If my grandfather were still alive I think that Catherine Thimmesh would have wanted to interview him for her book Team Moon. He was there at Cape Kennedy in Florida on the day that Apollo 11 was ready to launch. As a part of the NASA Art Program on July 16, 1969 he was the only artist asked to be present with the Apollo 11 astronauts as they ate breakfast, discussed the mission to the Moon and during the suiting up before the launch. He was one of the few people with these guys before they launched up to space.
For the 40th Anniversary of the Moon landing in 2009 my father wrote a book about my grandfather’s experiences going to Cape Kennedy and seeing launches of project Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. In the book it shows my grandfathers drawings and paintings including many of the Apollo 11 suiting up drawings. My grandfather was friends with many of the Apollo astronauts.
Here are three of his suiting up drawings done on July 16, 1969
This is a drawing of Astronaut Neil Armstrong Suiting Up on the morning of July 16, 1969 done by my grandfather.
Hundreds of thousands of people worked on the Apollo project. Each one of these people played a very very small part of a huge project that made a huge impact. In the end the project to land men on the moon couldn’t have gotten done without everyone coming together for the same goal and working a
While reading the book Team Moon I realized that the author had not added anything about the awesome Saturn V rocket that brought the astronauts to the Moon. I think that this is an important part of the story that should be mentioned and the people who helped make these rockets and develop them also deserve credit.
Astronaut Jack Lousma talks about the difference between the launch of the Saturn V rocket and the launch of the space shuttle. Lousma was a member of the second manned crew of the Skylab in 1973 and commanded the Space Shuttle STS-3 in 1983.
It took an army of people working at the Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama along with contractors at Boeing, North American aviation, IBM and others to build the Saturn V rocket which launched up into orbit and sent the astronauts into space.
Werner Von Braun and his team of rocket engineers created the designed the technology of the Saturn V rocket that flew into space.
The Saturn V rocket was 2840 tons and took about a million gallons of water pumped beneath the rocket into a flame trench, the engine exhaust hit the water on takeoff causing it to boil and turn into clouds of steam. The force of the rocket at takeoff was powerful enough to list 500 elephants! The ground must have shaken at this immense power and it must have been a thrilling experience to see and feel that moment. My father says that when he saw the liftoff of Apollo 17 from Cape Kennedy in 1972 that “you saw the smoke and ignition of the engines and there was a delay, then you heard the booming sounds and the earth shook.”
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and I feel that the astronauts pictures were worth much much more. It’s like going on vacation and bringing home photos that you want to show everyone, you show them the photos to help them visualize the place where you were. It was the same with the Apollo crew, but in this case they came home to earth to show the world their pictures.
NASA’s Dick Underwood said to the Apollo 11 crew, “your key to immortality is soley in the quality of you photographs. When the astronauts came home with these photographs people were astounded. These were pictures from out of our world and that made people feel amazed that these pictures came from that huge grey glowing ball in the sky that people gaze up at on a night without stars and until now thought was impossible to reach. And now mankind had gone and visited.
On page 53 in the book Team Moon it explains how the astronauts would come home and be heroes. Everyone who worked on the Apollo project would be so pleased that the project, their project was a success and that they helped get man to the moon and safely back home.
On the Moon the astronauts took pictures that were sent to NASA when they got back. Dick Underwood an aerospace technician was one of the people that tried to figure out how to debug the film and pictures and kill all the “Moon bugs” that were thought to have been brought back with the astronauts and everything they had. They “decontaminated” the films and quarantined the Apollo crew. I find this very interesting that they were concerned that there might have been Moon contamination on the astronauts and everything they had brought with them home from the Moon.
On page 32 of the book Team Moon, everyone was so excited with their work. The lunar module had landed on the Moon. I can’t imagine the excitement that they felt at that moment, a project that they had poured their lives into was now a success! If I was one of these people I would be jumping up and down cheering!
I gave my father some questions to ask Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the Moon in 1969.
The questions I had for Alan Bean were-
What did you feel the first time you saw planet Earth from Space?
Who was the most interesting person you met during the space program?
Was the Apollo 12 space suit comfortable?
Listen here as Alan Bean answers these questions.
I think that the point that Alan Bean was trying to make was that the space suits were as comfortable as engineers and science could make them. On pages 33 through 38 it tells about the materials that were used to make the space suits. The book also explained how the people in the space program didn’t know what to expect on the Moon. Alan Bean said that the space suits were made to protect the person inside of them. Bean thought that Werner von Braun was a very interesting person. He thought this because Von Braun knew more about the space program than anyone else. He always knew what he was doing, he was a genius.
It was interesting to read in the book Team Moon that it took roughly 500 people to work over several years between NASA and ILC Dover to create the Apollo astronauts space suits. James McBarron said, “The space suit in itself is probably a little more than half engineering and the rest art. And by art I mean there was a series of trial and error attempts that led to the successful design.” I think that this showed that the people at NASA and ILC Dover had to get creative while making the suits because they didn’t know what they would find on the Moon, whether the space hazards were dangerous or not.
I asked my father to ask Apollo 12 Astronaut Dick Gordon if the space suits were comfortable and he said “NO”, with a laugh. He said they were hot, stuffy and bulky but once they were in orbit they hardly realized that they were uncomfortable.
Here is a really cool article on the evolution on space suits from National Geographic.
Joe Schmitt was a legendary suit technician at NASA who suited up Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard for the first manned flight of an American to go into Space. My father received a letter from Mr Schmitt where he spoke about the time he spent with American artist Norman Rockwell while Rockwell was working on a painting of Gemini astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young. NASA would not send the space suit that Rockwell had wanted as reference for his painting but they did agree to have Joe Schmitt accompany a space suit to Rockwell’s studio in Massachusetts. Here is what Joe Schmitt wrote to my father-
“I would recommend Margaret Rockwell’s Norman Rockwell Chronicles of America, as a reference. I spent a week at his studio while he was painting the picture of Gus Grissom and John Young being suited up for the Gemini III flight, (page 114). Your father and Rockwell were both very precise on details in their paintings. For example, Mr. Rockwell noticed the suit room countdown clock on one of his photos and asked me what time would be showing on the clock while we were at that stage in suiting. I told him it would be approximately -153:45 if there were no holds on launch time. Also in the Rockwell book on page 115 is the apollo 11 crew. the guy in the white cap is me) This was an exciting and important time in America’s Space Program.”
This is a painting by Norman Rockwell showing the apollo 11 astronauts and NASA workers and workers from the different companies that helped get us achieve the ultimate victory of making it to the Moon.
Ron Woods was a space technician during the Apollo program. My father is friends with Mr. Woods and at Spacefest asked him some questions about his role in the program and his experiences putting the suits on the astronauts.
Follow this youtube link to hear the interview with Ron Woods-
It is interesting to note that Woods is now an artist and his artwork is focused on the Space Program and the Apollo and Space Shuttle space suits.