John Henry Primbsch was born February 8, 1939 in San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA. His parents were Henry Paul Primbsch and Magdalena Regina Heinrike Schade, both of Germany.He acquired his first name, John, at his baptism. He was known as Henry throughout his life.
Henry was a lifelong electronics afficionado. He was know to fix TVs and radios, and experiment with other devices. As an 18 year-old on June 7, 1957, he appeared on the "Science in Action" TV show in San Francisco, where he demonstrated a radio he made with a new device, the transistor.
On January 25, 1961, Henry completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineeering from the College of Engineering at the University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, Alameda County, California. While attending college, he worked in the Physics Department, supporting space physics, typically X-ray research. He designed electronics devices for rockets, unmanned high-altitude balloons, and satellites. He had this job (which later migrated to UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab) for his entire working career, retiring in 2003.
By 1964 Henry and Sharon, had bought their house in Contra Costa County, California. In 1971, they added a room to their house. Sharon (a stay-at-home mom at the time) drew the plans, got the permits, did the purchasing, and met with inspectors. The two of them would work on the project together on evenings and weekends. They hired contractors to drill foundation holes in the ground, stucco the outside, and finish the wallboard inside. The rest of the work was done with their own four hands.
In 1990 Henry earned his ham (amateur) radio license. (Amateur Extra class, callsign KK6PH). He and Sharon (AA6XZ), earned their licenses the same year. During this year they also installed a tower and antennas at their house, and purchased the radios and other equipment they would use. They did this because Henry subsequently took three field trips to Antarctica, and they wanted to talk while he was there. They were able to be on the air for about 1.5 hours every day. Other Antarctic personnel would use the radio at his end, and Sharon would use a telephone patch from California, so those folks could talk with people who were not on "The Ice." Both Henry and Sharon trained with Contra Costa County as volunteer emergency communication specialists. They helped provided free radio support for bike rides and runs. He also volunteered his time to co-teach many classes in amateur radio at the local adult school. Henry was also the leader for a local team of volunteer examiners, testing prospective hams so they could get their ham licenses.
Henry died on March 6, 2005 in Richmond, Contra Costa, California, USA. His cremains were scattered March 10th in San Francisco Bay off Marin County, California.
For his job, Henry designed electronics for high-altitude balloon gondolas. He once solved a difficult mechanical problem. When above most of the atmosphere, the gondolas needed to point for long periods of time to desired stars or other objects in the sky to make measurements. However, a balloons twists as it floats, and the goldola hangs below it from a flexible, but twisty "load line." Henry did the mathematics and designed the electronics to sense this twist, and rotate against it to keep the gondola pointing where desired. He was told that his solution to this mechanical problem would have earned him a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Henry was a master of the MacGyver fix and the Rube Goldberg contraption. This propensity was very handy during the many field trips he took for his career, because space physics research wasn't very well funded. One time, in the middle of the hot Australian "outback," a weather delay caused the team to be short of liquid nitrogen to keep their expensive (and crucial) X-ray detectors cold. It was Sunday, so most businesses were closed. He found a farmer who had spare liquid nitrogen (to keep bull sperm frozen) and a local plumber who was open. Henry used about a dozen "plumbing" pieces (with metric and English threads) so he could transfer the liquid nitrogen from the farmer's container. On another occasion, their scientific balloon gondola had hinged solar panels that were folded up for launch. When the balloon got to altitude, the panels were supposed to open out, but the mechanism to do it failed before launch. Henry and the team solved this by spring-loading the panels, holding the panels in with bungees on launch, then firing a squib (a kind of bullet) through the bungees at altitude to allow the springs to open the panels.
Henry didn't like taking tests, but he eventually joined Mensa, the international high IQ society.
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