NASA Engineers and the Age of Apollo
Sylvia Doughty Fries
NASA Engineers and the Age of Apollo
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The twentieth anniversary of the landing of an American on the surface of the Moon occasioned many bittersweet reflections. Sweet was the celebration of the historic event itself, and sweet to space enthusiasts was President George Bush's call for a new era of human space exploration-back to the Moon and on to Mars. Bitter, for those same enthusiasts, was the knowledge that during the twenty intervening years much of the national consensus that launched this country on its first lunar adventure had evaporated, and foraging for funds to keep going seemed to have become a major preoccupation of the old guard that had watched over that adventure.

Less apparent was the fact that the final act in another human drama was taking place: a generation of men and women who had defined their lives to a large extent in terms of this nation's epochal departure from Earth's surface was taking its leave of the program they had built. Would they, or their work, be remembered? Would anyone care? As the historian for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, I had the responsibility of attempting-attempting, because the task could never be fully done-to capture the essence of their lives and careers. Those who worked "on the front lines" of what I have called, after William James, a "moral equivalent of war," have had their quirks and genius memorialized in the agency's lore. Many have had their organizational and technical trials recorded in the narrative histories produced by NASA. More recently, and with great success, Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, in Apollo: The Race to the Moon (Simon and Schuster, 1989), have combined the human and technical sagas of the designers, flight operators, and project managers who made Apollo happen to weave an arresting tale of a unique moment in our history.

But history also gathers up in its sweep many ordinary people, not only those who give orders and do combat at the front lines, but those who slug it out and otherwise endure in the trenches. If our memory of the Apollo era neglected those ordinary people, that memory would be incomplete, and we would have done an [viii] injustice to the true nature of life over time. Thus, the lives and careers laid out on the pages that follow have been drawn from hours of conversation with a variety of people: they are my best approximation of the "average" NASA engineer of the Apollo age; some did remarkable things, while others just filled in the pieces. It soon became apparent, however, that even the most "average" of them were part of a story that was larger than the Apollo story itself, much less NASA's story. What happened to them over the course of their careers was part of the undertow of what happened to this country during the post-World War II era and the 1960s.

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