Florida man helped train first man on the moon
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Few people have ever heard of Kenneth Samuels or his contributions to the Apollo 11 moon landing. He’ll tell you it’s no big deal.
But the Sarasota man, now 85, who was working as an engineering grunt for Ling-Temco-Vought (the now defunct LTV Corporation) in the spring of 1969, solved the problem of a leaking orb that prevented astronauts from communicating with NASA during re-entry.
The split sphere containing radio equipment was conjoined with an O-ring that could not be held together tight enough to prevent exposure to hot gas while the space capsule returned to earth. They gave it to Samuels, who gave it a crank and and handed it back.
“Back in that time I was a fairly good (strong) man and they brought it over and got me to tighten it,” Samuels said. “Not that I was as big or strong as they were, but the guy thought about having me tighten it, so I tightened it good and tight and they brought it back and said it worked. That was my contribution to that part of the program.”
Samuels, who had served in the Marine Corps, was a ground crew member for Lunar Landing Research Facility at Langley Air Base in Hampton, Virginia, where training was being conducted with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in the critical months before the moon landing. He was introduced to the space program working for McDonnell Douglas on Project Mercury, which took the first man into space.
The $3.5 million lunar gantry, built in 1965, was an A-frame, 400-foot-long-by-230-foot-tall steel tower that dangled the Lunar Excursion Module, which Armstrong, Aldrin and other Apollo astronauts rode to the moon. They trained to land on a simulated lunar surface.
Samuels said his brown-suited contractor crewmates worked in the background, while NASA’s white-dressed, crew-trained astronauts like Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were a regular “duke’s mixture” of men and a “nice bunch of people to work with.”
Some of Samuels’ team members worked atop the gantry, comparable in height to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge’s deck. They could see as far as Cape Charles, more than 22 miles across the Chesapeake Bay inlet on a nice day.
“When I first came to work there, this gentleman, Mr. Adams, said ‘You’re to be working on your station up there on the gantry,’” Samuels said. “I said, ‘Mr. Adams, I can give you a really good job on the ground, but up there, I’m going to be clamped to everything that’s not moving.’ He grabbed another guy who had grown up on a ranch in Colorado. He had more nerve than I did.”
Several space program astronauts trained at Langley, but Samuels can’t remember them all. He remembers Armstrong as a friendly man who carried on casual conversations with crew members, and the seriousness involved with the project.
“In all honesty, to us grunts, it was a job,” said Samuels. “It was no place for sloppy work because it was just too dangerous. We concentrated, and there were some good people there.”
Volatile liquids, such as 95 percent hydrogen peroxide, was used as fuel to simulate the burst of real rockets. Crews wore fire-proof clothing.
“We had Air Force firemen because this stuff running down the gutters would set grass on fire,” Samuels said. “Everything had to be wet down very thoroughly including the people working. In winter, we collected ice on suits we had to wear.”
Months later, while still at Langley Air Base, Samuels and his crew mates watched Armstrong’s perfect landing touch the surface of the moon. Their reaction was muted by their pride.
“I said, ‘Uh. He made it,’” Samuels said. “I’m not trying to be blasé here. I guess I don’t get too excited about anything, really.”
When he thinks about the time that’s passed, Samuels says he has made bigger contributions on other projects, including naval warfare, automation machinery, construction equipment and electronic equipment.
He settled down, had a family and later moved to Sarasota to be near his son, Billy.
Next July, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.
“It didn’t impress me at the time,” said Samuels, “but when I look back on it now, I was one of a very few people that really had hands-on with that training and all.”
Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com