Author Topic: Guenter Wendt  (Read 1500 times)

Offline Kiwi

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Guenter Wendt
« on: December 24, 2019, 09:22:01 AM »
I'm reading Wendt's autobiography at the moment.

Here's a bit more about Wendt up to 1970 – many of the names we know are quoted:

First On The Moon – A Voyage With Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., written with Gene Farmer and Dora Jane Hamblin, Epilogue by Arthur C. Clarke – Michael Joseph, London (1970), pages 51-55.


   As Apollo 7 lifted off in October 1968, a voice from the spacecraft came crackling through the static: "I vunder vere Guenter Vendt?" The pun was credited at the time to Walter Schirra, but the voice actually belonged to Donn Eisele, a man with a talent for imitating accents. Guenter Wendt's German accent was so thick that even he laughed about it, but that day he had gone nowhere and all three men in the spacecraft were glad of it. Wendt worked for North American Rockwell, and as "pad leader," his job title was a little vague; the astronauts knew him affectionately as "the fuehrer of the pad." John Glenn had given him the nickname, and he was not offended by it; in one particular area Guenter Wendt was a martinet, and he did not pretend to be anything else: "There's no reason to say I am narrow-minded. Just do it my way and you will have no problem at all." It was his responsibility to make sure that the spacecraft itself, as distinct from the stack of booster rockets beneath it, was ready for flight. Once it arrived at Cape Kennedy and went into major testing and manned runs, he supervised everyone who touched the spacecraft, be it an engineer, a quality control man, a flight technician. "It's easy to get along with Guenter," Pete Conrad once said. "All you have to do is agree with him." Installation of every component, every piece of equipment, came under his jurisdiction. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was added to the apparatus until Wendt said: "Okay, now. Do it." He had launched every Mercury flight, virtually every Gemini. He had even launched Ham and Enos, the two chimpanzees. At that time he worked for McDonnell Douglas. When North American Rockwell got the contract to manufacture the Apollo spacecraft, Wendt thought of switching over. But he feared he could not get the authority he needed, and at the time of the January 1967 fire he was in Titusville, Florida, with McDonnell, as supervisor of the test range there. He had nothing to do with the spacecraft in which Grissom, White and Chaffee died, but he always felt

uncomfortable when people said (as they did), "Oh, we wish you had been there." He thought it would be presumptuous for him to suggest that maybe he would have noticed something, done something, in time to prevent the tragedy. "On the other hand," he said, "maybe it was meant for me not to be there because I would have taken it very hard." Guenter Wendt was not a man to guarantee anything. Before John Glenn's Mercury capsule, Friendship 7, took off for three earth orbits in February 1962, he told Mrs. Glenn: "Annie, we cannot guarantee you safe return of John. This would be lying. Nobody can guarantee you this — there is too much machinery involved. The one thing I can guarantee you is that when the spacecraft leaves it is in the best possible condition for a launch. If anything should happen to the spacecraft, I would like to be able to come and tell you about the accident and look you straight in the eye and say, 'We did the best we could.' My conscience then is clear and there is where my guideline is."
   After the fire, some of the astronauts knew who they wanted back in charge of the pad when manned flights were resumed. One of them was Wally Schirra, who liked the fact that Guenter Wendt literally terrorized everybody. They all remembered the time, during Gemini, when a project engineer decided he was going to make a pad fix on the spacecraft, with or without Wendt's permission. He got himself up on the mobile service structure, and there he had the misfortune to run into "the fuehrer."
   "You had better remove yourself from the structure," Wendt said. "You can't do that," the engineer said.
   Wendt called downstairs to security and said, "Do you want to pick up a man?"
   Then, Wendt recalled, "The guy comes up on the elevator and he says [to the engineer], 'You like me to put handcuffs on you, or are you going to go by yourself?' The engineer dropped his jaw, but he left. Maybe this system is wrong, but I have had pretty good success with it. If I don't do a good job, I get out. I can't compromise."
   It was Deke Slayton who got Wendt transferred to North American Rockwell, and Wally Schirra who got him changed from the midnight shift so that he would be in charge when Schirra, Cunningham and Eisele got into the Apollo 7 spacecraft on launch day. Schirra went to the office of Buz Hello, North American Rockwell's vice-president and general manager for launch operations, and said, "Buz, you are going to have to change the rules. Guenter Wendt is going to be the pad leader when we get into the spacecraft. After we lift off you can put anybody there you want, but he is going to see us off." Wendt's shift was changed, and he saw Schirra's crew off.
   Wendt had not belonged to von Braun's group of German rocket scientists. He had studied mechanical engineering in Berlin and had flown night fighters in the German Air Force during the Second World War as a flight engineer. He had learned the trade of building aircraft; in his time appren-

ticeship in Germany was a four-year business. He also learned how to handle any kind of machinery and hand tools. But immediately after the war, before the German recovery miracle had taken place, there was not much opportunity in his homeland for a man of Guenter Wendt's training. His parents were divorced; his father had emigrated to the United States and was living in St. Louis. Wendt joined his father there. McDonnell wanted to give Guenter a job immediately but could not; the company was working on Navy contracts, Wendt was a German citizen and America was still officially at war with Germany. So Wendt got a job as a truck mechanic, and although he had never worked on trucks before, he was bossing a shop within a year. After five years he had his American citizenship, and he changed over to McDonnell at once. He liked living in St. Charles, outside St. Louis: "It was a small community, small-town USA. The biggest event was Friday night when you went downtown and just walked around. You didn't shop. You just met everybody. I liked it better than a big town." In 1958 and 1959 he started going to Florida, where he worked first on ballistic missiles. He met people like Kurt Debus, one of the von Braun group who would become director of the Kennedy Space Center, along with Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., Robert Gilruth, Kenneth Kleinknecht and a half-dozen others who would, along with Guenter Wendt, bear heavy responsibility for the flight of Apollo 11. Wendt took very seriously his new American passport: he waved the flag, or rather he was looking for a flag to wave. He thought that the South Gate entrance to the Kennedy Space Center, the one the astronauts most frequently used, ought to have an American flag. He asked for one, and got a letter explaining that according to Air Force regulations only one flag could fly officially at each base. At Patrick Air Force Base that flag was outside the headquarters building, No. 425. Wendt got on the telephone and protested so loudly that finally a colonel flew to Washington to iron things out. Guenter's flag flew — until a new base commander took it down about six months later. Wendt went into action again and threatened to write congressmen. After two days the flag flew again, making Patrick probably the only U.S. Air Force base in the world with two official flags.
   In the summer of 1969 Wendt still remembered those early days at the Cape with nostalgia: "It is still as exciting today, but then there was the personal contact — you could bank more on somebody else's word. Somebody would say, 'I'll do that for you' — and it was done. Today you can have it in writing and the guy says, 'Oh, it was on the schedule, but we skipped it.' " He was still exasperated, after twenty years, about his difficulty with colloquial English, especially because his wife, who was reared in Hamburg, spoke the language perfectly, with a slight English accent. But in one way Wendt found his accent an advantage; when he went on the network which linked the spacecraft with Mission Control, the first thing he always heard

was "Hey, Guenter..." And Wendt would reflect, "I never have to say who I am!"
   Everyone at the Cape — and at the Houston Spacecraft Center — knew who he was. By July 16 Wendt had been working on spacecraft No. 107, the Apollo 11 spacecraft, for five and one-half months — ever since January 22, when it was flown from North American Rockwell's Downey, California, aerospace plant to the Cape Kennedy "skid strip" in the Super Guppy, a slow-moving but big-muscled aircraft which was built to do this particular type of work. It looked a bit like a pregnant whale with wings — indeed the first version of the aircraft, a Boeing Stratocruiser which had been acquired by an independent developer named John Conroy, then modified and recertified, had been called the Pregnant Guppy. The Pregnant Guppy flew all the early Titan rockets to Cape Kennedy, along with the Gemini capsules. Its successor, the Super Guppy, was flown by Aerospace Lines to carry the third stage of the Saturn V rocket — the S-IVB.
   Wendt's first task was to oversee the receiving inspection checks to make sure that there had been no damage in transit. Then he had to supervise the power tests in the altitude chamber, both unmanned and manned; next put the lunar module, the spacecraft adapter and the command and service module all together; then — on April 14 — move the whole mass into the Vehicle Assembly Building, cable it up and run a major systems check that would last nearly two weeks. There were ten different modes of aborts, and all of them had to be simulated — that is, tested.
   As late as mid-March, when Apollo 9 flew, some of the Saturn V assembly which would power the Apollo 11 spacecraft in July was lying around the floor of the VAB in pieces — e.g., the leaf-shaped metal "skirts," each twice the circumference of an ordinary coffee table, of the five F-1 engines which would be clustered up to provide 7.5 million pounds of thrust at the moment of liftoff. By now, every statistic concerning Apollo had become difficult for the finite mind to assimilate. There was the size of the VAB itself. A symmetrical structure 716 feet long and 517 feet wide, it had a high bay of 525 feet. Both the United Nations Secretariat Building and the Statue of Liberty could have been moved into any two of its four main doors to rest on a concrete floor which had been ground down to perfect level with wristwatch precision. It required a ten thousand-ton air-conditioning system with a capacity to cool some three thousand homes; without air conditioning, the VAB's 129,482,000 cubic feet of space would develop its own atmosphere. Clouds would form inside, and it would rain. [1]
   The VAB was not intended to be the biggest building in the world; it was designed to be big enough to assemble, vertically, the three stages of the Saturn V and the Apollo spacecraft — the command and service module, the lunar module, and the adapter which linked the two. But until Boeing needed a bigger building near Seattle to assemble the 747 "jumbo" jet, the

VAB was, in terms of cubic space, the biggest building in the world. [2] By mid-May it was time to "mate" the electrical systems of the rocket boosters with those of the spacecraft, then move the whole stack to Pad 39A, three and one-half miles distant, on the six million-pound transporter (or "crawler"), which is 131 feet long and 114 feet wide, traveling on four double-tracked crawlers, each shoe on the crawler track weighing about one ton. The actual stacking was done by crane operators 462 feet above the VAB floor, working from digital computers and listening over earphones to talkers beside each segment to detect movements and tolerances of as little as 1/128th of an inch; if vertical balance were lost, the whole thing would fall over and become a billion-dollar pile of junk. The trip to Pad 39A required six hours on a three-layer roadway nearly as wide as an eight-lane turnpike, topped and sealed with asphalt, then covered by river rock to reduce friction during steering — the steering being done by controllers who communicated with each other by radio from diagonally opposite cabs.
   Finally, on the pad: time for Wendt and his crew, now grown to about sixty men, to run still another major systems check and a flight readiness test, then — after June 12, when Sam Phillips had given the word "go" — load the self-igniting hypergolic propellants into the CSM (command and service module) and the lunar module. This meant three hundred pounds of monomethylhydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer to feed each of the CSM's four "quads" of engines (each quad had four clustered engines fired separately or in combination, i.e., one engine in each of two quads, or in all four quads, or by itself, to achieve roll, pitch and yaw in flight); plus 41,000 pounds of propellants for the SPS (service propulsion system) engine which fired to make lunar orbit insertion, transearth injection and midcourse corrections, and another 23,245 pounds of the same for the lunar module's descent and ascent engines. This loading required a week; once in the tanks the hypergolic fuels would stay there until launch.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2019, 09:43:27 AM by Kiwi »
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Offline bknight

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Re: Guenter Wendt
« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2019, 10:08:14 AM »
Thanks Kiwi.  :)
Truth needs no defense.  Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.
Eugene Cernan

Offline Ranb

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Re: Guenter Wendt
« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2019, 07:32:36 PM »
I read a reviewer's comments that claimed the book had many inaccuracies regarding launch vehicles.  I read the book and enjoyed it.  I have no idea what mistakes were in the book.


Offline smartcooky

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Re: Guenter Wendt
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2019, 03:52:51 AM »
"I vonder vere Guenter Wendt?"

Well! Someone had to say it!
► What you can assert without evidence, I can dismiss without evidence
► When you argue with idiots you risk being dragged down to their level and beaten with experience.
► Conspiracism is a shortcut to the illusion of erudition

Offline Dalhousie

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Re: Guenter Wendt
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2020, 05:52:03 PM »
I read a reviewer's comments that claimed the book had many inaccuracies regarding launch vehicles.  I read the book and enjoyed it.  I have no idea what mistakes were in the book.

Wendt's autobiography or First on the Moon?

Offline Ranb

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Re: Guenter Wendt
« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2020, 09:56:52 PM »