Worthy Christian News » Christian » Former Space Shuttle Engineer Uses His High-Flying Experience To Help Bible Translation With Wycliff
Former Space Shuttle Engineer Uses His High-Flying Experience To Help Bible Translation With Wycliff
By Dan Wooding
ORANGE, CA (ANS) - When Darrel Fritts, 68, worked on the Space Shuttle program, he never dreamed that, when he retired, it would result in putting his high-flying experience to work helping Bible translation around the world.
Now, he is urging other Christian retirees to get involved with Wycliffe Associates as a volunteer. "It's been wonderful for me," he said. "I feel that all Christians should plan on volunteering when they retire. It's just the greatest way to be blessed."
Before his retirement in January 1994, Fritts worked for 32 years with North American Aviation, which eventually became Rockwell International.
"I was a designer for the Minuteman Missile program and then on the F111 program and then, in 1974, I worked on the Space Shuttle program," he said. "I worked on this until five years after the first flight, when I moved off into other programs. When I was on the Space Shuttle program, I worked on the onboard computer equipment. However, the Shuttle computer was used on the ground for designing the primary flight software and as the backup flight software. For the first flight, I was the nighttime supervisor of the data display room, which was the backup room for the Johnson Space Center control. We were a backup in case they went down during that first flight. It turned out that neither went down."
The Space Shuttle program was designed for transporting humans and cargo to and from orbit around Earth. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed the shuttle in the 1970s to serve as a reusable rocket and spacecraft. This objective differed significantly from that of previous space programs in which the launch and space vehicles could be used only once. After ten years of preparation, the first space shuttle, Columbia, was launched on April 12, 1981. Today four space shuttles are in use: Columbia; Discovery, which joined the fleet in 1983; Atlantis, which arrived in 1985; and Endeavour, acquired in 1991 to replace the space shuttle Challenger, which was destroyed in 1986 (see Challenger Disaster). The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) started a shuttle program in 1988 with the Buran space shuttle, but the program was halted in 1993.
Fritts went on: "I don't consider myself a rocket scientist. I was just an electrical engineer that happened to have a wonderful career. The Lord blessed me all the way through it and I worked on some wonderful projects. I remember once going to the top of the tower and lying in the cockpit at Cape Canaveral. That was a real highlight for me."
When Fritts retired, he immediately went to the Wycliffe Associates building in Orange, California, which is close to his home, to offer his services as a volunteer. He said he had been intrigued with the work of Wycliffe after hearing a Bible translator speak at his church couples group back in the 1960s.
"I had it in mind for many years that when I retired, I would like to volunteer for Wycliffe. Mission Aviation Fellowship and Wycliffe both have been two missionary organizations that I have supported through the years and believed strongly in," he said.
He was soon appointed as banquet materials coordinator. It wasn't long before he set about reorganizing the way the materials were assembled and shipped to the area directors. He developed GANT Charts to manage the workflow. He organized the many different items and coordinated the different shipping dates. Each year, Wycliffe Associates conducts about 200 fundraising banquets in the spring and fall, at which Wycliffe missionaries speak about their life and ministry on the field.
"With Wycliffe Associates, my job has been to plan banquet materials distribution, maintain a warehouse full of materials and, then twice a year I would coordinate orders and prepare the materials for mailing. I worked with the Communications Department to see that all of the materials were completed and purchased and then I would do the actual shipments at the specified dates.
It certainly was different from his previous work, but he did it with great enthusiasm.
"I met a lot of missionaries. Each time they had a banquet series, they would come to the Wycliffe Associates office in Orange, California, to rehearse and I would get to listen to them tell their stories about their time in the field. It was the greatest joy that I ever had. I've known all of these missionaries because of my work as a volunteer."
Now, Fritts is back working in aerospace again, but will continue to volunteer his time with the banquet program when needed.
"I would say that computer training has been very helpful in doing this work. I have used computers during my entire career now and it paid off in helping with Wycliffe Associates."
Fritts is married and has three children. "My oldest has two boys, and all of my children are Christians," he said.
Organized in 1967 by friends of Wycliffe missionaries, Wycliffe Associates is a ministry that supports Wycliffe Bible Translators around the world. Wycliffe Associates has over 50,000 members and friends across the U.S. who support Wycliffe by praying, going as volunteers, and giving. God often works through the Wycliffe Associates' banquet series to call people to serve in tangible ways.