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Here Then, Here Now: Some Apollo Employees Still at Johnson 50 Years Later

Katherine Herrick |
July 17, 2019

This story highlights a few of the dedicated Americans who have worked at the Johnson Space Center since the Apollo 11 Moon landing on July 20, 1969.

At Rice University in 1961, Jerry Woodfill sat in the stadium as he listened to President Kennedy’s famous words that launched NASA into the Apollo era: “Before the decade is out, we shall send a man to the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.”

At the time, Woodfill was a college freshman at Rice, attending school with a basketball scholarship. “I had no clue [working at NASA] would be my future,” he said.

Kennedy’s words rang in Woodfill’s ears, as they did for many people in the ’60s who were interested in space exploration.

“That speech changed my life,” Woodfill said. “I gave up my basketball scholarship and focused on my electrical engineering studies. NASA hired me on June 14, 1965 as a 22-year-old employee.”

Today Woodfill works as a Technical Manager’s Representative for the Software, Robotics and Simulation Division.

During the Apollo missions, Woodfill was the program’s Spacecraft Warning System Engineer.

“‘Returning safely back to Earth’ was my direct responsibility,” he said. “My greatest challenge was dealing with ‘nuisance alarms.’”

These were alarms that might falsely identify an issue, potentially distracting the astronauts and putting them in danger.

Woodfill is one of a small handful of employees from the Apollo era still working at NASA. Today, only 19 Apollo civil servants work on campus: Bernie Embrey, Reagan Redman, John Schliesing, Dianne Milner, Bob Savely, Hank Rotter, Billy Smith, Garland Bauch, Alan Feiveson, Heibert Epps, Elvin Pippert, George Dickey Arndt, Harry Miles, Charles Alton, Edward Fein, Jarrell Priess, David Owens and Jerry Woodfill.

As the 50-year anniversary of the Moon landing approaches, the Apollo alumni are getting taken back to moments from July 1969. Dianne Milner, an assistant in the Center Director’s Office, worked as a runner between the Mission Evaluation Room and the Mission Control Center back in the ’60s. She is now the last working woman at Johnson from the Apollo days.

“I have vivid memories of the Apollo 11 landing,” Milner said. “I did a double shift the night of the landing. I remember I was rushing at the last minute to get papers delivered between buildings so I could witness the touchdown on the lunar surface.”

Hank Rotter, now a technical fellow for Active Thermal Control Systems and Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, remembers walking outside every night and immediately gazing up at the Moon during the lunar-landing missions.

“Today, most of us still look up, remembering we put men on the Moon,” he said. Rotter was responsible for doing hand calculations for each Apollo landing mission to determine the purge required for the Command Module and Lunar Module cabins. His calculations helped reduce the risk of decompression sickness for the astronauts during their activities on the surface of the Moon.

Garland Bauch, an aerospace engineer in the Technical Integration Division, has been at NASA for 55 years now. He began working for the LTV Aerospace Corp. and NASA-MSC Aerospace Systems Technology Division.

“LTV Aerospace and NASA-MSC Engineering Directorate ASTD were very futuristic design-concept organizations during Apollo,” Bauch said. He was assigned to designing lunar lander concepts by analyzing descent and ascent flight mechanics. He analyzed concepts for future spacecraft, such as the flying Lunar Excursion Module, the rotating space station, and Mars and Venus trajectories that used Apollo hardware for interplanetary missions. “Apollo inspired me to pass on the space exploration dream legacy to my children, grandchildren and future generations.”

Left: Garland Bauch then. Right: Bauch has enjoyed 55 years at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Bernie Embrey just completed 60 years at NASA and, like his co-workers, he held many responsibilities during Apollo. He was an engineer on the design and building of the Digital Updata Link for the Command Module and the Digital Command Assembly for the lunar module. He also negotiated performance and interface specifications for many ground-to-space transmission links, including several links with lunar systems, such as Saturn V, S-1B, S-IVB, CSM, LM, ALSEP, LCRU, GCTA and PFSS. He supported the design and manufacture of the Lunar Communications Relay Unit and Ground Commanded Television Assembly, which were used on the lunar rover for Apollo 15 through 17. He was also the project engineer on the Skylab TV cameras, which were refurbished Apollo TV cameras that were used on both the lunar surface and in the command module.

Left: Bernie Embrey, at left, during Apollo. Right: Embrey has enjoyed 60 years (and counting) at Johnson.

Bob Savely was an Apollo flight controller, as well as the lead developer for the onboard navigation, a crucial function for every spacecraft.

“What I remember the most about Apollo 11 is that due to unanticipated energy being added to the lander orbit, Neil was required to maneuver past the pre-planned landing site by over three miles into a difficult landing terrain,” Savely said. “Watching him maneuver just above the surface, for what seemed like forever, was very exciting and terrifying.”

Today, Savely works as the chief scientist in the Software, Robotics and Simulation Division, and the Moon landing greatly affected where he is at NASA now: “Being part of the achievement of landing a man on the Moon gave me the confidence and belief that with teamwork, almost anything could be accomplished. This belief carried over to all my future NASA work and my community volunteer achievements.”

As our Apollo veterans look back on their time at NASA, they also look forward to the future. They see the direct influence Apollo had on the nation and hope to see more groundbreaking successes during upcoming missions to the Moon.

“[Seeing the Moon landing] was one of the most exciting times of my life,” Milner said. “The exhilaration of being a part of the team of this historical moment is emblazoned in my heart forever. Being a part of the Apollo era is one reason why I am still working. When you dream the impossible, it can be done. I feel that same heartbeat at Johnson today that I witnessed back then with the challenge to return to the Moon by 2024. I hope I am here to witness it.”

Employees of Mathematical Physics Branch are shown outside the entrance to the Mission Control Center. Image Credit: NASA 

Dianne Milner holds an old picture of herself working at NASA's Johnson Space Center during the Apollo days.
Dianne Milner holds an old picture of herself working at NASA's Johnson Space Center during the Apollo days.
Hank Rotter, then and now.
Hank Rotter, then and now.
During Apollo, Bob Savely was a flight controller and the lead developer for onboard navigation.
During Apollo, Bob Savely was a flight controller and the lead developer for onboard navigation.