Monday, March 17, 2014

Voyager Saturn Flyby

Our Section Manager mentioned in his newsletter a recent award I received, and when it was presented, N8ERF went through many of the things I have done in amateur radio over the years.  Larry's note caused me to recall one of the more interesting things I did, many years ago.

It seems like I have always been fascinated with computers.  Back ages ago, when I was maybe 8 or 10, I spent many an hour playing with my uncle's Geniac (, a "computer" consisting of nothing more than switches and lights.  In the 70's I built a number of computers, the longest lasting being an Ohio Scientific "superboard".

This thing was quite a beast -- basically it consisted of a number of 8x10 circuit boards and a huge pile of wires.  I couldn't afford a Model 33 teletype, which was kind of the standard, but I was able to get a Model 15.  The 15 was baudot, rather than ASCII, and required a different electrical interface, so my superboard was cobbled up with my own, hand-assembled, boot ROM and teletype interface.

I was eventually able to afford a graphical display board (very low resolution) and got a small, Sony Trinitron to use as a monitor.

Back at that time, computers were rare enough and slow enough (the IBM PC didn't appear until 1981) that slow scan TV was generally done with complex (and expensive) electronics.  I spent many an hour developing SSTV software in assembly language (there just wasn't the storage available to make compilers an option, and it wasn't too hard to hand-assemble small programs into binary that could be typed into the console).

When Voyager flew by Saturn, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory relayed the images from the spacecraft in real time over SSTV on 20 meters.  Not only was I able to view these images, but I could talk to the folks at JPL and ask about specific features of the images.

Getting live pictures from Saturn, and being able to talk to the scientists about them, had to be one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had.

The facets to amateur radio are just endless.