Moments and Memories of WHS
Graduates of Whitesburg High School have had influence all over the world. And, one or more of those graduates was directly involved with the world’s best known space programs at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA, including the success of the Apollo program that first landed man on the moon and returned those astronauts safely to earth.
James Douglas Polly was born in Jenkins on July 29, 1938. His father, James Blaine Polly, operated the company store for Consolidation Coal Co. and later owned Polly Hardware & Supply Co. in Whitesburg. His mother, Edith Moores Polly, was a 1921 UK graduate, taught in the Jenkins school system and later served as the librarian at Whitesburg High School. J. Blaine and Edith moved to Lexington in 1958 where he had a hardware store and she taught school. Doug had one sister, Ella Louise, who married Bill Sergent of Millstone and they had three children. Ella Louise died in 2000.
At the age of three, his family moved from Jenkins to Whitesburg where Doug attended school beginning in Miss Vermillion’s first grade class of 1944. There were 24 students in the class. They attended all 12 grades together, but by their graduation date in May of 1956, Miss Vermillion’s 1944 original class size had dwindled to 12 students.
( From the May 1956 Black Kat): His best pal in high school was Larry Craft; ambition: to be happy; hobby: swimming; favorites: teacher, Mrs. Hall; subject, plane geometry; song, Band of Gold; food, roast beef and chocolate pie; colors, blue and white; expressions, “Can’t say in public,” honors: secretarytreasurer of the Science Club; six years in the band; two years in chorus; one year in football, basketball, and track; clubs: Beta for two years; Science for three years; Wildlife for one year. From the Senior Popularity Roll of 1956: Best Looking Boy – Doug Polly.
Doug says that a lot of the success in his career can be traced to his background in the math and science classes taught by his high school teacher, Mr. Edgar Banks, which laid the foundation for his college studies. “I could not have gone to a better school nor had better teachers than Whitesburg. My greatest appreciation is for the good friends that I still have from Letcher County. The success and loyalty to each other from our group of alumni from the nifty 50’s at WHS I would compare to any similar group in the nation,” Doug said.
He attended Lincoln Memorial University from 1956 to 1958 and then transferred to University of Kentucky, graduating in 1961 with a degree in engineering.
Doug began his aeronautical industry engineering career in 1961 with the Aeronautical System Division, Air Force Systems Command, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, working with compliance requirements in the areas of aircraft canopy systems, ejection systems and rocket catapults. This involved a lot of travel, especially for a boy from eastern Kentucky who had never been on an airplane before. His duties included evaluating ejection seat tests. One interesting experience was the investigation of an F-105 aircraft crash where the pilot had not ejected. Another was the testing of a B-58 capsule containing a live bear propelled over a 5,000-foot bluff at Hurricane Mesa, Utah. The bear died. More work was required.
In 1963, he joined the General Dynamics Corporation, Cape Kennedy, Fla. as a flight test engineer in the complex mechanical group and directly supported the launch of two Atlas vehicles. As a pneumatic systems engineer, his primary responsibility was testing and ensuring that the stage pneumatic system was ready for launch as well as the ground support equipment. During the launch countdown, operating from the blockhouse or launch control center, he was responsible for pressurizing the helium spheres. The helium was used to push the propellant to the engines during flight.
In 1965, Doug joined the Boeing Company as a pneumatic systems engineer in the S-IC Stage Mechanical Group, Saturn V Launch Crew. He directly supported the launch of the Saturn V vehicles as a launch control panel operator. However, the preparation of the mobile launcher platform, and the ground support equipment and the testing of the first Saturn V vehicle were the most exciting and challenging.
“These were 12-hour days and trying to get through the first countdown demonstration test was a challenge with many problems. One of the worst was when a line ruptured and more than 900,000 gallons of liquid oxygen poured on the ground.”
In 1968, he joined NASA as an alternate contract manager in the Launch Vehicle Operations Directorate responsible for launching the Saturn V. “This was different as now I was working for NASA and not a contractor. We also worked for several of the Germans who had developed the V-2 rocket used during World War II. Kurt H. Debus was the center director and H. Gruene was director of Launch Vehicle Operations,” Doug said.
In 1972, as the moon landing effort was coming to an end, a new program to develop the Space Shuttle program was established. Doug Polly became the project engineer for the Space Shuttle Hypergol Facility and the Launch Equipment Test Facility. Later, he was named assistant to the chief technical advisor, or resource manager in several other offices including the Advanced Project Office, Shuttle Project Office, and Design Engineering.
In 1985, a Space Station Project Control Office was established at Kennedy Space Center. This office was charged with the responsibility of determining what would be required at KSC as well as developing the budget for the program. Doug was assigned as the assistant chief of that office and was made office chief in 1989.
“ This was an exciting time to be at Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, Fla. It seemed like every time an astronaut returned from space, there was a parade of dignitaries through Cocoa Beach, President John F. Kennedy being in one. Sometimes the astronauts who had just returned from space would stop by our work areas to thank us for our contribution to the success of their mission.”
After this active space age career, James Douglas Polly retired from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA in 1993 and now lives in Titusville.
In 1966, Doug married Carolyn Murdock of Murfreesboro, Tenn., in Cocoa Beach. Carolyn also had an interesting career at NASA. As secretary to T. J. O’Malley, the test conductor of the first manned launch, she typed many of the Mercury Countdown procedures.
They have one daughter, Terry Kristina Polly Lanman, who lives in Melbourne, Fla. Terry is a successful bank manager and has two children, Taylor and Trevor. Her husband, Tom, is a paramedic and registered nurse.