The Boeing Company - KSC - Ernie Banks - Senior Materials & Processes Engineer

30-year Space Industry Veteran Lends Expertise To SATOP

Marvin “Ernie” Banks’ parents learned early on that that no mechanical contraption was safe from their son’s inquisitive mind and busy hands.

“I tore up everything to find out how it worked,” Banks said. “And most of the time I could put it back together.”

That indefatigable curiosity put Banks on an engineering career path that has allowed him to work on Spacelab, the Space Station, and now the Space Orbiter, during almost 25 years with The Boeing Company.

His first noteworthy reverse engineering job, however, came at age 13 when he tore apart his father’s lawn mower. An understanding man, Banks’ father handed down a mild punishment: young Ernie had to cut the grass after putting the mower back together. Later, Banks disassembled the first car he owned. “That car didn’t work when I bought it, so I tore it apart to fix it. I figured I couldn’t break it any more than it already was,” Banks says.

During a four-year stint in the Air Force, Banks continued his engineering explorations and began constructing demonstration devices for undergraduate pilot training exercises. “I was never satisfied with the answer ‘We don’t have anything that will do that.’ If the proper device didn’t exist, then I would just build whatever was needed,” he said.

After leaving the military, Banks embarked upon what would become a 30-year career at Kennedy Space Center – first as an astronaut rescue specialist, then as a life support technician, then as a skill training instructor, and ultimately as a senior materials and processes engineer on the Orbiter. Banks is responsible for technical support for the Orbiter systems, including maintaining the Thermal Protection System and Thermal Control Systems.

While supporting the electrical fabrication shop, Banks found time to co-develop a new fiber optic inspection scope that received a Space Act Award. And he has used his talents to help more than a dozen small business owners by working with the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program since 2001.

“I have really enjoyed the variety of challenges that I’ve assisted with through SATOP,” Banks said. “I’ve worked on everything from a medical patch, to an ultralight water storage tank for military use, to a leg cuff designed to repel ticks and prevent Lyme disease. I guess it just appeals to the part of me that enjoys figuring out how something works, and then, how to make it work better.”

One-on-One with Ernie Banks, SATOP volunteer:

Interesting fact about you that is not generally known: I once operated a one-man submarine that a buddy of mine had constructed. I piloted it for about 30 minutes in the Indian River.

What job he would have had if not an engineer and why: Architect – I have designed two of my own houses.

Most admired historical figure and why: Frank Lloyd Wright because his designs are interesting and functional. I’d love to live in one of his houses.

Engineering project he wishes he could have worked on: A car that uses water for fuel.

Personal accomplishment he is most proud of: I once built a 10-foot, ultra-light canoe from a mail order kit that came with just a one-page blueprint for instructions. I donated the canoe to the Boy Scouts.

What you enjoy most about being a SATOP volunteer: I like the fact that I can see quite plainly that I’m helping people solve their problems. And they really appreciate my assistance – I still get a Christmas card every year from one of the requestors I helped.