Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be an astronaut. When President Kennedy made landing a man on the moon a national goal, I strived for a place in the lunar landing program. After obtaining my engineering degree in 1967, I was offered a position with the company that had the contract for the Apollo Portable Life Support System (PLSS), which included the Emergency Oxygen Supply System called the ‘Oxygen Purge System’ (OPS).
Arriving at Cape Kennedy Thanksgiving, 1968, I was so excited that I forgot it was a holiday and spent the entire day soaking in the facilities, including Apollo 8 on Pad 39. It was difficult to believe I would be a part of a team that would change science fiction to science fact. As we got closer to Apollo 11—the mission the whole world was looking forward to—I realized I was an important part in making the mission a success. Working six and seven days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, much of it on my own unpaid time, I felt guilty getting paid for the one thing I always dreamed of doing.
Preparations for Apollo 11
One of my most vivid memories was charging the Apollo 11 Life Support Systems. Four individuals, one technician, two quality control personnel and myself adding the life sustaining water and oxygen to the hardware that would be used in just a few days to support the first humans to walk on the moon.
Alone one night at about 1AM at our KSC office, I found a memo stating that Armstrong and Aldrin were coming to KSC to practice their lunar surface activities and our support would be needed. The following day I contacted the Manned Spacecraft Center in Texas to find out all I could about the support that would be required and informed responsible parties at KSC of my desire to handle that support without it interfering with my other responsibilities.
Subsequently, I was assigned the position of Extravehicular Crew Training Engineer at KSC. The Apollo 11 training exercises went so well at there that the Apollo training office at the Manned Spacecraft Office in Texas decided to conduct most of the lunar surface training exercises at KSC.
Wearing Armstrong’s Space Suit
I will never forget the first opportunity to wear the Apollo space suit, more specifically Neil Armstrong’s suit. The scene took place in our ‘clean room.’ The purpose was to check out the Apollo 11 PLSS communications from the space suit to the spacecraft on Pad 39 to The Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas. The date was May 5, 1969. What an incredible experience knowing I was verifying space suit communications from the moon to earth and back to transmit the voices of the first men on the moon to the entire world.
My most memorable experience was the journey to the Apollo 11 spacecraft the night before the launch to deliver the Astronaut Suit Life Support Equipment and stow it in the Lunar Module. There we were, four of us riding along the same route the giant crawler carried the 40 story rocket to pad 39. The destination of that monstrous rocket could be seen that night as a beautiful half sphere. The closer we got to the base of the Saturn 5 rocket, the faster the butterflies fluttered! Then the elevator ride to the Lunar Module level 36 stories high, which seemed endless as I watched the diameter of the rocket get smaller and smaller. When we passed the giant American Flag painted on the side of the rocket I felt proud to be an American.
Once inside the protective room that surrounded the Lunar Module, we removed the two Portable Life Support Systems and The Emergency Oxygen Purge Systems from their protective containers. We then installed the hardware in their respective stowage locations. I had the distinction of crawling through the LM hatch into the LM to make the final verification of the PLSS controls and switches. I again could not believe where I was and how I got there. It was hard to comprehend that in just a few days these amazing Life Support Systems contained within ‘backpacks,’ would help make one of man’s oldest dreams come true.