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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Space program takes MHS grad to ends of the earth

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chauncey Dunn takes a break from Heritage Days festivities in Dick Trail's hangar at McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport.
(Bruce Crosby/McCook Daily Gazette)
McCOOK, Nebraska -- One cold, snowy Denver December, Chancey P. "Pete" Dunn applied for a job promising islands and palm trees.

After he was hired, was asked where, exactly, he would like to work.

"I stated 'as far from here as you can send me.' So they said OK and sent me to a ship off of Maurtitius, an island in the southern Indian Ocean -- so I guess I got what I asked for."

Dunn has since found himself everywhere from Japan to the Seychelles Islands, from Newfoundland to Cape Town, South Africa, but made his way back to McCook for the 55th reunion of the McCook High School Class of 1955 over the Heritage Days weekend.

That Indian Ocean trip wasn't just for sight-seeing; he was providing essential services to America's early space effort, the Mercury Program, and stayed with it until retiring Aug. 17, 2007, through the Gemini, Apollo and all but two Space Shuttle missions.

If you grew up mesmerized with space flight like many baby boomers did, nothing creates more excitement than the " ... 3, 2, 1, liftoff!" display that inaugurates each flight.

It was Chauncey who created that count, down to the nanosecond -- 10 to the -9th fraction of a second. It was that heartbeat that caused several specific launch-related functions besides the visual display seen by the public, such as remotely starting all the cameras surrounding the launch pads.

Starting as an electronic technician and working his way up to manager of timing and firing at Cape Canaveral, Dunn retired on his 70th birthday.

His wife, Carol Anne, is a technology transfer specialists who still works for NASA, seeing to it that space engineering finds its way into useful earthbound products.

After McCook High School and a stint on the railroad, Dunn joined the U.S. Navy, where he specialized in electronic technology, spending most of his time on the U.S.S. Lake Champlain, returning to attend McCook Junior College in 1958.

He went to work for Martin-Denver as a technical writer until a full-page advertisement in the Denver Post promised the islands, palm trees and missile launches that lured him away to that Indian Ocean post.

In 1962, he began working from "America's premier launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, which over the years has been referred to by many names, including the Atlantic Missile Range, Eastern Space and Missile Center and others."

The range is controlled by the Air Force and works in conjunction with the Kennedy Space Center, he said.

"I worked for RCA, GE and CSR at Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center, several Bahamian islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua, BWI, Pretoria, RSA, the Sheychelles Islands and the ship "Coastal Sentry," a special range-tracking ship used for the Mercury Program."

That ship was no speed demon, Chancey said, taking 52 days to sail from the Panama Canal to Hawaii.

In 1978, after working on ships, islands and traveling, the Dunns moved to Merritt Island, Florida, where Chauncey "worked as an engineer and then manager at both Cape Canaveral and KSC, providing timing down to the nanosecond."

Chauncey and Carol Anne have three sons and one grandchild, and he enjoys diving -- he once owned a diving and snorkeling business -- and sailing.

As his alma matter once proclaimed, and as Chauncey Dunn proved, you really can "get anywhere from here."

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