Below is the text of the openings speech of the NAVRO club house held by NAVRO's club president Gerben-Jan Ligthart. Actually the text is more like a (to his standards) shortened, personal history of the NAVRO. My gratitude is to Harry Advokaat for the translation.
Speech club house opening 28 June, 2008
First I want to welcome to everybody on this important day for us. Saturday last week (21 June) was the NAVRO's 30th anniversary and today our club house will finally be opened! Until now the road was long and not always easy, but here it is.
Everything has a start. So does the NAVRO. And for this we will have to go back to 1966-1973, location: Tanzania, East Africa. Why Africa, I hear you think. Yes, however improbable, here lies the root of my interest for space exploration.
I spent the most important years of my youth there. How you become in the rest of your life depends largely on the first 10 to 12 years of your youth. I was always interested in everything that flew and followed, as far as I could, the news about American and Russian space capsules and studied the beautiful African starry skies.
Every summer holiday I spent a few weeks summer leave in The Netherlands, staying with family. As in 1969, the year that the first man would set foot on the moon. I was so excited! My parents would wake me up in the middle of the night to see the landing live on television. After a restless sleep, with the self made model of the lunar lander waking over me on the side table, I was awakened... And, yes, poor quality black and white images showed an astronaut, Neil Armstrong, who carefully set the first step on the moon: "It is a small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind". These words I will never forget. The fire was lit. There was no way back.
Back in Tanzania, deprived of modern means, I fantasised and tinkered a lot. Just because means were limited, I was forced to be inventive. Rockets and spaceships were made out of toilet rolls, aluminium foil, tape and so on. This inventiveness and the resulting creativity have helped me a lot later in life. Also a bit of the African mentality like "Time and life are not that important" stuck to me. But this is a sidetrack. Soon I got the dream to build and launch a real rocket myself. Also I wanted to become an astronaut myself (now, with all that I know about that and considering my fitness and health, a complete impossibility).
Everything ends someday, as did my African period. Somewhat comparable with Neil Armstrong I set foot on Dutch soil during 1973. Why comparable? Well, I arrived in a country that did not compare to anything I was used to. Fighting for a girl on the schoolyard? (I still had to finish part of the primary school). What a stupid idea, never even thought about it. Always being exactly in time, that was hard! To be honest, it still is. Anyway, I had to adapt quite a bit.
At that time I met a boy in the neighbourhood: Ad de Roode. He was interested in spaceflight and the like as well. Soon we had the idea to start a club. But, why not join an existing association? Well, as far as we knew this didn't exist yet. First at home and later in a room of the local community centre "De Mijlpaal" we got the wildest plans. We wrote a real club magazine (handwritten and multiplied with carbon paper). And thus, 21 June 1978, the NAVRO started. A nice tale from that period: at some time my mother asked me: "What are you going to do with that cloth and those wires?". I answered calmly: "Well this is a parachute and I am going to try it out from that high apartment building". You will understand my mother was not pleased about it and the test was cancelled.
Also on the secondary school I met kindred spirits. There were Kees Jan Groenendijk and Peter Heeren. They joined the club in "De Mijlpaal". On my technical college Harry Advokaat and Martin van Vliet joined the club and at last, at the polytechnic, Peter Leemker and Fred van Arkel joined. The NAVRO started to grow nicely.
From 1978 to 1988 the NAVRO was mostly busy with small black powder rockets, a hot air balloon and other similar aircraft. We also had exhibitions and speeches in "De Mijlpaal". Another tale from those days: With our black powder rockets we would sometimes have mishaps. At some time we were to test a new black powder rocket motor. These tests were always done on a green behind the secondary school at the Mesdaglaan. Everything was well prepared, we were going to test a more powerful motor. The motor was well secured in a something resembling a test bench and Kees Jan lit the fuse... (This time without burning his fingers). At a safe distance the rest of the team waited until the motor would ignite. Well, there was no ignition. A loud bang and the motor was gone! Everybody was amazed. How could this happen? After a while we pretended as if nothing happened and following a thorough field search we found that the trunk of a small tree had split in half. Following this trail we came near some houses. It would not be true... And yes, just below a window-sill the motor had struck. Luckily we found that the residents were not at home. What a relief! With the battered motor we ran away... Later that day I came home to my parents who were just having visitors. "Did you hear that airplane breaking the sound barrier? A terrible bang!" "Yes father", I answered, "That was exceptional."
This happening apparently taught us a lot, because something like this never happened again.
In the early eighties we got in touch with the NERO (Nederlandse vereniging voor Raket Onderzoek). This association was founded in 1957 by some students of the University of Leiden. We were very impressed. With their years of experience they built real amateur rockets of two meters length and launched up to two kilometres. The NERO had a motivating influence on us and after many deliberations the NAVRO became, while keeping our own identity, a workgroup within the NERO. During this "NERO period" we gained a lot of knowledge and started to do more professional rocket motor research. After some two years it appeared we differed too much from each other, so we each went our own way.
Late eighties we got in touch with the NERO again, this time the department in Haarlem (our previous flirt was with the department Drechtsteden). It was obvious that we had more in common. This contact resulted in 1990 in our visit to a launch campaign in Mourmelon, France. The things that I saw there! Various French clubs launched on a large military terrain rockets "to their hearts content". Soon I decided: next year we will be there!
And so we did. Many evenings of designing, discussing and drawing led to the definite design. And of course we had to test several parts. Like the parachute system. You guessed it, there is another tale. At that moment my parents were for a second period to Tanzania and the garage of my parents would act as testing room. We had to test a parachute cable. One of the members had the brilliant idea to string one end to a ceiling beam and use a bar to pull the other end of the parachute cable. How should we apply this force? Well, Peter Heeren had the answer. Boldly (as Peter is) he grabbed the bar and hung onto it... This did not last long. Like a sandbag Peter crashed onto the floor shouting: "Not strong enough!". A stronger cable was necessary.
At last the rocket, the N1, was ready and in the summer of 1990 we left for Mourmelon, France. After putting our rocket through the safety inspection it was declared worthy of flight. About this inspection... what a troublesome time! In The Netherlands we had done all the calculations, the N1 would have a stable flight. The French clearly had another opinion! After a long meeting, at which I was called in several times to explain things in English (a language that the French hardly speak or want to speak), the N1 was finally accepted. After arriving at the launch area, we were given a professional rocket motor at the launch tower. After we installed this in the rocket, the N1 was slid in the tower. After a tense countdown... troi, deux, un, feu... after 0.7 seconds the motor exploded. The capsule part flew several dozen metres, parachuted and landed safely while Kees Jan uttered the legendary words: "The motor exploded...". A year later, in 1991, the N2 was launched, with the same capsule but a different motor, this time successfully. With this project we even won a prize: Prix Joseph Mercier. A great honour! We got praised for our safe methods. It should be mentioned Mercier has meant a lot for safety in rocketry. Sadly he had died falling from a small stepladder.
After returning to The Netherlands we felt a strong urge to develop our own rocket motor (NERO was, for various reasons, out of the picture again). Also our club grew, as Vincent Kouer and a bit later Pleun Punt joined. To give the NAVRO a more solid base, we decided to make it a legally registered association (until then the NAVRO was an association with limited rights). And thus the NAVRO became official on 1 January 1991.
In the autumn of 1991 we carefully did the first experiments with a new propellant. This mixture, named Kalinitrox, had some very favourable characteristics for amateur use. When starting serious research the NAVRO board decided we had to legalise everything with the proper permits. And thus (here is another tale) I phoned the Minister for Transport, Public Works and Water Management early 1992. After some lengths I got to talk to a high ranking person. Following an extensive introduction of the NAVRO, I asked: "Sir, we would like to have a permit for research on rocket motors". After some moments of deep silence: "That is very interesting, I have never heard about it". "As far as I know this has not happened before, but as I said, it is interesting". "I will get into it". That much we had won. After many more telephone calls and a classification by TNO (the Dutch classification institute), we received this permit as the first amateur association in The Netherlands in 1992. Now we really could get on. Our times of covert working were over. In the summer of 1993 the N3 was lifted into the air successfully on the military shooting range ASK. The launch of the first rocket with our own propellant was a fact. This was the start of a period with much motor research and many launches.
- The development of two standard motors, the K600 motor and the K1800 motor, which was three times more powerful.
- The launch of some twenty rockets, some with video cameras.
- The NAVRO safety rules.
- A sound and good relationship with "Artillerie Schietkamp ASK" (military shooting range).
- The realisation of a youth group under supervision of Addy Hersman and later Pleun Punt.
- And lots more...
And then came 13 May 2000. The Netherlands was startled by a huge explosion in Enschede. One hundred and fifty thousand kilograms of heavy fireworks exploded in the middle of a neighbourhood! Incomprehensible that something like that could happen. When I quickly calculate the safe distance to sensitive objects it should have been 2.2 km... The consequences soon became appeared. As usual in this country, all laws and regulations were reviewed and not always by the most qualified persons. If I look at the members of the NAVRO they know exactly what I mean... The NAVRO too had to suffer the consequences, "The good will have to suffer under the bad" appeared (again) as usual in this country. Another tale: One afternoon in 2001, the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) visited the NAVRO in "De Mijlpaal" to inspect if the NAVRO followed all requirements. What those requirements were was not known to us. All applicable authorities knew what NAVRO did. Nothing seemed wrong, which was confirmed by the RIVM. Well, we if only we knew... The following afternoon I was phoned at my work. "This is the mayor. I have just been called by the VROM" (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment). "I was told the Mijlpaal had to be evacuated or closed because of the NAVRO". "How can this happen? The RIVM came by yesterday and everything checked out OK" I answered.
To summarise: that afternoon we had to move our two boxes with 1.5 kilograms of propellant to a depot at the fire station, accompanied by fire brigade and police. Later that day I called a high ranking official of VROM and it appeared he heard we had stored several hundred kilograms of black powder, so he could not ignore this. It was clearly a case of: At one end of town I strained my wrist and at the other end they say it is amputated. The next day he phoned me again and told me that the night before he spoke to someone of the Ministry of Defence and got the question: "How many trucks do we need to remove all that material?" Remember, all it was, were two boxes of in total 1.5 kilograms!
Anyway, in the end everything turned out well. But it was clear that we could not stay in "De Mijlpaal" for long. We had to start looking for a free-standing building. This was not an easy task. In the end we decided that we had to design and build something ourselves. The first ideas were a portakabin combination or an insulated container, but in the end, getting ahead of matters, it resulted in the design you see in front of you.
After the design followed a challenge that was, in hindsight, a very, very big one! Where was the NAVRO club house to be built? In the end, together with the City Council of Alblasserdam and the Environmental Service Zuid-Holland Zuid, we did found a spot, but it was not easy! A short review:
- 2002: The earlier mentioned first ideas.
- 2003: A portakabin combination on the grounds of Maat Transport; This location appeared not suitable for environmental reasons.
- Early 2004: Together with the City Council and the Environmental Service a location was found on the sports field Souburgh.
- Late 2004: This plan was cancelled when we were almost ready to start. End of building permit attempt no.1.
- Early 2005: Together with the City Council and the Environmental Service a location was found on the industrial estate Grote Beer.
- Late 2005: This plan was cancelled as well. End of building permit trial no. 2.
- Early 2006: At last we found a suitable location, generously supported by Martin de Haan, the ground below your feet. Because of some creative use of legislation and believe me, there is a lot of legislation, by Jaap de Gruijter we got in our building permit late 2006!
At last our contractor IDIS started building last year, beginning on the frame. And on 22 April, 2007, our glorious own club house was there! Only a few weeks of painting and all will be done. That was a misconception of me. All in all we were busy till the end of 2007 with painting, electrics, lighting and much more. I say we, but I mean every local NAVRO member except me. Of course I helped a little and cleaned things, but cheers for our members! While saying this I realise I did nothing else but tidy up and cleaning. The real work has been done by them.
The listed items I mentioned earlier were a lot of work and took a lot of patience and perseverance. Everybody has his talents and those are mine.
At the end of this speech, in which I tried to sum up the last 30 years and the construction of our club house, I want to thank following persons:
- Jaap de Gruijter, former member of the municipal executive (Dutch: college van burgemeester en wethouders) of Alblasserdam; without his creative use of the legislation we could not have managed.
- Maurits de Haan of Abr. De Haan Logistics; without his important cooperation this location would never have been possible.
- Henk de Bruin and Gert van Dijk of the environmental service Zuid-Holland Zuid; without the everlasting positive support of these gentlemen this club house would never have met the necessary environmental conditions.
- Dies van Iwaarden of Klusbedrijf IDIS; without his patience (the construction was postponed several times) and skill this club house would never have been realized.
- Mister Maat of Transportbedrijf A. Maat B.V. ; for the offered location early in the planning and later for storing our club house in 2004.
Furthermore I would like to thank:
- Louis Vinke of LV Belettering for donating the signs on the exterior of the club house.
- Peter Huiskens who did a very professional job at laying the floors.
- Kees Kuipers of Café bar Kees en Nel for donating bar stools and alike.
- Tekenbureau G.C. de Jong v.o.f. for sponsoring chairs.
- Also I would like to thank my mother for taking care of me at times when it was hard and it often was! Mother, thank you!
To bring this to conclusion I want to thank everybody who helped in anyway realizing our club house, but whom I failed to mention.
Before I pass onto Jaap de Gruijter I want to give the microphone to Mrs. Ligthart-de Jong.