Tech alumni and the country celebrate 50th Anniversary of Apollo 17
Tennessee Tech University has a long list of alumni who have been or are currently involved with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration program. They, like others around the world, celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 17 on December 7, 2022.
When Apollo 17 launched on December 7, 1972, it was the sixth Apollo mission and became the last manned mission to the moon to date. It was the first Apollo mission that was launched at night, and it carried the first scientist, geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, to walk on the moon. It launched on Dec. 7, landed on the moon on Dec. 11, stayed on the lunar surface 75 hours, and returned to Earth on Dec. 19.
While many Tech alumni have NASA ties, either as direct hires of NASA, or by working for companies that supply the various components or services, several actually worked directly on various elements leading up to the Apollo 17 mission.
Earl A. Price, Jr., a ’61 engineering science major, immediately went to work for NASA at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He worked in the unitary plan wind tunnel department performing aerodynamic heating tests on Apollo and other NASA and Air force vehicles.
Ronnie D. Hudson, a ’72 business management major, began working for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama in September 1968 as a co-op student. As a business major, he was assigned to the training office where he worked two one-year assignments as a co-op student. After graduating from Tech in 1972, he was offered a position with NASA as a program analyst in The Space Sciences Lab at MSFC.
Hudson had the privilege of being on duty July 20, 1969 when Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon and the next day Neal Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Lunar Surface.
Rachel Elkins Killebrew, a `64 mathematics major with a German minor, was hired by IBM for the Apollo/Saturn Mission on the contract to develop the checkout and launch computer programs for the Apollo/Saturn Mission at Kennedy Space Center. She was sent to Huntsville to school for the first year on the design of Apollo/Saturn Missions ahead and the design and machine language necessary for programs to be written for checkout and launch. She was one of 16 graduates hired from around the country and the one from Tech on that particular mission team.
Virgil Leon Davis, a `69 electrical engineering major, has his first job on the Eagle of Apollo 11. He was assigned lead electrical engineer for the damper arm, data transmission, digital equipment evaluator, fuel cell servicing, complex cryogenic controls and crawler transporter control systems. His design work was for the ground service equipment systems for the Apollo Spacecraft and launch facilities. He worked on Apollo 11 thru 17, Skylab 1 thru 3 and Apollo-Soyuz Space Launch Missions. He also worked at KSC through five shuttle test flight missions, and 114 other shuttle space launch missions. He worked for NASA over 36 years on a total of 130 NASA flight missions at KSC.
Jimmy H. Celsor, a `61 mathematics major, was employed from 1964-2000 by NASA at the KSC during the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, shuttle programs and the initial stage of the Space Station program. He worked primarily in the software development arena including high altitude wind shear processing, launch processing, robotics and procurement benchmarking among other things.
Bob Brown, a `58 engineering chemistry major, first worked for NASA in Mississippi to work on building the Saturn V Rocket. However, he wanted to be involved in the development of space technology. When given the opportunity by NASA to work at Arnold Research Organization, later known as Arnold Engineering Development Corporation, in Tullahoma and work on research in vacuum technology, he took it.
He was asked to head up the team to build a system to study how objects would react to molecular collisions in the vacuum of space. He didn’t have much experience with molecular beam technology, so approached top engineering colleges.
According to Brown back then NASA had a list of colleges that they were allowed to hire from. It was a total of about ten schools including MIT, UCLA, Berkeley, Penn and UVA. Tech was the only school from Tennessee that made the list.
The Apollo 17 crew was made up of Commander Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Schmitt. They collected the oldest known unshocked lunar rock, which suggested that the moon had a dynamo-generated magnetic field in its past. They also collected samples of “orange soil” containing volcanic glass from an explosive eruption, as well as conducting scientific experiments.
A plaque left on the moon by the astronauts reads: "Here man completed his first exploration of the moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which he came be reflected in the lives of all mankind." A new plaque may soon be placed as new missions to the moon are planned.
The Greek god Apollo had a twin sister Artemis and Artemis is the name given to the NASA mission that will continue the work of the 1960’s Apollo program. In Greek mythology, Artemis rules the moon, ironically. The Artemis mission is planned in numerous stages that will eventually take men and women to the Moon.
“With Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before,” according to the NASA website. They plan to collaborate with commercial and international partners and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon.
Artemis 1 was successfully launched on Nov. 16, 2022, after being delayed four times. Artemis 2 is scheduled for a launch in 2024 with Artemis 3 scheduled for launch in 2025. For more information on Apollo’s twin Artemis visit https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/.
For more information on Tech alumni with NASA connections and those who literally live “Wings Up,” visit The Alumnus Special Edition - NASA (tntech.edu).