Logo
Maurice Legg

Chapter13… Self employment , The European Space Agency

   
The Nadge project was drawing to a close by mid 1973 and apart for a cost overrun it was generally regarded as an enormous success. Once again I had to take stock and decide what to do afterwards. Meanwhile we’d had many domestic developments; we’d moved house three times and were back in Stoke D’Abernon and all of the children were in public schools (or private schools if you’re not familiar with the system.) Suzanne and Stephanie were still at Claremont while three of the four boys were at Reed’s. I had a job promised in Hughes in Los Angeles and we had to once again assess the probability of success if we moved back there. I’ll spare the details but we knew that moving to Los Angeles was a non starter. Looking for alternatives, I exercised the old boy network and talked to Magnavox, who I had worked closely with in MITRE, MITRE itself and Nadgeco and they each agreed to give me consulting contracts covering a maximum of 50 days work each at the then usual rate of $200 per day plus expenses of course. In general terms, the task was to pursue sales for the companies among the many contacts that I’d made outside the U.K. It is not usual to be able to start a new business with a sort of guarantee of $30,000 per year (a lot at the time) and I was initially elated. However that didn’t last for long: I had hoped to find more customers but instead found that making sense of 150 days work per year was enough of a trial. For each day, I had to come up with an initiative, phone around and work out who I was going to see and what I was going to accomplish. After flying somewhere and having a meeting,  I had to phone again and describe what (if anything!) I’d accomplished. Nothing was routine or happened on its own! I was finding that to earn one days pay I had to do two or three days work. I was won’t go into the details; suffice to say that after a few months I was completely knackered and had a breakdown. I had to hide it from the public and my associates because, if you’re living by your wits and it gets around that you’re witless, out go your chances. I was on tri-cyclic anti-depressants and valium and saw a shrink in Harley Street for three months or so and I was valiantly supported by Margaret who I suppose was simply terrified and managed never to show it. I continued to work, winding myself up from a catatonic state to go to meetings etc. I simply had no choice: I was depressed but the redeeming thing was that I had a lot to be depressed about – at least the reasons were clear. After a while my shrink did a transference, as psycho-analysts do, and convinced me in his lingo that it was my hole and only I could dig myself out of it and finally I did.

   
I continued with my business until early 1975 but it wasn’t coming good. One day I was in the European Space Agency in the Netherlands trying to generate interest in a Magnavox device and I found that Spacelab was looking for someone to manage the business side of that project. I applied, hoping to fiddle a consulting contract, but was called for an interview with several others and was offered the job. This was another momentous gamble and a hair - raising decision involving the lives of 8 people. The job was in Noordwijk, in the Netherlands , paid well, and had the potential to last until my retirement and I hadn’t a great deal to lose. So I took the job and it turned out to be a sound decision which probably saved my bacon. But it involved separating parts of my family because there was no simple way of moving them en masse to the Netherlands and finding new satisfactory schools and jobs so we had to make some decisions that were hard on them. Suzanne and Stephanie had jobs and two of the boys, David and Michael, were boarding at Reeds and doing quite well so we rented a house in Cobham and left them to it. Margaret, myself, Peter and Johnny moved to a house on Noordwijk and Peter and Johnny went to the British School of the Hague . Obviously the split was not comprehensive. We went back and forwards and we were united in school holidays but it was never really satisfactory. Margaret would normally have liked living in a new country but never really liked what we’d done and began to dislike Holland . Eventually we bought a nice house in Cobham and I commuted between the two houses on a weekly basis, living during the week on my own in Holland and spending weekends in Cobham.

   
The ESA project was Spacelab, Europe ’s contribution to the NASA Space Shuttle. It was a large cylindrical structure launched pick – a - back on the Shuttle in which astronauts carried out experiments in zero gravity. The project manager, my boss, was a German (because Germany was the biggest contributor ) and  he had managers for Engineering, Product Assurance, testing and so on and myself with responsibility for all of the business aspects mainly budgetting, cost and schedule control and reporting. Since the eventual programme costs were $1 billion these were non trivial responsibilities and I had about 20 staff to help me. The European Space Agency had contracted the work to a German Co., ERNO, of Bremen and through ERNO to 10 co-contractors and hundreds of sub-contractors throughout Europe . It was one of those projects like Nadge, which I’ve described already, in which countries had to be given an industrial return equal to their financial contribution and the monitoring of all of this was my responsibility. The heaviest job, done by my staff, was to check that the resulting hundreds of invoices represented properly the work that was done. Appendix 2 describes some of my activities. Its mostly nuts and bolts stuff but I’ve not described it before and someone out there may be interested.  My father was asked what his son did for a living. I was doing secret things at the time. He said “Shush”. He couldn’t understand how 2000 people could go in a building in the morning and all come out clean in the afternoon! I ask my own children what they actually do and get inadequate responses, (like their job title) so I’ve bitten the bullet and given my own daily work some substance in Appendix … which is an optional goodie!

   
After 11 years of this (yes eleven years) the project was finished and launched successfully from Cape Canaveral and I could have continued with ESA for another 5 years with a follow – on project. Four factors combined to cause me to leave the project and ESA at that point Firstly I was at pensionable age and the pension was satisfactory. Second, ESA itself was having a problem because nobody ever left nor was fired and so the Organisation was aging rapidly in an unhealthy way. Because of this ESA came up with Factor three which enabled people to retire voluntarily with a pay – off which in my case was 150,000 (a lot of money in 1986) Fourthly and finally, commuting between the UK and the Netherlands was unsatisfactory. I could add a fifth which was that my brother retired at 60 years of age and died 3 months later and I was determined that would not happen to me.

   
That wasn’t quite the end of my working life. Some associates had a consultancy in Munich and from time to time they found assignments for me in M.B.B. One major assignment was with Aerospatiale in Toulouse and lasted for 11 months. They were proposing to develop as small plane called HERMES to fly on the top of Ariane, a rocket. It would be carried into orbit by the rocket, carry out experiments while in orbit and fly back to earth rather like a small “Space Shuttle”. My task with Aerosatiale and a small group from NASA was to work out the details to the point were the cost of this could be estimated. There were massive considerations such as the programme for flight testing. the conversion of an Airbus to carry Hermes to 30000 ft and then to drop it off, how many such flights would be needed, how many landing sites and where, and the many design decisions that were necessary for the vehicle itself. It was a great experience to work in Toulouse with very clever people and I was sad when it turned out that the project was really too expensive for the French government to undertake. That was the last (paid) work that I ever did!

Chapter 14  Where did they go
Website Builder for cPanel - RVSiteBuilder