NC State graduates helped NASA land men on the moon in 1969

WTVD logo
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
EMBED <>More Videos

NC State grads played key role in Apollo 11 success

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Scientists from NC State played a significant role in sending American astronauts to the moon and having them return safely.

In 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon, more than two dozen NC State graduates were NASA employees: 14 at the Manned Flight Center in Houston; seven at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama; three at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida; and two at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"I was not aware of NC State's role in the race to reach the moon, but it really should come as no surprise given the breadth of the project, the sheer scale of it," NC State professor of planetary geology Dr. Paul Byrne said. "There were thousands and thousands of engineers needed to get there, and NC State has a great track record dating back more than a century of producing great engineers. NASA needed dozens of capable scientists for every piece of equipment, every component of the spacecraft."

Byrne attributed this achievement to nothing more than the dedication and professionalism of all involved.

"It was a scientific and technical marvel to safely get the Apollo 11 capsule onto the lunar surface," Byrne said. "The computers they were using were far less powerful than any phone we have in our pockets today. And yet, not only were they able to successfully lift off and navigate to the moon but get those two astronauts onto the lunar surface.

One of the NC state alums was an assistant flight director, another worked in the parachute system for the Apollo re-entry system.

RELATED: UNC's Morehead Planetarium trained 11 of the 12 people who have walked on the moon

"I don't think we are going to have to wait 50 years to see people return to the lunar surface," Byrne said. "The moon is not just a scientifically interesting target, it may be the key for our exploration in the deeper solar system."

NC State's contributions to NASA are not limited to just the 60s and 70s. Astronaut Christina Koch is scheduled to spend nearly a year at the International Space Station, a feat that would set a record for longest single spaceflight for a woman.