Photo: Burt Constable, AP
ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. (AP) – An electrical engineer working for the nascent NASA space program, Bob Davidson had three months of work in 1962 when he was told that his project had been demolished. Instead, he would be given the chance to work on a new venture with a Playtex division.
"Playtex? The company of bra and belt?" Davidson asked dubiously. "And they said," Yes. "
And so it is that Davidson, 76, now retired and living in Rolling Meadows, went to make friends with the astronauts of Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin while helping to design the revolutionary space suits that those men wore for the first steps of the man on the moon on July 20, 1969 Those were not updated flight suits. They were more like a single-of-a-kind space spaceship.
"We had to build them to resist 220 degrees below zero and 280 degrees above zero," says Davidson, as he sits in his living room and flips the 17 layers of a piece of material used in the outer covering of those seeds made to withstand everything what the moon could throw at them. While some materials were similar to those found in fire retardant clothing worn by drivers of racing cars and in coats worn by mountaineers, the space suits also featured new materials such as "mylar aluminized" and "silica fibers coated with Teflon and Beta fabric."
Designed to protect against "micrometeoroid bombardment" from splinters whizzing through space that could pierce most materials, the layers of the suits included "ripstop tape" and patterns with holes that prevented a small sting from becoming a major tear.
Not only did the seeds keep the astronauts alive, they had to allow men to move under the pressure of 14 pounds of air per square inch. Each suit had to be perfect, so they took 180 measurements on the bodies of the astronauts and built chamfers and swivels for each joint.
"The hardest thing to do was fingertip gloves," says Davidson, observing how the astronauts needed to collect objects and adjust the controls. "The gloves were incredibly complex."
Davidson and a team of 20 engineers also equipped the space suits with a communication system that allowed Armstrong and Aldrin to chat with each other, communicate with fellow astronaut Michael Collins, who orbits the moon, and talk to the communication on earth, where 500 million people have seen and listened to their transmission from the moon's surface.
"And we're having trouble getting a good signal on our cell phones here," jokes Davidson's wife, Barbara, a former flight attendant for Pan-Am World Airways. Married for 51 years, the Davidsons have two older children, Tim and Chrysteen and a niece.
On the historic day, while he was hosting another engineer and his wife in their apartment in Ogletown, Delaware, Bob Davidson watched the moon land safely. "We knew that if we could do it here it would be great on the moon, which has a sixth of gravity," he says.
The space suits matched the performance of Armstrong and Aldrin, who were the perfect team for that mission, says Davidson, who met both astronauts. Engineers could spend 10 consecutive days working directly with the astronauts and so they will not see them for a month. They went to restaurants together and socialized.
"They were as different as night and day," says Davidson of the enigmatic Armstrong and the outgoing aldrin. "Buzz was in 'Dancing with the Stars' and Neil could not even be in the audience."
Aldrin was a fighter pilot during the Korean War who received 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 Purdue University were interrupted by the Korean War, flew for 78 combat missions before returning to finish his graduation and continuing to receive a master's degree from the University of Southern California. Armstrong was a talented driver who pioneered high-speed aircraft, such as the X-15, which reached 4,000 km / h.
"We were drinking together," says Aldrin's Davidson. "Neil liked a cocktail too."
The reserved Armstrong was a man of few words. "& # 39; No 'is an argument with Neil," says Davidson. "I would say," Yes, but … "and he would say," No ".
"His key of choice, if you wanted to have a good conversation, was the stock market," recalls Davidson, who claims that Armstrong liked to share his investment strategy. "I could not keep it silent for three hours."
Armstrong generally lets his actions speak for him.
"He was the right guy, he was strong under the fire and smart as a whip," says Davidson, adding that even during the moon landing, Armstrong had to shut down the computer and land the module manually with his fuel almost disappeared.
The space suits have been tested in a 32-storey water tower in the desert and in an airplane known as "comet vomit" which has risen and dived to offer moments of weightlessness. With so many materials and tests, Davidson has traveled to facilities in Texas, California, New York, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and Dover, Delaware, and has also participated in public relations visits to schools and civic organizations across the nation. . Traveling with a large blue box that read "Critical Flight Point", Davidson flew first class and was the last passenger on the plane and the first to go down.
"I was making $ 17,000 in the year and I realized I was making 22 cents at the moment," says Davidson. He left NASA in 1972 to work in technical sales with several companies before founding his own control system company called Enternet in Naperville. While at NASA, Davidson also worked on Apollo 9 and the memorable Apollo 13, which saw an explosion and a miraculous return to earth that was turned into a film with Tom Hanks.
The new film on Armstrong, "First Man", does a good job in capturing the courage, courage, intelligence and coolness of Armstrong under pressure and shows the sacrifices that many have made to keep their promise to put a man on the moon, says Davidson.
"We are human and we knew the odds were against us, but we also knew it was feasible," says Davidson, proud of his contribution. "The only two things that have returned from the moon are the man and the space suit on his back."
Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, https://bit.ly/2OziucP
Information from: Daily Herald, http://www.dailyherald.com
This is a story of AP-Illinois exchange offered by the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights).