When a capacity crowd turns out tonight for the Dynamic Learning Institute’s Apollo 11 50th anniversary tribute at the Kathleen C. Cailloux City Center for the Performing Arts, audience members will be treated to firsthand accounts of the mission to put man on the moon by some of the NASA pioneers who made it possible.
Half of the six speakers who will offer their behind-the-scenes tales of how the United States won the Space Race are actually residents of Kerr County. On stage will be locals: NASA Astronaut Jack Lousma, flight director Gerry Griffin and Tom Moser, who was a systems specialist on that mission to the moon and now serves as Kerr County Commissioner for Precinct 2.
They will be joined in marking the momentous milestone in space exploration by three additional speakers: NASA Astronaut Fred Haise, flight director Tommy Holloway and system specialist Norm Chaffee.
Expected to be in the audience are many other NASA key employees and their families, many of whom will be coming from around the United States, Moser said. He will ask audience members who had anything to do with the Apollo program to stand.
“And there’ll be a lot of people there,” he said.
Then, Moser said he’ll also recognize their families, because without their key support, the rush to win the Space Race may not have been accomplished.
“We just focused on getting the job done, and we sacrificed family lives and everything else to do it,” Moser said.
While these days Moser can be found conducting business in the Kerr County Commissioners Courtroom and looking out for the best interests of local taxpayers, from 1963-72, he served as the manager and structure and thermal protection technical manager for the Apollo Command Module.
Moser was tasked with somewhat of a clandestine mission related to landing the first men on the surface of the moon. He was entrusted with engineering a way to send an American flag up into space, so that the first men to step onto the moon’s surface — Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin — would be able to plant Old Glory firmly into the lunar soil, signaling to the world that American ingenuity had won the day.
“The landing of the first human on the surface of the moon was one of the most significant events in modern history,” Moser said. “It was the first time a human had left the surface of the Earth and set foot on another body in the universe.”
A United Nations Treaty, dubbed the “Outer Space Treaty,” was adopted on Jan. 27, 1967. It stated that outer space, including the moon, could not be claimed because of occupation or other means.
“Because of this treaty, there was no plan by the U.S. to place a flag on the moon,” Moser said. “This plan was changed shortly before the mission of Apollo 11.”
A NASA committee recommended placing the Stars and Stripes on the moon — not to claim the territory, but rather to show that the historic step for all mankind had been accomplished by the United States and no other country. NASA did not, however, publicize its plan in advance of the mission.
Moser, who was 30 years old at the time, was brought into the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston as a mechanical engineer to ensure the integrity of the Apollo project.
He was tasked with determining a place to stow a flagpole and mast on the Apollo Spacecraft Lunar Module. It had to be placed outside the pressurized module, because there was simply no available space inside. That complicated things. Plus, the flag and pole could not compromise the structural integrity of the spacecraft.
Moser had to assure that the flag assembly could handle the extreme environments from launch, through the flight and to the landing on the lunar surface. He also had to make sure the set-up was easy to access, assemble and put into place by astronauts wearing their clunky gear in an environment foreign to them.
Moser said a detailed plan and schedule were established for the flag’s design, analyses, tests, manufacturing, astronaut training and for integrating the assembly with the module.
Eventually, Moser and his team decided to store the flag and a telescoping pole shrouded in thermal protection in the lunar module’s handrail.
On July 20, 1969, millions of people around the globe were glued to their televisions to watch the historic event unfold live on television. As Neil Armstrong leapt in triumph from the lunar module’s ladder to take that legendary “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Moser grew instantaneously concerned.
In a flash, Moser said he envisioned Armstrong’s leap as the result of the ladder failing and a jagged edge of the ladder penetrating Armstrong’s pressurized suit, meaning that the widely watched event quickly turned from historic to tragic — all because of a last-minute decision to add the flag to the flight.
“This was not the case,” Moser said. “It was just an exuberant Armstrong.”
However, there was a hitch. When the flag was removed from the ladder, the telescoping tube would not fully deploy, despite repeated attempts by both Armstrong and Aldrin. With the mast assembled, they went ahead and planted the flag into the surface of the moon. The pole’s partial extension, however, caused the flag to appear as if it were waving, even though there’s no breeze, obviously, on the moon.
The accidental result looked so great, though, that the flag assemblies for the five subsequent Apollo missions all were created to have that same, majestic waving appearance.
AFTER APOLLO 11
In the years after Apollo, Moser would go on to become the chief of structural design (1972-82), the deputy program manager of the Space Shuttle Orbiter (1982-83) and director of engineering at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston from 1983-86.
In the next year, he served as the deputy associate administrator for NASA Office of Space Flight, and from 1987-89, he was the deputy associate administrator and program director for NASA Office of Space Station at the NASA Headquarters facility in Washington, D.C.
In 1989, Moser made the move to the private sector, serving until 1994 as vice president of business development of Fairchild Space and Defense Corporation in Maryland. He later became vice president of aerospace systems for Analytic Services Corporation (ANSER).
From 1998-2000, Moser was executive director of the Texas Aerospace Commission in Austin — the state agency for developing the aerospace industry in Texas. His worked identified the opportunity and led to the program for establishing commercial spaceports in the Lone Star State.
He testified many times before Congress about the importance of continuing to advance space exploration, and he helped open up aerospace opportunities to the private sector in supportive roles.
THE FUTURE OF SPACE TRAVEL
When asked about the state of the current U.S. space program, Moser said, “I think it’s good. I think it needs to continued. It needs a commitment (from the administration) to do something, other than ‘we’re going back to the moon.’”
Moser said America needs to do like President John F. Kennedy said: “Let’s put a man on the moon and return safely to Earth, within this decade.” With that directive, “We did it in eight years and nine months,” Moser said.
Now the private sector has developed enough to play supportive roles in our return to the moon.
“We can work with internationals to exploit the moon. And, why go back to the moon? It looks like there’s enough ice on the moon — it looks like there is, OK — and ice is water. And, water is hydrogen and oxygen. And, it takes oxygen to live and hydrogen and oxygen is what Shell uses for propellant.”
If we can get back there, then we could hire a mining company to harvest that ice, he said.
“We don’t need the federal government to do it like it did with Apollo, where every penny comes from the taxpayers,” Moser said. Instead, we can use private enterprise in support roles.
“NASA’s budget is $20 billion this year. For $5 billion a year, you can do that. And, if there’s not enough ice there (to make it worth it,) then forget it,” he added. “But we need to go to the moon and see if that’s there, and if it is, then take the next step.”
The encouraging thing, in addition to private aerospace endeavors, he said, is a resurgence of young people in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. They’ll play an important role in replacing the Space Race scientists who have aged out of the workforce.
It’s incredibly important to Americans and our place in the world economy to continue with space pursuits, because in that process we discover many useful innovations, Moser said.
“My claim is this: Every single person in the United States enjoys the benefits of space every single day. Did you use weather information today? If so, then it’s because of weather satellites. There’s also communication satellites, intelligence satellites,” Moser said.
Such devices were all developed initially to help with space flights and exploration.
This nation’s elected leaders always want to know what the return will be on their investments. Moser’s answer is that projects for space lead to inventions of things we cannot foresee.
“Who amongst us in 1957, when the Russians put Sputnik up, thought ‘Let’s invest in this space thing, because if we do, then we’ll have communications satellites, we’ll have intelligence satellites, we’ll have (global) positioning satellites?’ Nobody,” Moser said.
The return on our initial investment is unforeseen, but it could be enormous, he said
Lisa Walter is the Kerr County PR director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.