Guidance Officer, Apollo 11
Steve Bales knew Neil Armstrong was a proven test pilot and astronaut. He was positive NASA had done its homework before selecting Armstrong to command the first lunar-landing mission and to take the first steps on the moon.
But there was one thing that Bales, chief guidance officer for the historic Apollo 11 flight, couldn't get out of his mind: Armstrong seemed so… old.
“Most of the people in mission control were twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven years old,” Bales says. “I was twenty-six. Neil was thirtyeight. That seemed ancient to me.”
The manned space program during the race to the moon was a strange mix, indeed. In the limelight were the crusty, veteran astronauts, many of whom had flown combat missions. Behind the scenes were the young, creative engineers who served on the ground support teams. Diversity was created by urgency. Striving to meet President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, NASA had to find the brightest aerospace engineers available, train them quickly, allow them to learn on the go, and—most of all—trust them. Many of the top candidates were just out of college, fresh products of the most challenging and up-to-date engineering curriculums in the country.
“The fact is, there were no experts on the subject “of landing a man on the moon” of any age,” Bales says, “and when you're in your twenties you're usually more ready to take on a stressful challenge.”
Bales was one of the chosen few, joining NASA in December 1964, just before the second unmanned Gemini mission was launched.