Mechanical Engineers Do Invisible Indispensable Work

The Apollo 11 Saturn V lifts off with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. on July 16, 1969, from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

It’s common in 1960s surveys to mention the space program, its large accomplishments, perhaps a chronology after the Sputnik launches, and profiles of the main astronauts from Shepard to Glenn, Grissom to Armstrong. In 1958, the United States committed to manned flights outside the atmosphere which would succeed in something no nation had done before or since : land a man on the moon, not once but six times.

Three well-known steps took us there. Project Mercury (1958-63) featured one-man orbital flights; saw 19 launches, 2 unmanned test missions, 7 target vehicles, and 10 manned missions. Project Gemini (1962-66) developed space travel techniques in preparation to reach the moon, enlarged vehicle capacity to two men, practiced orbital rendezvous, extended crews’ duration in space, and ironed out problems of ground communication and control with facilities in Florida (Launch Complex 19/Cape Kennedy) and Texas. Across Mercury and Gemini lay the grand Apollo Program which started as early as 1961 but captured the attention of the nation mainly in the moon-landing years 1968 to 1972.

The American journey into space and to the moon is awesome and a paramount achievement for the nation during our period that rightly inspires the world. For all the headlines and birds-eye view accounts, though, the hundreds of people who attended to the literal “nuts and bolts” of getting rockets built, valves checked, hydraulics right, electrical systems and facilities tested and countless other tasks remain forgotten and unsung.  Here were the engineers – the structural, civil, electrical, and mechanical ones – the men, and some women – who were the backstage crew to the better-known actors of the 1960s space program. And they appear nowhere in histories of the 1960s, except here.

Below, the 1960s Project can recommend a worthwhile summary of the indispensable mechanical engineers in Apollo 11 by space program enthusiast H. Paul Honsinger, which is full of surprises!  We hope you enjoy it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a Reply