Apollo 11’s (Almost Silent) Splashdown

English: Transmission antenna

English: Transmission antenna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NASA’s tracking station on Guam enabled communications between the Apollo spacecraft and Mission Control via a very powerful antenna. On July 23, the night before the Columbia astronauts returned to Earth, a bearing in the antenna failed and as a result the unit was nearly useless.

Charles Force was in charge of the station and realized that to dismantle the antenna, replace the bearing and reassemble the unit would take too much time. The station on Guam was the last point of communication during the re-entry procedure. A working antenna was vital to the lives of the astronauts and the successful splashdown.

Mr. Force thought outside the box and came up with a second solution: If more grease could be packed around the failed bearing, it would probably be fine for the day. To accomplish that, someone had to get their arm through a two-and-a-half inch opening and pack the bearing and no one at the station had an arm small enough to do that.

Neil Armstrong thanks Greg Force for his help repairing the communication antenna on Guam.
Photo courtesy of Greg Force

Like a scene from a movie, Charles Force called his house at 10 PM and asked his ten year-old son, Greg, if he would help. A driver was dispatched to transport Greg to the station and he reached in, packed the bearing with grease and saved the day.

40 years later Greg recalls, “My dad explained to me why it was important, but it kind of caught me by surprise afterwards, all the attention.”

In the year that followed, the astronauts travelled the world over making public appearances, visiting NASA sites and meeting fellow workers. Neil Armstrong went to the tracking station in Guam and personally thanked Greg Force for his contribution to Columbia’s safe return to Earth.

Can you imagine what that must have been like for a young boy?

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