July 16th, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins set out on the greatest journey mankind has ever taken: landing on the moon. They are the ones in history books, but Apollo was not a singular accomplishment. Hundreds of men and women across the world worked to bring them there and back- safely. One of them now lives in Summerville. But 50 years ago, Colonel Jon Rockstad was in Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
“In January of 1969. DOD and NASA decided that they would add rescue and recovery control for all NASA operations to our function there at Ramstein.”
Assigned to senior search and recovery controller- Rockstad’s main role was to coordinate emergency recovery if something would go wrong during the Apollo launch and landing. Before Apollo 11 would make history- he had to do something else. “The facility we had was inadequate to do both jobs. He gave me one order- make it fancy. The stars will come.”
Thankfully the launch went without a hitch- so Rockstad watched alongside generals and the world.
“When we heard the eagle has landed, that VIP section was full and it went wild. I mean they were backslapping, hi-fiving, and screaming and hollering just like we were. It was a fantastic moment. And then when we first stepped off the ladder onto the moon- it was dead silent in that room.”
“It was a surreal moment. Just dead silence. We’re there, it was incredible.”Retired Col. Jon Rockstad
Rockstad went on to work with Apollo 12 through 17, including Apollo 13 where the mission was anything but smooth. That story: a whirlwind of scrambling planes, severe storms, and space emergency is for another time on another Moment of Science.