Archive for July, 2014

Remembering Tranquility Base

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Nowadays executives invoke the term ‘moonshot’ to describe an audacious goal like self driving cars or cheaper solar power or accelerating the cure for cancer.  Certainly these are laudable and ambitious objectives, but I think they pale in comparison to the scale of the vision, the magnitude of the job, the complexity of the technical and logistical challenges, and the deadline imposed on the Lunar Program.

Forty-five years ago Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped off the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and onto the surface of the moon.  In 1963 my father hired on at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation as Chief of Test Operations for the LEM, so the  Apollo program resonates  as a reminder of what can be achieved with vision, leadership and execution.

The Greatest Generation  suffered  hardship during the Great Depression as boys in the 30s, joined up to defeat fascism as young men in the 40s, and fashioned prosperity from progress in the 1950s.  As they entered middle age, they were fertile ground for President Kennedy’s call to send a man to the moon during the 1960s.  The Race to the Moon was their second act, another opportunity to engage in a grand national mission that could change the world.

It is remarkable to contemplate the technical and managerial masterpiece they accomplished through teamwork and organization.  My father was  immensely proud of his contribution, as were millions who worked on Project Apollo, and indeed all Americans.

I recall my father’s intense concern for the safe return of the astronauts who entrusted their lives, especially after the loss of Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1968.  Many LEM ground tests were conducted with live crews inside a huge thermal vacuum test chamber at the Manned Spacecraft Center that simulated the vacuum of space and both the intense cold and heat that the LEM would experience.  I know my Dad was confident the LEM would work, but was more worried about meeting the schedule.  So he was proud that the LTA-8 tests, which demonstrated that the Lunar Module was capable of operating in the lunar environment, were completed two weeks ahead of schedule, and kept in his files a congratulatory memo from Apollo Program Manager George Low.  And certainly the Lunar Module demonstrated its capability: in lunar orbit, on the surface of the moon, descending, ascending and, in the case of Apollo XIII, rescuing the crew.

You can hear directly from my father in this interview on Vimeo, conducted in his back yard on May 30, 2002.