1. Opinion

How my blood ended up on the moon during Apollo 11 | Column

On the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin stands by a package of experiments that were quickly assembled so that the first moon mission would have some science beyond  what was involved in getting there in the first place. [NASA}
On the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin stands by a package of experiments that were quickly assembled so that the first moon mission would have some science beyond what was involved in getting there in the first place. [NASA}
Published Jul. 18, 2019

My blood is on the moon. Let me tell you how it got there.

As we got within a few months of lift-off for Apollo 11, it was obvious that the United States was going to beat the Russians to a moon landing, which renewed the question of "Why? Why are we going to the moon?" The political answer was, "to advance science." But beyond getting there, there really wasn't much "science" or really anything more planned for that first historic mission.

I worked at Bendix Aerospace in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the mid-'60s and was the design supervisor for the mechanical aspects of the Seismometer Experiment Package, which was to measure moonquakes and anything hitting the moon's surface. These packages, which were to conduct an array of experiments, were to be placed on the moon during later Apollo missions — 12 through 17. But nothing was originally scheduled for Apollo 11 because they thought it would be too involved for the first landing.

What to do? To create some science on the lunar surface for that first moon mission, the government asked Bendix to come up with a scaled-down version of an experiment package. The result was the Passive Seismometer, complete with six solar panels (a new invention) and the Laser Ranging Retroreflector, a device that accepts a laser beam sent from Earth and reflects it directly back. The time it takes to do this gives us an exact distance to the moon within 3 inches. Both of these items are seen in almost every photograph shown of the Apollo 11 landing. "Science" was satisfied, and so was I.

A few weeks before blast-off, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin announced that they were going to place the experiments only about 30 feet from the lunar module. This created a panic among our thermal engineers because they were afraid of the dust that would be raised during the lunar module's lift-off. This would ruin the thermal design that was necessary to survive the extreme temperatures during lunar day and night, which fluctuate between 250 degrees above zero and 250 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. They quickly came up with a special covering made of Kapton, which is a gold-colored reflective foil. It was designed as a kit, and I flew it down to Cape Canaveral for installation. I spent that evening in my motel room assembling the kit, which required me to sew one of the parts into a cylinder. I pricked my finger and it started to bleed, but I kept on working, resulting in several bloodstains on the threads. There was nothing I could do about it, and I thought nothing more of the episode. The kit was put on the equipment before it was installed in lunar module.

I now realize that my blood is probably the only human blood on the moon, as all the astronauts were cocooned in spacesuits.

When the experiments were placed in the lunar module, Buzz Aldrin, who would be the second man to walk on the moon, wanted to see them before things were buttoned up. I was in the spacecraft itself (wow!), making final electrical connections and taking an X-ray of the connectors to ensure their accurate alignment. This was all happening in the massive building where the entire Apollo rocket, 36 stories high, was already assembled before being slowly moved as a unit to the launch pad on a huge tracked vehicle. It was quite a thrill for me to be that high up, near the top, working away. The system was now anchored in the lunar module, and I had to wait while Buzz flew himself in from Houston.

He arrived, didn't say a word to me and went directly to the experiment. After viewing it he started to pull on the handle that is used to remove it from the lunar module. There had been a faulty weld on the handle of the mock-up that we made for him to practice on, and it broke during their tests. So he wanted to be sure. He braced his foot on the lunar module structure and started to pull over and over until I yelled, "That's enough!" I was so afraid that if he broke it, there wouldn't be enough time to fix it before flight time. We were that close to launch. He abruptly stopped and very slowly turned to me with a look of "Do you know who I am?" He didn't say a word, and that was that. (I later got an autograph from him and told him who I was.)

During the actual moon walk, I was in NASA's Houston headquarters in a small room with a telephone and all the drawings of the equipment, but no TV. I was connected to Capcom, the capsule communicator, who was in direct contact with the crew. My role was to tell them what to do if something didn't go right with the equipment deployment. When I asked him to verify that the antenna was pointed properly (there were three possible positions), I heard the words, "We have data." The equipment lasted for years before it was finally turned off.

This was 50 years ago and I'm now 80, but it seems like yesterday.

Paul Georgopulos lives in Tarpon Springs.