Photo: Burt Constable, AP
ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. (AP) – An electrical engineer working for the fledgling NASA space program, Bob Davidson was three months into his job in 1962 when he was told that his project had been scrapped. Instead, he would be giving the chance to work on a new venture with a division of Playtex.
"Playtex? The bra and girdle company?" a dubious Davidson asked. "And they said, 'Yes.'"
First and foremost, Davidson, 76, now retired and living in Rolling Meadows, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as he helped design the revolutionary spacesuits those men wore for the first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969 Those were not upgraded flight suits. They were more like one-of-a-kind, single-occupancy spacecraft.
220 degrees below zero, and 280 degrees above zero, "Davidson says, he sits in his living room and thumbs through the 17 layers of the material made to withstand everything the moon might throw at them. While some materials were similar to those found in the fire-retardant outfits worn by race drivers and the coats worn by mountain climbers, the spacesuits also featured new materials such as "aluminized mylar" and "Beta cloth-Teflon-coated silica fibers. "
The "micrometeoroid bombardment" from specks zipping through space that could be puncture most materials, the suits included layers "ripstop tape" and patterns with holes that would prevent puncture from becoming a major tear.
They have been able to keep the astronauts alive, they had to enable the men to move while under the pressure of 14 pounds of air per square inch. They have been taking 180 measurements on the astronauts' bodies and constructed bevels and swivels for each joint.
"The hardest thing to do was in the gloves," Davidson says, noting how the astronauts needed to pick up items and adjust controls. "The gloves were incredibly complex."
And a team of 20 engineers also outfitted the spaces with a communication system that is enabled Armstrong and Aldrin to chat with each other, communicate with fellow astronaut Michael Collins, who was orbiting the moon, and million people watched and heard from the surface of the moon.
"Davidson's wife, Barbara, a former flight attendant for Pan-Am World Airways. Married for 51 years, the Davidsons have two grown children, Tim and Chrysteen, and a granddaughter.
On the historic day, while hosting another engineer and his wife in their apartment in Ogletown, Delaware, Bob Davidson watched the moon landing with confidence. "We knew if we could do it great," he says.
Armstrong and Aldrin, who were the perfect team for that mission, says Davidson, who got to know both astronauts. The engineers could spend 10 days working directly with the astronauts and then see them for a month. They went to restaurants together and socialized.
"They were as different as night and day," Davidson says of the enigmatic Armstrong and the outgoing Aldrin. "Buzz was on" Dancing with the Stars, and Neil in the audience. "
A Distinguished Flying Cross before earning a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Armstrong, whose aerospace engineering studies at the Purdue University were interrupted by the Korean War, flew 78 and then received a master's degree from the University of Southern California. Armstrong was a gifted pilot who pioneered high-speed aircraft, such as the X-15, which reached 4,000 mph.
"We used to drink together," Davidson says of Aldrin. "Neil liked a cocktail, too."
The reserved Armstrong was a man of few words. "'No' is an argument with Neil," Davidson says. "I'd say, 'Yeah, but …' and he'd say, 'No.'
"His hot button," remembers Davidson, who says Armstrong liked sharing his investment strategy. "I could not shut him up for three hours."
Armstrong generally let his actions speak for him.
"He was the go-to guy," Davidson says, adding that on the moon landing, Armstrong had to shut off the computer.
The spacesuits were tested in a 32-story water tower, which is sober and provided to provide moments of weightlessness. With many materials and tests, Davidson traveled to facilities in Texas, California, New York, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and Dover, Delaware, and also took the suit on public relations. "Critical Space Flight Item", "Davidson flew first-class and was the last passenger on the plane and the first one off.
"I was making $ 17,000 a year," Davidson says. He left NASA in 1972 to work in technical sales with several companies before founding his own control systems company called Enternet in Naperville. While at NASA, Davidson also worked on Apollo 9 and the memorable Apollo 13, which featured an explosion and a miraculous return to earth that was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks.
Armstrong, bravery, smarts and coolness under pressure and shows the sacrifices of the armstrong, Davidson says.
Davidson says, proud of his contribution, "We're human and we knew it was" "The only two things that made it from the moon are the man and the spacesuit on his back."
Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, https://bit.ly/2OziucP
Information from: Daily Herald, http://www.dailyherald.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald.