skip mackey
NASA Memories
NASA Memories

This video is also on Youtube

December 2, 2005

Veteran launch telemetry commentator Skip Mackey announces news that the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft has successfully deployed from the Atlas rocket's Centaur upper stage to complete the launch.

Arthur J. " Skip" Mackey Jr. was in the  ROTC and went to Dartmouth on a scholarship.  He wanted to be a Forest Ranger, but Dartmouth didn't have a Forestry program so he opted for engineering.  After graduating, he moved to Cocoa Beach for the job at NASA and was there for the duration. He retired in 1996 after serving 40 years as the Telemetry Engineer in Hangar AE.

Telemetry is defined as: (n. The science and technology of automatic measurement and transmission of data by wire, radio, or other means from remote sources, as from space vehicles, to receiving stations for recording and analysis).

During the 60's or 70's,  he became the "Voice of NASA."  NASA started doing broad casted countdowns for the public for the first time, and Skip was "the voice"  that was piped out to the masses. He was involved with all the unmanned vehicle programs like the Delta program, which was the last program he worked on. In the 80's, he worked on the top-secret military program which allows us to intercept nuclear missiles.

Exceptional Service Medal

In 1976, he was awarded The NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the second highest award in the NASA Incentive Awards Program. It is granted for significant achievement or service characterized by unusual initiative or creative ability that clearly demonstrates substantial improvement in engineering, administative, space flight, or space-related endeavors which contribute to NASA programs.

Present during the Kennedy administration, when Space was considered the final frontier, Skip was privileged to be a part of a rich history.

Here are just a few of the stories from that era.

 YOU NEVER KNOW... by Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey

To understand this story, there are a few things you really need to know.  Some rocket launches, particularly the interplanetary ones, have what is called a launch window.  What this means is that, in order for the spacecraft to reach the designated target, the liftoff must occur at an exact time, with little allowable variation.  It is much like trying to throw a rock at a moving car.  You have to let it go at exactly the right time, or you will surely miss.  For many launches, this window is of the order of 15 minutes, occasionally much less. The shortest I remember was 1 second!  Since the actual launch is often the culmination of years of preparation, it is important that everything go right the first time. What most people do not realize is the size of the support operations surrounding the actual launch. 

Aside from the many personnel involved in the actual launch preparations, there are routinely several manned tracking stations scattered all over the world that must be ready, including airborne aircraft, and occasionally ships and tracking satellites.  All of these sites must also be interconnected by elaborate communications systems.  The actual number of highly trained technical personnel involved in this support is always in the hundreds, often over a thousand.  Since the countdowns last for well over the normal eight hour day, most of these people are getting at least some overtime!  Also, it seems that the planetary alignment usually occurs on either Thanksgiving or Christmas, which may mean double or triple time!

Now, everyone knows that these rockets are not toys, and occasionally go awry, often with spectacular displays of pyrotechnics.  Because of this, the USAF insists that the sea areas under the flight path be clear of all shipping, right down to small outboard fishermen. If the safety people could see a kayak on the radars, the kayak would no doubt also have to get out. To assist in this effort, they have several Coast Guard boats and USAF helicopters crisscrossing the area to check on any radar echos, and, if necessary, to escort the vessels out of the area,I am not sure what this support actually costs, but figures between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per launch attempt have been bandied about.  Remember, this support includes that required for the launch vehicle, as well as range safety and the spacecraft.  What I am driving at is that a launch slip can possible add $1,000,000 to the cost of the mission.  Needless to say, there is a concerted effort not to have a slip.

On one particular launch, exactly which one has disappeared from my memory with age, the countdown was approaching the last few minutes, and the range safety officer let everyone know that the range was not clear for launch.  It seemed that a shrimp boat was in the danger area, and at its present rate of speed and direction, it would be in the danger area at the launch time.  To make matters more interesting, this boat had another shrimp boat in tow, limiting its speed, and there was a rain storm right over these two boats.  The noise level, with the big diesel and the rain, was such that neither captain apparently could hear or see the helicopter hovering right over the boats, attempting to get their attention.  All attempts to contact these vessels over the usual ship to shore communications channels, and bull horns, were in vain.  For some reason, it appeared that they were not listening to their radios.

The range safety office finally announced all this over the operational communications net, for all to hear, with his assessment that the boats would not be clear of the area in time.  He also noted that if the boat doing the towing would merely make a sharp turn to the left, he could clear the area in time, but there was no was to tell him that.

At that point it dawned on me that these shrimpers were probably talking on their CB radios, rather than the “official” VHF marine radios.  The “official” communicators had no way of knowing this, or of contacting the boats if they did know.  At the time, I was manager of a NASA telemetry facility, but I was also a part time commercial King Mackerel fisherman, and we all used CB radios rather than the VHF marine radios for several reasons.  Because of this, I knew that the shrimp fleet used CB channel 13 (out of a possible 40). One of my co-workers had a CB radio shop, and had a CB radio in his car.  This some time before we all had them in our cars.  I asked if I could use his radio, and we went to his car.  Sure enough, there were two shrimpers gabbing on channel 13.  When one of them said he had to go below and check the bilge pumps, I knew I had the right guys, and I broke in.  I explained our problem, and the towing captain said he had no problem, and would turn left at once.

Arthur J. MackeyI ran inside and called the test conductor on a secondary communications channel, and told him I had talked to the boat, he was going to move, and not to scrub the launch.  As I was explaining to him how I had done that, the range safety officer called on the main channel, and said that, for some reason, the boat was turning in the correct direction, and would be out of the danger area on time.  The launch eventually went on time, and the multi-multi million dollar mission was a success.

You never know what knowledge outside of your general area of expertise will come in handy.
Keep Learning! (See press coverage below)

anchorskip mackey

Skip enjoyed his job at NASA for 40 years, He retired in 1996.
Skip passed away on November 19, 2013

A Tribute to SKIP MACKEY

Photo: Courtesy of NASA

On January 23, 2014, the team at NASA placed Skip's name on the Atlas V rocket used for the TDRS launch as a tribute to him. This is the story carried by Channel 13 and written By Greg Pallone, Brevard County Reporter.


An Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, piercing the clear night sky on a mission to carry a NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite into orbit.

The rocket launched at 9:33 p.m. Thursday, carrying not only the TDRS-L satellite, but also special tribute into space honoring longtime NASA engineer Capt. Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey Jr., who died in November.

Mackey was the "Voice of NASA" in the 1960s and '70s, when he broadcast countdowns for the agency's rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was Mackey's voice the nation heard when NASA began broadcasting countdowns to the public for the first time. Mackey stayed in that role until retiring after decades of service.

Etched onto the side of the Atlas V was a tribute that read:

In memory of our colleague
and friend
Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey Jr
The NASA and ULA Team

Those who worked with him knew Mackey to be a professional, a pioneer and a gentleman.

"His way of delivering the data in a way everybody could understand was what made it so interesting to listen to him," said George Diller, NASA's public affairs information specialist and current "voice" of many launches from Cape Canaveral. "He had an insight into what was really going on without ( the listener ed.) being a rocket scientist or engineer."

Diller said Mackey inspired him, and his style reflects what he learned from him.

Aside from the etching on the rocket, the launch of a tracking and telemetry satellite is a fitting tribute to Mackey as well. It represents the same type of work "Skip" did with NASA.

The TDRS-L is the second of three next-generation satellites scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral to replace older satellites already in orbit. It's designed to help improve the space agency's Earth-to-space communications network.

to view images and videos go to:


More Stories and Press

Photo: Courtesy of NASA

Prior to the launch the commentator read the following tribute:

As far back as the 1960's, following every ELV launch, the only voice you would hear over the communications channels was the voice of Skip Mackey. Skip was the "Voice of NASA" serving as the launch commentator for all of NASA's science and communications satellites. There were many launches back then...most went well, some went bad. But you could always count on Skip to remain the constant...letting you know how the mission was progressing.

He was like the roving reporter on the ground, informing you of the latest news in a breaking story.

In more recent years, the video camera set up in Hangar AE would catch the image of a frenetic Skip running from "archaic" stripchart to his fashionable "fish" tie...enthusiastically calling out critical rocket milestones for all to hear!

Whether you were a Cape worker on console for launch, or a launch guest at a viewing site, you relied on Skip to tell you how the rocket was performing on its mission. Skip had a knack for quickly and accurately translating all of the telemetry data he was seeing into a clear and concise message for everyone to understand. He was particularly effective in describing events such that the every-day-person could clearly understand what was other words-he boiled down the jargon so you didn't have to be an Engineer to "get it".

When not working a launch, Skip was always willing to teach new engineers what he knew. He knew that not everything was written down and would be passed on to future generations. So he took it upon himself to teach Mark Lavigne and Rob Gagnon. They each have taken on the challenge to provide post-launch commentary for launches. Skip shared his knowledge with them so they could be successful and carry on the rich history of documenting launch events.

Skip was a boss to some, and a co-worker and mentor to many. He left his legacy with hundreds perhaps thousands of men and women throughout the space industry. A legacy that hard work, intelligence, commitment, enthusiasm, friendship, and love can coexist and flourish!

He will be missed dearly by his NASA and ULA family.

Mission Accomplished Skip

This photo of the launch, taken by Sam Wolfe in Vero Beach, Florida, is so appropriate. Skip was an avid fisherman and, in the end, he is shooting line toward the Big Dipper.

Photo and video courtesy of

NASA Public Affairs Information Specialist George Diller remembers the late 'Voice of NASA,' Arthur J. 'Skip' Mackey Jr., ahead of the launch of an Atlas V rocket containing a tribute to Mackey, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 -(58 megs) VIEW VIDEO WHICH WILL OPEN IN A NEW WINDOW


The Lift-off and more videos can be viewed on NASA'S You Tube page

  • The Voice of NASA - Skip Mackey soothes the ears of many as unmanned rockets blast out of eyeview.. By Todd Halvorson FLORIDA TODAY
  • countdown magazine



On August 31, 2004 Lockheed Martin launched the last of Atlas IAS rockets on a classified mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. This launch marked the final flight of the stage-and-a-half Atlas booster and the end of one of the longest chapters in the history of American aviation. In the 47 years since its first launch, Atlas became a workhorse and an American icon as it achieved a string of historic firsts. This DVD is dedicated to four generations of men and women who worked to build the legacy of Atlas... a legacy that will live on as Atlas V carries the dream into the future.

Available at

View Clip featuring Skip Mackey:: Interviews - Cold War and Space Race (AVI FORMAT)
Skip's interview starts at 2.92 minutes into this 4.18 minute segment (51.8 megs)

Here is Skip with Marc "Moose" Lavigne, who took over as "The Voice of Delta" when Skip retired.

A collegue gave Skip a fish tie which he wore with his pink shirt for the next launch.

The launch was successful - causing co-workers to encourage him to wear the pink shirt and the fish tie for all future launches.

Mark Lavigne and Rob Gagnon each have taken on the challenge to provide post-launch commentary. Both continue to wear a pink shirt and fish tie.