Hans Henrik Junge Hansen has worked a radio operator on commercial ships, served on a UN peacekeeping mission in the Middle East, helped pioneer the field of satellite communications, and assisted dozens of countries in setting up their communications systems. His career has placed him at the cusp of technological change and taken him around the world.
And it all began with a Sunday newspaper column that he read as 13-year-old in his native Denmark.
“I was delivering a Copenhagen newspaper come rain or shine in a rural community in Denmark,” Hansen said. “Every Sunday the paper had a children’s column which I used to read before I started my delivery route.”
“On one particular Sunday, the column had detailed instructions on how to build a radio receiver using simple components – a so-called crystal set – which without a power supply would be able to pick up radio signals from a nearby broadcast transmitter, provided the antenna was long enough.”
“My passion for radio communications was sparked immediately and on that Sunday I had several complaints from my customers about late delivery of the newspaper,” he recollects.
After high school graduation, Hansen enlisted in the Danish Army’s signal corps and later joined the Scandinavian merchant marine as a radio operator, roaming the seas for three years – a stint that included the experience of sending out SOS calls during a ship collision. He spent the next several years involved in UN peacekeeping operations -- first with the UN Field Service, which sent him to the Golan Heights, and subsequently with the UN Emergency Force (UNEF), with assignments in Gaza, Beirut and Tel Aviv.
It was during his UNEF days that Hansen -- on the lookout for ways to build on his radio skills became interested in the Capitol Radio Engineering Institute (CREI), which advertised its correspondence courses in magazines like Popular Mechanics. Hansen signed up and liked the courses so much that he decided to transfer into the school’s residence division – soon to be known as the Capitol Institute of Technology (CIT) – after completing his UN service.
“I was looking for an education that could be used immediately in a practical world. I found CIT had a good mixture of theoretical and hands-on training,” Hansen said.
A new field brings new opportunities
CIT began awarding bachelor’s degrees in 1966, and Hansen – who graduated cum laude the same year – was one of the first students at the school to receive one. His Capitol education proved to be a game-changer. With his degree in hand, Hansen approached the Communication Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), established by Congress in 1962 for the purpose of transferring satellite technology to the private sector.
His credentials were enough to land him a position in COMSAT’s research and development department, and Hansen went to work at its laboratory on M Street in downtown Washington, D.C.
Career-wise, Hansen was in the right place at the right time. The field was just taking off, and Hansen had the background and skills needed to help shape its development.
“To me satellite communication was just an extension of existing radio communication technology,” Hansen said. “It was exciting, because it represented a new revolutionary technology which had my interest. By good luck I got involved almost from its infancy.”
It was not long before this seasoned globe-trotter resumed his travels. In 1971, he joined COMSAT’s International Technical Advisory Division, set up in order to assist other countries – mainly in the developing world – in their efforts to join the rapidly expanding global INTELSAT system. Hansen supervised the construction of Jordan’s international earth station and also conducted the commissioning tests. Subsequent on-site assignments were in Taiwan , Pakistan, Ecuador, Cameroon, Angola, Algeria, Iran and Sri Lanka.
Another big career move was still to come. In 1978, he was invited to join a major Japanese corporation, NEC, which was the world’s major supplier of INTELSAT earth stations. Hansen spent the next 24 years in Japan, working for NEC and assisting a total of 45 countries in their international satellite communications efforts.
Retired, he now lives in northeast Thailand and is assiduously studying the five-toned Thai language – “a linguistic challenge for an elderly person if ever there was one,” he remarks.
“I am proud of having participated in the build-up of the telecommunication transmission systems that are the foundation upon which people today with ease can communicate worldwide,” Hansen says. “Few people today realize the complexities of these systems.”
Advice for Capitol students
Over the course of his long, varied and rewarding career, Hansen has learned a great deal about the attributes needed for professional success.
A good sense of humor, he says, can be an asset. “While I was in the Danish Army I put in an application for a radio amateur license and had to undergo an oral examination. I decided to use the ‘friendly animosity’ that traditionally has existed between Denmark and Sweden to my advantage.”
“One of the two examiners asked me what should be done if an overseas complaint about radio interference has been received. My answer: ‘if the complaint comes from Sweden, we will do nothing!’ Both examiners grew red-faced from suppressed laughter. And my application was promptly approved.”
On a more serious note, Hansen emphasizes the inner qualities that can spur students, regardless of age, to push beyond the limits and strive for higher goals.
“To get that initial dream job, you should show passion, motivation and commitment. If your passion index is rather low, try to develop it to a higher level,” he said. “Also needed for success is continued learning efforts in your chosen field. You are never too old to learn.”