Former employee writes a book honoring SBRC’s legacy
Diane Sova dedicated a year to writing about a scientific powerhouse called the Santa Barbara Research Center.
She worked there from 1982 to 2007 and wanted to capture the story of a center embedded in Santa Barbara history.
Ms. Sova conducted 28 interviews of co-workers and alumni and captured their stories in 348 letter-sized pages. “Santa Barbara Research Center: A Tribute and a Legacy” (Sea Hill Press, 2020, $95) tells the tales of these industry leaders.
The road to the book started in 2006 when she broke her leg. The company’s president, Robert Talley, visited her as she was recovering, and he brought notes about SBRC’s history.
The next year, Ms. Sova moved to Boulder, Colo., to work for Ball Aerospace. She kept in touch with her former co-workers and returned annually to gather more information and interviews.
The project paused when she retired in 2014 and traveled the world for more than four years. She wanted to relax. That is, until she broke her leg in Brazil.
Her adventure ended by another fracture, Ms. Sova returned home. SBRC alumnus John Fritchie asked her when she was going to put pen to paper.
“That hit me. That’s when I started writing,” she told the News-Press.
Many SBRC alumni are bonded and meet annually. A total of 208 are connected through a Facebook group. Ms. Sova is one of two group administrators.
“We all had a common goal of making the best product and contributing technically the best and making sure it all works,” she said. “They become your family.”
Ms. Sova loved working in a close-knit staff where every team member was just steps away, making it easy for mentorship.
When Raytheon closed the research center (then called Santa Barbara Remote Sensing) in 2007, she felt like it was breaking up her family.
“We were like family, and we were dispersed to the wind,” she said.
SBRC’s innovation was remarkable, especially for a center of its size.
It developed the Visible/Infrared Spin-Scan Radiometer for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 9169. It captures images of the earth’s weather and is still in use in today’s meteorology.
SBRC inventions served in space exploration and military operations.
Because of the secret nature of government-contracted projects, Ms. Sova had to be sure not to reveal everything in the book.
“We can’t tell the full story because of that. When you get a security clearance, it’s for your life,” she said. “I had to be very careful having spent my career not talking, and now talking, to not mention anything I couldn’t.”.
While not everything can be divulged in the book, it still adequately honors the work of those in the SBRC family.
Ms. Sova offers a special dedication to the late Bob Talley and the late Gene Peterson.
Mr. Peterson was her proofreader. Even as he reached 100, he could find the book’s misspellings with precision, she said.
When he died, Ms. Sova was shaken but pressed on with the book.
To print her first limited run, she had to take money from her savings. She wanted the book manufactured in the U.S., and it proved expensive.
Some SBRC colleagues offered monetary support to print the book. They received some of the first copies.
Ms. Sova intended the book for a local audience and published it with Sea Hill Press, a publisher that was located in Santa Barbara at the time.
Ms. Sova called the book a “labor of love.” But she’s ready to retire again.