Alumni Spotlight-Chuck Royston

October 2016

Chuck Royston's career in aerospace inspires novel

Charles (Chuck) Royston graduated from Lamar University in 1961 with a degree in Electrical Engineering and went on to help put a man on the moon.

Royston decided he wanted to pursue a career in aerospace during his sophomore year, and less than six weeks after graduating he was employed with Boeing in Seattle. He did not need an interview; Lamar’s engineering department was so prestigious that he was hired over the phone when he called to ask about openings. During his time at Boeing, he worked on the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command Minuteman Missile program where he taught inertial navigation to Air Force technicians.

After a while, Royston moved to New Orleans to work on Saturn V, where he created a program that would simulate launching to make sure that the missile did not break up due to extreme vibration. His program helped ensure that all of its launchings went smoothly.

After his time working on the Saturn first stage rocket, Royston moved on to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1964, where he was asked to help design the Apollo communications systems and worked in mission control.

On April 13, 1970, Royston heard over the communication system “Houston, we have a problem.” His 24 hour a day effort for six days to help the crew of Apollo 13 make it home safely after an explosion “blew out a huge portion of the Apollo 13 Service Module” earned him a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“They locked all three shifts of us in. I had to sleep in a chair or on the couch when I napped. They needed us all there around the clock. Well, we got the whole crew home safely. They gave us all a Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was a 24 hour a day struggle, but we did it,” Royston said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. Apollo 11, the moon landing, was pretty nice, too. I’d say that’s secondary,” said Royston.

Royston worked on all of the Apollo missions. He is most proud of his work on Apollo 13, Apollo 11, and a “rendezvous in space” between the Americans and the Russian astronauts on the Soyuz capsule, where they met up in space to “shake hands and get to know each other.”

“Two weeks before I graduated, President Kennedy spoke on the radio and said he wanted to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. We didn’t have what we needed to do that back then! We had eight and a half years to start from scratch and put someone on the moon… It was incredible,” continued Royston.

Since retiring from the space program, Royston has taught at Angelina College in Lufkin, worked with Hammer Industries on a community outreach program for East Texas 5th graders called “If I Had a Hammer,” has contributed to the Lufkin Daily News and The Tyler County Booster as a humor columnist, and has recently published a book, The Black Chip. His book is a techno-thriller (with a touch of medical mystery) fiction novel that is based in Dallas during the turn of the 21st century. It involves the illegal use of DOD’s GPS Satellite Tracking System and the surreptitious implanting of microchips where the implanted microchip can not only track an unsuspecting victim using GPS but also send a charge directly into the victim’s brain, resulting in instant death. Jack Kilby, inventor of the microchip, himself read and gave Royston’s manuscript his seal of approval.

Royston’s time at Lamar University made his career possible, and he is the first to admit it.

“I had the most incredible career anyone could imagine. While I didn’t learn inertial navigation at Lamar, I learned how to learn at Lamar. I realized early in my career that it’s not what you learn, it’s how you learn. It’s how you learn to bring yourself up to speed on new things. A few weeks after I graduated, I was teaching something I had no idea about when I graduated; I had to teach myself pretty quickly. And Lamar helped me do that,” said Royston.

Royston’s time at Lamar University was impacted by Mr. Robert Carlin, his Electrical Engineering professor and long-time next door neighbor.

“Having someone at Lamar to mentor me, to be there for me and help me, was vital. Carlin living next door to me for so many years was a big thing for me… Every time I meet with Mr. Carlin [now,] he tells me that every student he’s ever had, he tells them about me for inspiration. The first time I took a class from him, he flunked me. It was Electrical Engineering fundamentals. My fundamentals! But when I finally got serious about it, I made an A in his class. I think it’s important for people to know that if you persist, you can do it,” Royston said.

Royston’s advice to students and alumni about staying in touch with Lamar University is “to really try and do it.”

“I would so encourage [keeping in touch.] I kept that connection going with Lamar, and that was important to me. I told 10,000 people about Lamar University [through the Hammer program,] and those people were in East Texas. I’m probably the single reason for all the growth in enrollment from that area in the last few years,” Royston joked. “In all seriousness, though, [the connection to Lamar] is important to me. I made a PowerPoint presentation a few years back, and one of the slides is my Lamar University degree, because it’s so important to me,” Royston said.

The most important life lesson Royston has learned since he graduated from Lamar is to persist.

“The most important thing you can do is persist. Persist. Keep doing whatever you’re doing. Make goals and stick to them. Set your plans in the sand and your goal in concrete,” Royston said. “Your plans can blow away and get moved around, but your goal needs to stick. If it’s really important to you, you’ll figure out the plans to make it happen. Just persist and stick to that goal,” continued Royston.

Royston’s persistence took him from Lamar to NASA and back home to Woodville, where he continues to persist in his efforts, with his wife Pat by his side, to help the community and spread the word about the importance of education.

Royston will talk about his experience as a Lamar University undergraduate, his professional career and the book and how it came to be at a reception and book signing on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 7pm at the University Event Center, Mary and John Gray Library, 8th floor.

By Kaylie Smith