Brendan Keany

WNY Celebrates Apollo 11 and First Steps On Another World

"It was a moment in time that the whole country was united"

July 17, 2019 - 6:31 pm
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NIAGARA FALLS (WBEN - Brendan Keany) - As Americans are celebratingr the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and the first steps on another world, Western New York is celebrating its connections to the historic feat.

Most Western New Yorkers aren't aware of the crucial role that the region played in the mission, and the Niagara Aerospace Museum wants to better inform residents of the area's rich space heritage.

"One of the things that I think is so amazing about the Apollo 11 anniversary is that it was a moment in time that the whole country was united - it was united in awe, and celebration, and exploration, and science and all of these amazing things - that the whole world paused in the celebration of science," said Lynn King, who serves on the board of directors for the Niagara Aerospace Museum. "The fact that Western New York played such a vital role in the mission and bringing our guys home safely is just phenomenal, so we're so excited to have this event and be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary."

Frank Penque is with the quality group for the Space Defense Group at MOOG, and he described, specifically, some of what Western New York companies provided for the mission.

"There were several systems that were divvied out as NASA was trying to get the Saturn V designed and built, and one of them was for the F-1 rocket engine, which are the giant engines at the bottom of the spacecraft, each one of those generating a million and a half pounds of thrust," began Penque. "But, they needed them to gimbal to be able to keep the rocket going straight and true, and the outward motors gimbaled, and the middle one did not. Gimbaling was done with the hydraulic actuators made by MOOG down in East Aurora."

In another system, Penque explains that scientists were trying to figure out how to train the pilots to fly on the moon's surface at one-sixth of Earth's gravity.

"It's a very difficult thing to do, so they came over to Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, and Bell figured out a way to build a craft, a training vehicle, they called it the LRV," said Penque. "They mounted an aircraft jet engine in the center pointing up and down, and the computer controlled its thrust to offset five-sixths of Earth's gravity. So, when it went up and they'd hit the setting, it was like they were on the moon."

The other major system they worked on was the LM ascent engine that took them off the moon after the mission was completed.

"This engine was critical because there was not backup to it, and if it did not work, those guys stayed on the moon and would still be there today," he said. "But every single one of them worked as designed, and they were able to successfully lift off from the moon, rendezvous with the command module and get back to Earth."

Even 50 years after the moon landing, many people consider the Apollo 11 mission to be the pinnacle of human achievement - something that Penque wholeheartedly agrees with.

"To this date, it's hard to point to an engineering feat that humans endeavored to do that surpassed it," he said. "What makes it even more amazing, when it was envisioned back in 1961 when Kennedy made his speech, the technology literally did not exist yet to do what they had to do."

Therefore, the 50th anniversary of a mission that changed history deserves celebration, and the Niagara Aerospace Museum is there to provide.

"We're a museum that preserves the local aerospace history, so it's a no-brainer that we would celebrate, and we decided to go all out - this is going to be the biggest celebration that we've ever had," said King.

Whats' going to be there?

  • Astronaut Paul Lockhart is coming for entire weekend
  • Local scientists from UB who work with NASA
  • Planetarium
  • Explore & More coming to do rocket craft for kids
  • Space mission simulators

You can head to their website to find out more information on Saturday's event.

Listen to the entire conversation with King and Penque below:

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