#Apollo11: The People Who Built Our Way To The Moon

#Apollo11: The People Who Built Our Way To The Moon

#Apollo11: The People Who Built Our Way To The Moon

Fifty years ago today, the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew lifted off from Cape Canaveral. What Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were able to do on this flight was because of a dream and a challenge.

Once upon a time, humans would never have thought of flying. Until the Wright Brothers took a gamble. That gamble led to the start of aviation and then it started people thinking of more impossible dreams …such as SPACE.

President John F. Kennedy challenged this nation and the world on May 25, 1961. His speech set our nation on its way to the moon. But it took a great number of resources and people to get us there.

“More than 400,000 people worked tirelessly to put astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins into space on a hot Florida day for the most famous space exploration mission in history, Apollo 11. After touchdown on July 20, 1969, Armstrong would spend just slightly more than 151 minutes walking around on the Moon’s surface, with Aldrin clocking in at 40 minutes less. For these men, July 16 was nothing short of extraordinary — and extraordinarily hectic.”

A year after his May 25th speech, JFK said the following:

“”We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.””

And it was hard. The Race to the Moon was something that had never been tried. Something new had to be designed to make this work.

In order to get men to the moon, first you had to get a man into orbit. What kind of craft was needed? A company in St. Louis, Missouri called McDonnell had an idea.

“Even before the Soviet Union launched Sputnikin 1957, James S. McDonnell tasked 45 engineers in St. Louis to start working on the first manned spaceship. That foresight made St. Louis ground zero for America’s first human spaceflight program, Project Mercury, and McDonnell manufactured 20 space capsules to send the first Americans – and chimpanzees – into space, and much of the simulation and training America’s first astronauts underwent happened in St. Louis. Through the Mercury program, America sent its first man to space, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in the Friendship 7 capsule, now on display at the Smithsonian alongside the Spirit of St. Louis.”

My family and I have a personal connection to this history. My grandfather, William R. Orthwein Jr.,  started with McDonnell in 1942 and stayed with the company until he retired in 1982.

How to get a man into space and then eventually to the moon? The McDonnell teams basically created something entirely new. The Mercury space capsule.

And it was indeed a team effort. In all the years my grandfather talked about his time at McDonnell Douglas, he always talked about the company’s accomplishments, never about himself. There was no “I” in team with him, nor with the many others at McDonnell that I’ve been fortunate to know. Instead all of them were as vested as everyone else in getting us into space and putting a man on the moon.

Mr Mac, as James McDonnell was affectionally called, built a team of 800+ people. As they raced to complete the Mercury capsule, they anxiously waited for the news about the NASA contract. 

“Bill Watkins saw it all. He was with Dave Norton, another foreman, on August 18, 1960, when Norton’s secretary walked in at 3 a.m. with a note. Everybody had been working 12- to 16-hour days, trying to finish the first Mercury space capsule. All night they’d been waiting nervously for NASA’s men to sign off so they could move the capsule down to Cape Canaveral and shoot it off into the heavens.

If NASA would ever sign the damn papers, Norton was thinking as he watched Marge hand Watkins the note. She wouldn’t say who it was from. Watkins opened it, read it and burst out laughing. Then he handed it to Norton, down the chain of command as always. It read:

Wilbur, hurry back to the bicycle shop there’s been a crisis.—Orville.

That was their boss’ way of saying that NASA had signed off.”

All their work on the Mercury capsule paid off. My grandmother, Laura, along with Mrs. McDonnell and some of the other wives not only posed in front of it, they were able to sit in the Mercury capsule!

Personal photos from author

After the Mercury missions, McDonnell also helped with the Gemini which then led to the Ap0llo missions. Which led to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon.

Can you imagine how they all must’ve felt watching Apollo 11 take off on this day 50 years ago?

To have a hand in and be a part of building something so exceptional, something that changed the world in so many different ways?

We owe our thanks to the Apollo 11 crew and to all the rocket ship builders. What they ALL did was a glorious triumph of human spirit and ingenuity that is unmatched to this day.

Welcome Instapundit Readers!

Feature Photo Credit: NASA photo via New York Post, cropped and modified

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12 Comments
  • GWB says:

    Once upon a time, humans would never have thought of flying. Until the Wright Brothers took a gamble.
    Uhhhh….. no. Humans have dreamed of how to fly since at least the Greek empire. And they’ve tried via scientific method since at least DaVinci. The Montgolfier brothers achieved it with lighter-than-air. Others achieved it with gliders. The Wright Brothers simply were the first to achieve sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight.

    And the Wright Brothers really weren’t gambling all that much – there were loads of people working on very similar projects. They just succeeded.

    But, yes, that pioneer attitude was what put men on the moon. Some damn fine ones, too. And that spirit also has killed a few through the years. (Much respect to those who crossed that line.) Achieving the moon was an incredible feat, and it’s horrible that we substituted not-quite-space trucking for that sort of adventure.

    I hope to see us back on the moon before I pass from this earth. (After, I’m going on a tour, myself.)

    • Nina Bookout says:

      space trucking …. my grandfather would’ve gotten a kick out of that phrase! 😉

      • GWB says:

        Note I said “not-quite-space trucking”. Because the shuttle never really left low-earth orbit. It’s really hard to call it “space trucking” if you couldn’t even reach the moon. *sigh*

        I want the moon to be something more than Mt Everest achievement. I want it put to work! Mine it. Put bases on it so we can reach out further. Build telescopes and radio arrays on it. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind a giant billboard saying “Buy a Tesla!” (As long as it can be turned off eventually….)

    • Casey says:

      The Wrights were virtually unique in that they focused on controlled flight. Just about everyone else followed a “Field of Dreams” approach wherein if you can get it off the ground it will fly.

      One of the two factors in their success was that they literally spent years determining how to control the aircraft once it was airborne. The other was the marvelous internal combustion engine which drove both propellers on the Flyer.

      In fact on their first tour of Europe, five years after their first flight, the Europeans were flatly astonished at what the brothers had accomplished, and how advanced their machines were compared to contemporary European designs.

      That quickly changed as designers & inventors improved upon their work once it was publicized. The Wrights spent far to much time & money suing Glen Curtiss over his aileron design, claiming it was based on their wing warping approach.

  • GWB says:

    And the flip side of this post is the WaPo’s take on things:
    “The culture that put men on the moon was intense, fun, family-unfriendly, and mostly white and male”
    That’s from their Twit account.

  • SCOTTtheBADGER says:

    Am I correct in believeing that what I see behind the ladies next to the Mercury capsule, is a Wall of Chimp Chairs? They are to small even for the women, much less someone in a space suit. That is how Ham rode around! Yay, Ham! he showed us the way!

  • Todd says:

    First Sentence: “Apollo 11 crew lifted off from Houston’s Kennedy Space Center”, should read: “Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center”, moon rockets were never launched from Texas!

    Former Rocketdyne employee and former Tang drinking astronaut obsessed kid.

  • Steverino says:

    Damn those white men and their light bulbs and locomotives, modems and moonshots!

  • Greg Smith says:

    KSC is in in Florida. Mission control was in Houston. Apollo 11 was launched from Florida.

  • douglas lloyd says:

    That such men and women have lived with such purpose and accomplishments, one holds out hope that one day again we can reach for the stars.

  • TIm Kyger says:

    I didn’t come up with the following phrase, but I wish I had:

    This is what humans can do with mind, dirt, and fire.

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