Waineo, Thomas

The following text was prepared by and
published here with permission of
Paul A. Valleli,  valleli@rcn.com 
14 Marrett Rd. Burlington, MA 01803  (617)272-8946 
The text is also available from CompuServe's AstroForum Library
Thomas Waineo, 1935 - 1996

Memories of a Master Optician and Telescope Maker

Tom Waineo died suddenly on Wednesday, May 29, 1996. He was found slumped in the hallway of his home by his wife, Marie. He was sixty years old and retired on disability from the Applied Optics Center Corp., a division of Varo, Inc.

He was born on Sept.4th, 1935 and inherited severe nearsightedness and tunnel vision. He grew up in suburban Detroit, Michigan. As if his vision problems were not enough, he developed a severe ear infection at age seven. The internal scarring left him nearly totally deaf. He could only hear a very narrow range of mid-frequency sounds with a hearing aid. Despite these handicaps he developed an interest in astronomy and became a very active member of the Detroit Astronomical Society. He quickly mastered the craft of telescope making and became an instructor. As he strove to construct more difficult instruments, he also gave freely of his time to teach others the art of mirror making.

He attended Wayne State University on a full scholarship and graduated in 1960 with high marks. He was awarded a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Optics. He was recruited by the Itek Corp. of Boston to fabricate lenses for the first American reconnaissance satellites.

I met Tom at Itek where the original optical shop was located on the Boston University campus. We struck up a friendship for what has become most of a lifetime. He did not admit that he had spent all his travel money on his hotel room at North Station and had not eaten in two days. His wife related this misfortune. Soon we were making seventy five cents an hour as optical technicians.

Recently, a thirty year classification was removed from the program we worked on, code name "CORONA". We learned that the opticians played a key role in advancing the art of reconnaissance technology and made the lenses for the first surveillance satellites. Our "customer" was the Central Intelligence Agency. Our efforts were under scrutiny from politicians and Air Force colonels, alike. We worked under tremendous pressure to meet the launch schedules.

Tom had a unique method of removing all distractions from his polishing effort....he shut off his hearing aid.

In the beginning, many of our lenses were blown to smithereens, as one booster after another exploded on the launch pad or during ascent. Successes finally occurred and the project eventually resulted in the downfall of the Iron Curtain.

A year after we first met, we planned a camping trip to attend the national conference of the Astronomical League. The meeting was to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had just bought a new Corvair....sleek, economical, patten leather black, anxious to do some serious touring. I packed the car and went to bed at midnight. I tossed and turned until 3 AM and then called Tom. He was having the same nervous excitement because we were going to stop in Detroit and visit his parents. He hadn't seen them for over a year. He said " Let's go now!" I drove to his apartment in Boston's Back Bay and then headed westward, well before dawn. We crossed southern Ontario, through Windsor, and then into Detroit late the next afternoon. Tom did not have a license because of his vision, so I drove the eight hundred miles straight through from Boston.

In Detroit, Tom introduced me to his Mom and Dad who were concerned over the distance we drove. Then I met many of his five brothers and four sisters. They are of Finnish descent and all have light blonde hair and looked much alike. I had trouble differentiating them. Tom was second youngest. Exhaustion quickly set in from the long trip and sleep came quickly.

Twelve hours later, I thought I was dreaming that my big toe was being crushed by a lobster. I startled awake. Tom's father was standing by the bed squeezing my foot. This had been his way of waking Tom up to go to school because Tom took off his hearing aid at night.

We spent a number of days meeting with amateur astronomers and visiting the city. There were times of relaxation and he told me of his passion for sailing on Lake St. Clair with his brothers and sisters. We toured the big auto plants. His father was a lifelong Ford employee and he kidded me about my compact little Chevy Corvair.

Tom brought me up to the family summer retreat on one of the many small lakes that dot the lower peninsula of Michigan. Here we enjoyed swimming and picnicking with some of his family and had a day of relaxation. We then headed northward to the upper peninsula and the locks at Sioux Ste. Marie. The region reminded me much of the desolation and wilderness of Maine logging country. We had seen the sand dunes of Lake Michigan and next camped on the shores of Lake Superior. I will never forget trying to swim in the icy water. Being of Finnish descent, it did not bother Tom, but it reminded me of winter ice diving in New Hampshire.

We toured the nickel mining towns near the Canadian border and then travelled southward through Wisconsin dairyland. We arrived the day before the Astronomical League convention began. The highlight of the trip was a field trip to Williams Bay, Wisconsin and a tour of the Yerkes Observatory. We were lucky that it was completely clear that evening and we were able to view M13, the Hercules star cluster, with the world's largest refractor, the forty-inch diameter Alvin Clark instrument.

I am not sure what Tom saw, but I know he had good central acuity. My eye was locked to a long viewport into space.

At the other end, was the spectacle of one hundred thousand dazzling stars set like diamonds on a velvet sky. A slight shimmering from air turbulence added a dynamic effect and seemed to add depth to the illusion. For me, the effect was as stunning as seeing the crown jewels at the Tower of London. I had to be pulled away from the eyepiece so that someone else could see.

After that trip, Tom set off on a quest to build telescopes that might duplicate our experience at Yerkes. He also realized that amateur conferences were a great way to present and talk up new optical designs and to share ideas. We returned to Boston, brimming with new plans for new projects.

Itek moved to an enormous new facility in Lexington and we continued producing lenses to the highest quality we could achieve. Fortunately, we did not know which space birds were ours. When a satellite failed to orbit or burned up on reentry, we shrugged, assumed it was a biology experiment and continued working. In hindsight, we probably would have been demoralized by the number of failures.

The next summer Tom suggested we get away from the 'daily grind' by taking a windjammer cruise through the Bahamas for our vacation. The trip gave us an opportunity see some southern constellations and hooked us on to the tropical charisma of Florida.

I left Itek in late 1962 to join a spinoff company, but Tom stayed on to work on a development project to make accurate and stable aluminum mirrors.

For the new research effort, Tom was asked to make each mirror to a surface accuracy of one millionth of an inch ( Lambda over twenty). The mirrors were then heated or submerged in super-cold liquid Nitrogen. Most often, the mirror would warp into a twisted wreck with an error of many light waves. The test engineers would then note the results, execute a new thermal cycle process, and then meekly return the mirror to Tom for refiguring.

I continued to drive Tom to work because it was on my way to Diffraction Limited in Bedford. Ed Bohner and Eldridge Picard also commuted with us. Ed was a master optician who had come from the famous Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia."Pic" as we called him, was a long-time member of our telescope club and had also been a staff optician at the Harvard College Observatory war project during the forties. Both of these gentlemen were acknowledged by the Air Force as wizards of "Black Magic", the art of precision lens figuring.

Tom and I learned much about life and love from these old-timers, and even some tricks of the trade. As our careers progressed, we saw a transition in this field of endeavor from art to technology. The optical craft still places great demands on the tyro.

In 1963, NASA released a contract to Diffraction Limited to polish the optical components for the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory. The OAO was to begin research into ultraviolet astronomy and was to use beryllium mirrors. While more expensive, this material is a much better substrate material for some applications. By this time, Tom had become very tired of refiguring aluminum mirrors and left Itek to join the staff of opticians at Diffraction Limited. We all felt relief at working on a new astronomy program, but the stresses of working to micro- inch tolerances on much larger optics was also a strain. The pressure of meeting a launch schedule also remained.

Tom fabricated two very difficult 25-inch oblate spheroids for the OAO that undoubtedly prepared him for the challenge of fabricating telescopes of the Wright-Schmidt configuration. Three years later, we were stunned when the booster rocket ran out of fuel and the telescope payload crashed into the Indian Ocean. We had built a single backup but NASA could not get the funds from Congress to launch it. The experiments were never repeated until the launch of the Hubble telescope, twenty four years later.

Tom left D.L. to join Space Optics Research Laboratory (SORL) which was founded by Robert Galipeau in Sudbury, MA.. Mr. Galipeau was a graduate of the University of Rochester and was interested in fabricating aspheric surfaces for a variety of applications, both space and terrestrial optics. Tom met the challenge of this small company by devising many unique methods of making conic surfaces. Tom had begun work a small version of his dream telescope at D.L. He wanted a telescope with a short focal length, a fast f/ratio, a wide, well-corrected field of view, and that would give rich-field views reminiscent of that night at Yerkes.

He continued working on it at SORL and completed the 6-inch Wright-Schmidt. He had been unable to develop a null test for the primary mirror. Instead, he made a close approximation to the oblate spheroid shape by using a spherical test glass as a reference surface. He then aspherized the surface with petal and local polishers and measured the aspheric departure by counting fringes with a magnifier.

We had learned this trick while making recce lenses for the SR-71 Blackbird. The lens required three aspheric elements. We started with fringe counting on each element and then iterated to the final correction with a system test. The lenses made many flights gathering data over Viet Nam.

Tom assembled his optics as a system and figured the Schmidt Corrector by using an artificial star source in the optics lab. In 1969, his accomplishment was published in Sky & Telescope.

The only drawback to his design was that he placed the location of the prime focal plane internally; between the Newtonian diagonal and the side wall of the telescope tube. He used a commercial camera lens (a Macro-lens) to relay the focal plane to an accessible position. This lens introduced some noticeable aberrations.

This compromise could be overcome now-a-days by mounting a miniature CCD camera to the back of the corrector lens . Of course it would no longer be a visual instrument.

Tom was adept at putting collimators and test setups together with structural steel, red wax, and masking tape. He completed many projects under budget with this spartan approach and the company profited and moved to larger quarters in Chelmsford. Eventually, it became a division of the Intergraph companies. He met his singular love, Marie, in Chelmsford and he became a married (and happier) man.

In 1972, Diffraction Limited was downsized into oblivion and the workers laid off; while Tom continued polishing at SORL. Luckily for some of us, a dynamic new optical company was established in Burlington, MA.

Applied Optics Center Corp. was the new venture and it was formed to manufacture metal mirrors for space and military infrared applications. The advantage of metal optics are superior durability in a hostile environment where survival is more important than ultimate figure accuracy or figure stability. New fire control systems were developed for application on a new generation of tanks. Metal mirrors would not shatter like glass, if hit by shrapnel. In this same 70's era, the Mariner Jupiter- Saturn (MJS) project was in development at the Jet Propulsion Lab. The mission was to be a "Grand Tour" of the planets in 1979.

Texas Instruments Corp. and JPL selected AOC to produce six infrared telescope systems of Cassegrainian design but with a very short f/0.8 primary. The experiment was to search out warm patches on the outer planets, do temperature measurements, and perform Fourier Spectroscopy of gaseous elements and compounds. The project evolved into the Voyager Mission. It was determined that Pluto was not practical to reach but both flight spacecraft would go to Uranus and one would continue to Neptune.

Applied Optics had a "do-or-die" mission. If three instrument sets could be machined, polished and coated, assembled, and tested in a cryogenic space chamber - all produced in a two year time period, then the instrument would fly under the direction of principal investigator (PI), Dr. Rudolph Hanel of Goddard Space Flight Center. If the instrument failed, then JPL had prepared an aluminum panel to cover up the telescope attachment platform. If we could produce another three to a more rigorous and much colder thermal requirement, then two of those would fly.

In addition to my duties as test engineer, I had rolled up my sleeves and helped polish the mirrors. The primary mirror was made of beryllium and weighed only four pounds. Figuring it was a bear and we were falling behind schedule. Remember, the alignment of the planets was not going to wait for us.

While I began work on assembling and testing the first telescope, Tom joined us at AOC because aspherics were no longer a high priority business segment at SORL. He was assigned to make the flimsy primaries. Soon I found him pulling his old trick, shutting off the hearing aid! Before long, we were back on track. It was on this project that he showed my another of his figuring tricks. He poured a very thin layer of pitch onto a balsa wood strip and then polished the highzones with it. He oriented the flexible grain direction so that it could better follow the aspheric departure in the radial direction of the zone. The more rigid axis was placed on the chordal axis of the zone where it could stay in contact with the surface. In this way, severe aspherical surfaces could be smoothed and blended, while a dwell on the high zones would remove them.

Unfortunately, one of the last primaries made showed an unusual figure defect at cryogenic temperature. NASA made the conservative decision to fly the earlier optics which would have reduced thermal sensitivity.

In 1987, the Voyagers II and I passed the orbit of Neptune after a thirteen year journey of spectacular discoveries and observations. Both spacecraft are now in interstellar space and the sun shines on them only as a bright star. The optics are now almost as cold as absolute zero but the mirrors did not crack. Both spacecraft are now on a lonely journey to the depths of eternity. Tom's workmanship goes with them.

The AOC telescopes made many measurements and even succeeded in detecting the warm spots associated with the volcanic activity on the Galilean moon, Io.

NASA also developed an interest in earth observations and funded a series of weather satellites to be operated from geosynchronous orbit. The Santa Barbara Research Center of Hughes Aircraft designed a set of highly corrected Ritchey-Chretien telescopes to scan terrestrial weather patterns over a wide range of spectral bands. AOC was the successful bidder to produce the beryllium mirrors for that application. The time lapse videos that can be seen nightly during the weather broadcast record storms, clouds, temperature readings, and the spectral signature of the ground below. Tom played a key role in the figuring of many of these 18- inch aperture telescopes.

I moved on to Optical Systems & Technology, Inc. (OSTI), in Bedford in 1976 for more space work. That was the last time Tom and I were coworkers. In 1984, Applied Optics Center moved its facilities to Bradenton, Florida. Tom decided to continue with the company and he and Marie moved there in December. I remember being jealous of them as winter set in around New England. It was a good month to "go South".

Tom had an extended family that included two step children. His favorite pets were his bull mastiffs, Yanu and Timmy.

Tom and I corresponded occasionally through the years. He came up to the Stellafane telescope makers convention to demonstrate the Maksutov family of tests. Three years ago, I visited Tom and Marie in Bradenton. My kids were performing at WDW with our high school band. Tom was attempting to ray trace optical systems with an original 8088 IBM PC with monochrome monitor. He would flip up his glasses and study the screen word by word, number by number from a distance of a few inches. Yet, he was learning more about lens design.

He was later "put out to pasture", as he said it, from AOC. The company was no longer getting enough business and there was too much competition. The owners closed the doors, just as had happened to me at D.L., and just recently, to Itek. A very few Itek people continue on at HDOS.

Tom was granted a disability at age 58 but was prohibited from going back to work. His benefit was $12,000 per year and it is incomprehensible how he was expected to continue living and maintain his dignity. He had been a very hard worker that did much for his country as a civilian. In his youth, he could have opted the easy way, and milked the relief system. Instead, he made a real contribution to American society. He had to ask for mirror projects to keep busy.

His friends put a 386 PC together for him and he was off on Compuserve and the Internet, spreading his love of the stars and ways to see them better. It was very difficult to talk to Tom and for him to understand me via long distance telephone. The PC solved this problem.

To the week of his death, he was communicating with amateur astronomers around the world. He was sharing his great knowledge of Optics and the technology of his craft.

I visited him and Marie again in April of this year. He had put on weight and I felt this was a bad omen. He had had by-pass surgery some years ago for a weak heart function. He was completing a 17-inch Ritchey-Chretien for Ken Levin of Silver Spring, Md., by using a finite source and despaced mirrors. The idea came from Mel Bartels and was developed over the Internet. This unique approach makes it very simple for an amateur with limited equipment to make a set of optics that is otherwise very difficult to fabricate. Mr. Levin recently sent it to me to see if Tom had completed it. I regret to report that the smoothing of the hyperboloid is not finished and is severely overcorrected. I have conferred with some other experts and we feel it will be best to redo the last grinding step. Tom's new-found hobby of electronic communication gave his life a new meaning to his very last day, according to Marie.

I will never forget his dogged determination and stubbornness to extract the highest level of accuracy from every piece of glass he rubbed on....and that included the polishing of a 24-inch diameter full thickness mirror, well over 100 pounds, on top of the lap because a machine was not available.

What determination!

Any comments or questions are appreciated.
June 9,1996
Paul A. Valleli,  valleli@rcn.com
14 Marrett Rd. Burlington, MA 01803  (617)272-8946
This page created by Chris Plicht