LAUNCH: You mentioned the changes at Estes after Damon bought the company in 1969. When did you leave the company?
Simon: I managed to hang in there until 1977, when I left due to family reasons. However, I was getting pretty burned out by that point. Under Damon the spirit went out of the organization, and it was a good time to move on. When I left I was the longest-serving employee, with more years than even Vern. Of course, there are a number of people who have surpassed my record by 20-plus years at this point.
LAUNCH: You now work as a boat/yacht designer in Washington State. I understand you helped design a yacht for Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders. Can you give us some details about that?
Simon: I was more involved in project management than in design on Mr. Anders’ yacht, but it did have some interesting aspects. At 57 feet it was our smallest model, and he wanted a number of features normally found on much larger yachts. One such was a hot tub on the flying bridge. However, the feature I got the biggest kick out of was designing and installing underwater viewing ports in the bulbous bow. The bow on that hull is about 3 1/2 feet diameter, and people kept asking “How can he stand to spend time in such a small space?” When you think about it, the Apollo spacecraft probably didn’t have as much elbowroom as the Apogee’s bulb.
LAUNCH: Your career didn’t end at Estes Industries, but how does that experience compare to your later career?
Simon: First of all, Vern is the standard by which I measure other business owners and executives, and there are very few people of the same caliber in today’s business world. Also, the Estes customers were a special group, and it was always enjoyable dealing with them. I can’t say the same for a lot of the people I’ve had to deal with in the years since. My career post-Estes has involved many fun things and many real challenges, but the 1962 to 1967 years are still the “Golden Era” to me.
LAUNCH: What do you think of the model rocketry hobby today? Anything surprise you about it?
Simon: Shortly after leaving Estes I found myself a single parent, and for several years I didn’t have much time for hobbies or anything else outside of work and taking care of the kids. As a result, I’m in a Rip van Winkle condition, and still trying to gain a comprehensive picture of the whole hobby. In looking at the hobby today I’m impressed by the development of high power models, even though they aren’t something I’d personally care to build. The collector phenomenon was a real surprise to me. Otherwise, I’m disappointed by the apparent lack of real innovation in low power models.
LAUNCH: Can you comment on your view of the current Estes Industries?
Simon: I haven’t had any direct dealings with the company since Bob Cannon passed away, so I’d hate to pass judgment on people I don’t know. I do get the impression that it is now primarily a toy company, and yes, any rocket or airplane that you buy in ready-to-fly form is a TOY.
LAUNCH: What about kids today? I know you have a 13-year-old daughter, who, if she is anything like my 12-year-old daughter, is probably much more into computers, video games, iPods, and DVDs than into rockets. Do you think there will ever be another time when kids get so excited about space and rockets as they were in the 1960s?
Simon: Apart from the whole Harry Potter thing? That’s fired the imaginations of a lot of kids, but in an escapist sort of way. My niece Jenny grew up with model rockets and dreams of entering the space program, and that carried her through to an Astrophysics degree. I really hope that our country will wake up and put some real resources into the manned Mars mission. If and when that happens, you’ll see young peoples’ imaginations fired up again.
From what I hear, that’s already happening in China as they ramp up their own space program