What Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were able to do on this flight was because of a dream and a challenge.
Once upon a time, humans would never have thought of flying. Until the Wright Brothers took a gamble. That gamble led to the start of aviation and then it started people thinking of more impossible dreams …such as SPACE.
President John F. Kennedy challenged this nation and the world on May 25, 1961. His speech set our nation on its way to the moon. But it took a great number of resources and people to get us there.
“More than 400,000 people worked tirelessly to put astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins into space on a hot Florida day for the most famous space exploration mission in history, Apollo 11. After touchdown on July 20, 1969, Armstrong would spend just slightly more than 151 minutes walking around on the Moon’s surface, with Aldrin clocking in at 40 minutes less. For these men, July 16 was nothing short of extraordinary — and extraordinarily hectic.”
A year after his May 25th speech, JFK said the following:
“”We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.””
And it was hard. The Race to the Moon was something that had never been tried. Something new had to be designed to make this work.
In order to get men to the moon, first you had to get a man into orbit. What kind of craft was needed? A company in St. Louis, Missouri called McDonnell had an idea.
“Even before the Soviet Union launched Sputnikin 1957, James S. McDonnell tasked 45 engineers in St. Louis to start working on the first manned spaceship. That foresight made St. Louis ground zero for America’s first human spaceflight program, Project Mercury, and McDonnell manufactured 20 space capsules to send the first Americans – and chimpanzees – into space, and much of the simulation and training America’s first astronauts underwent happened in St. Louis. Through the Mercury program, America sent its first man to space, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in the Friendship 7 capsule, now on display at the Smithsonian alongside the Spirit of St. Louis.”
My family and I have a personal connection to this history. My grandfather, William R. Orthwein Jr., started with McDonnell in 1942 and stayed with the company until he retired in 1982.
How to get a man into space and then eventually to the moon? The McDonnell teams basically created something entirely new. The Mercury space capsule.
And it was indeed a team effort. In all the years my grandfather talked about his time at McDonnell Douglas, he always talked about the company’s accomplishments, never about himself. There was no “I” in team with him, nor with the many others at McDonnell that I’ve been fortunate to know. Instead all of them were as vested as everyone else in getting us into space and putting a man on the moon.
We owe our thanks to the Apollo 11 crew and to all the rocket ship builders. What they ALL did was a glorious triumph of human spirit and ingenuity that is unmatched to this day.