2, we embody the agency’s forward-looking 60th anniversary slogan, “NASA: 60 Years and Counting.” 

As our segment president, Bill Gattle, recently said in a message to employees, “With the company's headquarters and many key operations located on Florida's Space Coast, multiple generations of Harris employees have experienced first-hand the excitement of NASA missions. Today we’re proud to support NASA missions from several of our key locations—including Brevard County, Rochester, and Fort Wayne—and look forward to developing and delivering the next generation of mission solutions that will push the boundaries of human knowledge.”

I am excited to be a part of Harris’ strong partnership with NASA, and I look forward to the continued technology innovations and mission solutions that partnership will bring.

Click here to learn more about Harris’ NASA mission experience and share in our celebration of the agency’s 60th anniversary. Photos of the Orion spacecraft and the earth as seen from the moon are courtesy of NASA.