Photo: Burt Constable, AP
ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. (AP) – An electrical engineer working for NASA's young space program, Bob Davidson spent three months in his job in 1962 when he was told that his project had been dropped. Instead, he would get the chance to work with a division of Playtex on a new project.
"Playtex? The bra and belt company?" asked a dubious Davidson. "And they said 'yes'."
And so, 76-year-old Davidson, now living in Rolling Meadows, met astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as he helped design the revolutionary space suits that these men were wearing on July 20, 1969 for the man's first steps Wore on the moon These were not upgraded flight suits. They were more like a unique spaceship with single occupancy.
"We had to build them to withstand 220 degrees below zero and 280 degrees above zero," says Davidson as he sits in his living room, through the 17 layers of a piece of material used in the outer cover of these suits, leafing through to resist anything the moon could throw at them. While some of the materials resembled those found in racers' fire-retardant outfits and mantle-clad coats, the spacesuits also contained new materials such as "aluminized mylar" and "beta-fabric Teflon-coated silica fibers." "
The protective layers of the suits were provided with "ripstop tape" and patterns with holes to protect against "micrometeoroid bombardment" from stains that could drag through space to pierce most materials.
Not only did the suits have to keep the astronauts alive, they had to give the men the ability to move under a pressure of 14 pounds of air per square inch. Each suit had to fit perfectly, so they took 180 measurements on the bodies of the astronauts and built chamfers and swivels for each joint.
"Most difficult were the fingers in gloves," says Davidson, noting that the astronauts must pick up items and adjust the controls. "The gloves were incredibly complex."
Davidson and a team of 20 engineers also equipped the spacesuits with a communication system that Armstrong and Aldrin used to chat with, astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon, to communicate, and millions of communications centers on Earth that were 500 People saw and heard their broadcast from the surface of the moon.
"And we're having trouble getting a good signal on our cell phones," jokes Davidson's wife Barbara, a former flight attendant at Pan-Am World Airways. The Davidsons have been married for 51 years and have two grown children, Tim and Chrysteen, and a granddaughter.
On this historic day, Bob Davidson watched the moon landing with confidence while harboring another engineer and his wife in their Ogletown, Delaware, apartment. "We knew that if we could do it here, it would be great on the moon, which has one-sixth of gravity," he says.
The space suits matched the performance of Armstrong and Aldrin, who were the perfect team for this mission, says Davidson, who met both astronauts. The engineers could work directly with the astronauts for ten days and then not see them for a month. They went to restaurants together and socialized.
"They were as different as day and night," Davidson says of the enigmatic Armstrong and outgoing Aldrin. "Buzz was on 'Dancing with the Stars' and you could not even find Neil in the audience."
Aldrin was a fighter pilot during the Korean War, who awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross before receiving a PhD. in aerospace at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Armstrong, whose aerospace engineering studies at Purdue University were interrupted by the Korean War, flew 78 combat missions before he graduated and received a master's degree from the University of Southern California. Armstrong was a talented pilot who had pioneered high-speed aircraft such as the X-15, which reached 4,000 mph.
"We drank together," says Davidson about Aldrin. "Neil also liked a cocktail."
The low-key Armstrong was a man of few words. "No is an argument with Neil," says Davidson. "I would say" yes, but … "and he would say" no ".
"His hot button, if you wanted to have a good conversation, was the stock market," recalls Davidson, who says Armstrong liked sharing his investment strategy. "I could not silence him for three hours."
In general, Armstrong let his actions speak for him.
"He was the right guy, he was cool under attack and smart as a whip," says Davidson, adding that Armstrong himself had to turn off the computer during the moon landing and manually landed the module.
The space suits were tested in a 32-story water tower, in the desert, and in a plane known as the "vomit comet," which floated and dipped in the air to create moments of weightlessness. With so many materials and tests, Davidson traveled to facilities in Texas, California, New York, Alabama, Florida, Arizona, and Dover, Delaware, and also attracted public relations visits to schools and civic organizations across the nation. Davidson was on his way with a large blue box labeled "Critical Space Flight Item," flying first-class, being the last passenger on the plane and the first passenger.
"I earned $ 17,000 a year and found that I earned 22 cents an hour," says Davidson. He left NASA in 1972 to work in technical sales with several companies before founding his own control systems company in Naperville called Enternet. During his time at NASA, Davidson also worked on Apollo 9 and the memorable Apollo 13, which contained an explosion and a miraculous return to Earth, which was turned into a movie with Tom Hanks.
The new film about Armstrong, "First Man", puts pressure on Armstrong's courage, bravery, intelligence, and coolness, and shows how many victims were made to make good on the promise to put a man on the moon.
"We are human and we knew the odds were against us, but we knew that was feasible," says Davidson proudly. "The only two things that made it back 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 Daily Herald (Arlington Heights).