#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?
In honor of the life, the character, and the service of the Commander of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, we unveiled his space suit for the first time in 13 years. God Bless the memory and legacy of an incredible American astronaut! #Apollo50th pic.twitter.com/zeyGY3Ttnr
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 16, 2019
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.
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Feature Photo Credit: NASA photo via New York Post, cropped and modified