Apollo Moon Missions: The Unsung Heroes

Apollo Moon Missions: The Unsung Heroes

Apollo Moon Missions: The Unsung Heroes

Apollo Moon Missions: The Unsung Heroes


In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge: the United States would land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. It seemed like an impossible task and one that the Russians- who had launched the first satellite and put the first man into Earth orbit- would surely perform before us. The ingenuity, passion, and sacrifice of thousands of ordinary men and women, from all walks of life, enabled the space program to meet this extraordinary goal. In all, six crews would land on the moon before Congress withdrew financial backing for the program. This is the story of the men and women who worked behind the scenes, without fanfare or recognition, to make these missions a success. Thirty years later, they still speak of Apollo with pride, sometimes even awe.

After Apollo moonwalker John Young told journalist Billy Watkins in a 1999 interview that nobody knows anything about the people who helped make those flights so successful, Watkins made it his mission to identify the unsung heroes and learn their stories.

His subjects include: Julian Scheer (NASA publicist); Sonny Morea, lead designer of the Lunar Rover; Hugh Brown, one of the few African Americans who worked on the Apollo program; JoAnn Morgan, one of the few women involved in the space program; Joan Roosa, widow of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa; Joe Schmitt, veteran suit technician was responsible for making sure the suits were leak-proof and hooked up correctly; Joseph Laitin, who came up with the idea for the Apollo 8 astronauts to read the first ten verses of Genesis during their Christmas Eve television broadcast from the moon; and Clancy Hatelberg, the Navy diver, who plucked the first humans to walk on the moon from the Pacific Ocean after the Apollo 11 landing.


I have spoken to many different audiences over the past several decades about my experiences as a test pilot and astronaut. a centerpiece of my commentary is on the Apollo 13 mission, which received great notoriety through the Hollywood movie of that dramatic rescue. I find it a great subject in my public appearances to highlight the ingredients that make for success: having the right people and the right training, and working together as a team with the right leadership. I make it a point to ask if anyone in the audience knows the number of people who worked at the peak of the Apollo moon program. the answers I receive are always numbers fewer than 100,000. It is apparent that not many people really appreciate the true size of the team and brain trust that enabled us to travel to the moon. the workforce peaked at over 400,000 people a year or so before we achieved the first landing on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. of course, I have noted that a large number of the people I speak to today either were not yet born at the time of the Apollo program or were too young to remember it. the media attention has focused on the astronauts who fly and on mission control personnel who are the visible “real time” participants during the missions. Behind the scenes, solutions to many of the problems that arose during missions leaned on talent from nasa centers and their contractors across the country. Such was clearly the case during my Apollo 13 flight, which offered the team across the country a suite of challenges to be worked out.

But years before the final act—that is, the launch—the team was at work on the design, the manufacturing, the ground testing, and finally the launch prep at Kennedy Space Center. Through this process the team . . .

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