Rocket man offers world of advice


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Former space engineer Dave Bonnar is realistic about funding problems that could limit future projects. Photo by Darrell Woehler

NASA might do well to listen to Dave Bonnar, who for 48 years worked in many aspects of the space program since its infancy. The man definitely knows space. 

Falling for the allure of space after watching the film “Destination Moon” in 1950, Bonnar headed for a career in the then-infant field, via an aerospace degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. 

“I was offered a job by Douglas Aircraft in California to go design rockets for them,” said Bonnar, who moved to Viera in 2004. Before departing for Brevard, Bonnar had directed a group of rocket experts in the Boeing Phantom Works Division in Huntington Beach, Calif. 

“Boeing moved me here to support work we were doing for NASA on large rocket designs.” 

Bonnar’s career included work projects for the Air Force, Navy and Army, and several intelligence agencies, where he analyzed foreign threats and space capabilities. 

He met his wife, Diana, at work in 1986.

“She worked with me in California. She did classified security work for Boeing. We met in ’86 and got married in Laguna Beach in 1987.”

He was part of the Apollo program that took man to the moon.

“I worked on many rocket design teams, supporting the country’s space program,” Bonnar said. “I was honored to be part of this last great period in our nation’s space history, when we went to the moon and back successfully.”

As early as the 1960s, Bonnar was also part of Douglas’ analysis of the feasibility of a Mars mission.

“We had a computer program that would determine how much energy would be needed to reach Mars for any given launch date,” he said.  

His inside knowledge doesn’t fuel optimism for manned Mars flights.

“These missions are so expensive as to break our budget,” Bonnar said. “There are estimates that a manned one-person mission to Mars would cost over $400 billion, $20 billion spread out over 20 years.”

Better to go with the unmanned missions, he suggests.

“They can be flown within our current NASA yearly budget of about $18 billion,” he said.

During his time with Douglas, Bonnar worked on the design of the Saturn V rocket, but said he never had time to watch a rocket launch. 

“I was too busy working. They were put together in phases and I never took time off to watch a launch.”

Though he is now an observer rather than a participant, Bonnar keeps his eyes focused to the skies and the projects the government plans for its further exploration.

“It’s been encouraging to watch the activity, but there are problems,” he said. “The Boeing Orion manned capsule will be used to advance man’s presence in the universe, but there are major funding problems to realize this future vision.”

In the present, he spends his time as the captain of two tennis teams in the Space Coast Tennis League and competing for gold medals in the Golden Age Games and Senior Games. Last year, he and his partner, Russell Reinhard, placed sixth out of 14 teams when they represented Florida in the Nationals in Minneapolis, Minn. In December, he and Reinhard took the gold in the Men’s 85 to 89 Doubles Tennis at the Florida Senior Games in Clearwater.

“We even played in the 70s bracket because they didn’t have any teams in that bracket. We were defeated in a tiebreaker.”

The Viera East resident said he doesn’t play as much golf as he thought he would when he moved to a home on the golf course, and he no longer plays basketball, baseball or softball as he did in his younger days.

“I really like tennis,” he said.