Carson City man’s eventful life includes working for Howard Hughes |

Carson City man’s eventful life includes working for Howard Hughes

Carson City resident Aubrey Kelch used a Polaroid Land camera to photograph images from a NASA weather satellite in 1967.
Jim Grant | Nevada Appeal

For Aubrey Kelch when it comes to his life, it’s really been a case of one small step for man and one unconventional leap after another for mankind.

Kelch, 87, is retired and now lives in Carson City with his wife, Alice, an accomplished artist. Kelch lists his vocation as mechanical engineer. But to just state Kelch has worked as a mechnical engineer is an oversimplification of his life.

Take in the 1960s when Kelch worked with his good friend Greg Tobin at IBM in Mountain View, Calif. NASA had launched a satellite and Kelch and Tobin came up with the idea of taking photographic images from that satellite.

The Polaroid land camera Kelch used to take those photos was one from the 1950s that used a techtronic cycloscope. They used a hydraulic cylinder off of a garbage truck as an antenna to pick up the NASA satellite images. Through this not so state-of-the-art equipment to be sure, they captured images from the NASA satellite in 1967 of Baja California which Kelch still has at his Carson City home today. Kelch also said they captured satellite images showing an extremely clear Lake Tahoe which Kelch gave to NASA.

After seeing the photos, NASA officials from Cape Canaveral, Fla., came to visit Kelch and Tobin to see their state-of-the-art facility in which they were able to capture all these images. “They were shocked with what little we had to work with and what we accomplished,” Kelch said.

Kelch said the NASA officials offered him and Tobin employment, but Kelch said he preferred the West Coast to Florida’s humidity.

Before his time with IBM and experimenting with taking photos using NASA satellite images, Kelch worked for Howard Hughes in Southern California. “He said I was his buddy,” Kelch said. “Boy, he was an awfully smart man.”

Kelch said among the projects he did for Hughes was developing a guided missile and “machined” experimental landing gear. “That was a lot of work, doing that stuff,” he said.

Hughes would show Kelch blueprints of a project and Kelch said he would tell him “This isn’t what you want.” Then Kelch said Hughes would reply, “You make me what I want.”

When asked what it was like working for Hughes, Kelch said, “Wonderful.”