Memorial Mass set for retired NASA engineer, Saint Vincent alum

November 14, 2018

Angelo Taiani, a retired NASA engineer who grew up in Latrobe, will be remembered Saturday with a memorial Mass on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Unity, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1948.

Taiani, 94, died Aug. 16 at his home in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

The Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. in the Mary, Mother of Wisdom Student Chapel in the Robert S. Carey Student Center. It will be followed at 11 a.m. by a show offered in Taiani’s honor at the campus facility named for him -- the Angelo J. Taiani Planetarium, located in the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion.

The planetarium and a related astronaut exhibit, made possible by a gift from Taiani, have welcomed visiting schoolchildren and other members of the public since 2010.

At the time of its opening, Taiani looked forward to NASA’s planned manned mission to Mars and expressed hope that the planetarium would “help students get excited about the importance of interplanetary space exploration and the career opportunities available in this field.”

A native of Salerno, Italy, Taiani immigrated to the United States as a young child and graduated from Latrobe High School. He served three years in the Navy during World War II and later retired as a commander with 41 years of reserve service.

He became interested in the developing aerospace industry while assigned to work with early guided missiles and space ordnance.

He worked on the Navy’s Polaris missile program before transferring to NASA, where he took part in numerous projects as a general space engineer -- among them more than 250 unmanned and manned rocket launches, including space shuttle missions. He also helped develop a weather balloon.

Taiani retired from NASA in 1984 but continued to volunteer at Kennedy Space Center, guiding journalists on tours.

Taiani knew many astronauts, from Buzz Aldrin, the second person to step foot on the moon, to the late Alan Poindexter, a veteran space shuttle pilot and commander. Taiani was an avid collector of photos of astronauts and spacecraft launches, many of which he provided for display at the planetarium.

Quoted in an article published in 2008 on the Kennedy Space Center website, Taiani recalled the long hours he put in during July 1969 as part of the ground support for the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

“I worked 24 hours straight the day before liftoff,” he said. “I had nothing to do once they got into transorbit, but I stayed up for another 17 hours waiting for the lunar landing to happen. I knew how much fuel they had, so I thought at any moment they were going to abort the mission. But there was a big sigh of relief for me, as well as mission control, when we heard the words ‘touchdown.’

“I was so darn tired, but I stayed up anyway watching (Neil) Armstrong and Aldrin take their first steps on the moon. Then, I finally fell asleep.”

Taiani was laid to rest in the Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Mims, Fla.

Memorial donations may be made to the Angelo J. Taiani Planetarium, Saint Vincent College, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650.

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