BANGOR, Maine — Fifty years ago this week, American astronauts were on their way to land on the moon. The anniversary of that amazing moment is bringing up lots of memories, especially for people who were part of the space program.
Dick Cattelle, from Bangor, was a young University of Maine engineering graduate back in the 1960’s, working on the Apollo program at the Houston Space Center.
Cattelle says that after several years in California, working on developing rocket engines and the final stage of the rocket to go to the moon, he was transferred to Houston and became part of the team in charge of launching the giant Saturn 5 rockets that sent the astronauts into space.
"We got them off the ground into earth orbit, test checked everything to make sure it was in good shape to fire again, lit the 4B (third stage rocket motor) again for a five minute burn for, as they refer to it, the TLI, Trans Lunar Insertion, and got them on their way," he said.
Cattelle says he was preparing for the Apollo 12 launch when Apollo 11 took off and then watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. He says that achievement was thrilling for everyone in the space program, who had been racing to meet the deadline for a moon landing set by President Kennedy.
"I’m not sure it was 'I can’t believe we did it', as much as 'Wow, we did it'," Cattelle says. "Because the whole atmosphere always -- and that was kind of the magic of a well-exercised, well disciplined flight control team -- was not dealing with what we worried about, but dealing with what came up. And the confidence that whatever came up we could fix it."
Cattelle says he stayed with the Apollo program until it ended in the mid-1970’s, then returned to Maine where he became a real estate developer. However, he has continued his belief in the space program as a leader of the Challenger Learning Center in Bangor,
He says the years with with NASA and the space program was an exciting experience, and, for the country, a "bright light" in the turbulent and troubled decade of the sixties. He says all those involved felt great pride at achieving the goal set by President Kennedy of putting a man on the moon before the end of that decade.
"You figure when President Kennedy said what he wanted to happen, a lot of this stuff hadn’t even been thought of, designed, built, tested or flown yet and we did all that in nine years."