A lifetime of service

By Stephanie Holinka

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Weapons engineer Dan Summers retires after 53 years in nuclear arena

Sandia weaponeer Dan Summers retired this fall, after 36 years at the Labs and more than 53 years in nuclear weapons-related jobs. Dan’s career at Sandia and elsewhere has spanned much of the research, development and stockpile modernization and surveillance activities of the nation’s nuclear weapons programs.

Dan Summers and colleagues visit National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
NUCLEAR QUEST — This group of active and retired Sandia employees gathered in 2011 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico, around two B28 gravity bombs recovered from a 1966 nuclear accident over Palomares, Spain. They are among the 42 people — including key policymakers, scientists and engineers — who appear in the Sandia video, Always/Never: The Quest for Safety, Control and Reliability. Looming overhead are U.S. Air Force emblems of the nuclear weapon systems deployed during the Cold War. Pictured, from left, Stan Spray, Leon Smith (who died in 2012), Dan Summers, Ray Reynolds, Bill Stevens and Bob Bradley.

Dan is best known at Sandia and around the world for his weapons systems engineering and safety work. Dan is still an active member of NNSA’s Accident Response Group, which responds to nuclear weapons-related concerns and emergencies all over the world.

“Dan’s unwavering support of the U.S. stockpile mission was evident in his knowledge and contributions in the areas of nuclear and nuclear explosive safety, and in his membership in several different skill sets and participation in numerous drills and exercises in the Accident Response Group,” said fellow ARG member Wendy Baca. “In these roles, he served as instructor, mentor, colleague and friend to many that came and went during his 36-year career in the Nuclear Security Enterprise.”

Dan appeared in the 2011 Sandia documentary Always/Never: The Quest for Safety, Control & Survivability, which uses historical footage and interviews to describe how national security laboratories improved the safety and security of nuclear weapons through the end of the Cold War.

Dan hosted author Eric Schlosser as part of Sandia’s National Security Speakers Series in 2014, and gave him the “Burned Board” presentation, which Eric references in his 2013 book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, about nuclear weapons systems in the United States.

Destined for a nuclear career

Prior to his time at Sandia, Dan worked as a draftsman and electromechanical technician while he went to night school at the University of New Mexico. During this 10-year period, Dan created detailed drawings of ready-safe switches and aircraft monitor and control systems for Sandia. Dan also investigated electromagnetic pulse radiation at various test sites for the U.S. Air Force on Kirtland Air Force Base.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UNM, Dan relocated to Torrance, California, and worked for Garrett AiResearch, where he worked on forensic engineering and failure analysis for programs such as the SR-71 Blackbird, the space shuttle, and on gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment. At the same time, he earned his master’s degree at California State University, Long Beach.

Dan joined Sandia in 1984 as an employee in Sandia’s component group, where he helped design rolamites, trajectory sensing signal generators and stronglinks. He also continued teaching as an adjunct professor at UNM. Since 1987, Dan has been a member of the nuclear weapon detonation safety organization at Sandia.

“Some of my components are still in the field,” he said.

Dan was born in 1948 to C.K. (Kelly) and Mary Summers. His father was a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II and then worked for 35 years in nuclear weapon development and production for the Atomic Energy Commission, Energy Research and Development Administration and DOE. His mother was a Navy nurse during WWII, where she aided survivors of the Bataan Death March.

Dan graduated from Sandia High School in Albuquerque, and soon afterward married his high school sweetheart, Lindia S. Chadwick. They have been married for 53 years. Their daughter Danelle was born shortly afterward, followed by their son Sean three years later. Dan’s children have grown up, gone to college, married and started families.

In his spare time, Dan continues to develop new biomedical devices, several of which have been patented, and he enjoys restoring old cars. His wife, Lindia, now retired, had a career much like Dan’s, working for the USAF Nuclear Weapons Center.

After retirement, Dan is considering many options to keep himself busy, including teaching. He’s proud of his service to Sandia and to the nation.

“In my 36 years at Sandia, a lot of things have changed,” he said. “The one thing that remained constant is the people and their dedication to do the job, which is so critical to our national security. And we do the job right.”