Meet the Miners behind the moon landing

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On July 15, 2019

NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag after the successful moon landing on July 20, 1969. Photo by NASA

Three Missouri S&T Miners played vital roles in NASA’s successful first moon landing

The United States’ Apollo 11 mission was the first crewed mission to successfully land on the moon on July 20, 1969. While only two men actually walked on the surface of the moon that day, thousands of NASA employees contributed to the mission. Three Missouri S&T graduates were key players in making the dream of putting a man on the moon a reality.

Farouk El-Baz


Dr. Farouk El-Baz (right) reviewing lunar maps with American astronauts Ronald Evans and Robert Overmyer. Photo courtesy of NASA

Dr. Farouk El-Baz, who earned master of science and Ph.D. degrees in geology and geophysics from Missouri S&T in 1961 and 1964, respectively, played a leading role during NASA’s Apollo space program in the 1960s. In 1967, El-Baz was appointed by NASA as secretary of lunar landing site selection, principal investigator of visual operations and photography, and chairman of astronaut training. He helped choose potential moon landing sites for the Apollo 11 mission by poring over thousands of detailed photos of the moon’s surface. El-Baz illustrated the geology of the moon for the astronauts and advised them on taking samples and photographs of the moon’s surface.

His role was chronicled by Tom Hanks in the TV series From the Earth to the Moon, in a segment titled: “The Brain of Farouk El-Baz.” In addition, the name El-Baz was immortalized on a shuttlecraft in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. read more

Dr. Farouk El-Baz described the harrowing experience of monitoring the first lunar landing mission from NASA’s Mission Control Center. Video by Missouri S&T

Ronald Epps

Ron Epps oversaw 35 space shuttle flights, including 16 shuttle missions to the International Space Station, and six shuttle-Mir missions among other missions at NASA. Photo by NASA

Ronald Epps, from Mount Vernon, Missouri, earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Missouri S&T in 1967. He received 17 offers after graduation, but ended up spending his entire career at NASA, retiring in 2005 as the chief of the flight design and dynamics division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“NASA recruited me heavily,” Epps says. “I actually got a Western Union telegram that said, ‘We think you could help this country land a man on the moon, and we’d like you to come to work for us.’”

Epps started work as an aerospace technologist with the Landing and Recovery Division, serving as a technical advisor to the U.S. Navy. Assigned to recovery ships for Apollo 8, 9 and 14, he was deployed all over the world to recover spacecraft returning from the moon and to cover deep space aborts — unplanned landings following system failures. read more

George Mueller

Apollo 11 mission officials relax in the Launch Control Center following the successful Apollo 11 liftoff on July 16, 1969. From left to right are: Charles W. Mathews, deputy associate administrator for manned space flight; Dr. Wernher von Braun, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center; Dr. George Mueller, associate administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight; and Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, director of the Apollo Program. Photo by NASA

Dr. George Mueller, a 1939 electrical engineering graduate, was credited with helping ensure NASA met President John F. Kennedy’s manned moon landing timetable. As associate administrator of NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight from September 1963 to December 1969, Mueller was responsible for overseeing the completion of Project Apollo and of beginning the development of the Skylab and the Space Shuttle projects.

During that six-year span with NASA, he introduced what the space agency calls “a remarkable series of management changes within the agency during a time when strong leadership and direction were critical to achieving success on a set of extraordinary goals.” read more

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4 thoughts on “Meet the Miners behind the moon landing”

  • Hilary Zerr says:

    This was an awesome article to read being a Missouri S&T graduate.

  • Robert Zagrodzky says:

    I worked on the S II stage of the launch vehicle at Dr von Braun’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). The core people of NASA, Dr Debus who headed Kennedy Space Center, & the head of Johnson Space Center, all worked at MSFC. Dr. von Braun was a pleasure to work for as he would come to the labs and set and talk to people about their work. During 36 years, I worked for many of the people who came from Germany with Dr. von Braun. There were several of us who graduated for Rolla.

  • William Roy Chastain says:

    As a Chem Engr. from the class of 1955, I am proud of the accomplishments of graduates from later years. At the time of the moon landing, I was already deep in my career with PPG Industries and after25 years with them, I started 18 more years with Oxychem. Mr Epps, your home town of Mt. Vernon, MO. is a close neighbor of Clever, MO. where I was born and near Marionville, Mo where I lived through High School.
    Again congratulations to all the grads that made the moon project a success.

  • Robert A Faenger says:

    Kudos to these three, but I’ll bet there is over a thousand Miners who helped get them there, working for all the aerospace companies of that era. I’m ONE, I was lucky enough to get to work at McDonnell’s Engineering Labs, testing Projects Mercury, Gemini, Skylab, and some others that didn’t get approved. Apollo could have never made it without the very successful efforts and stellar record of the McDonnell programs. And it was such a huge effort, by so many of MSM’s graduates, and probably a lot of guys/gals that didn’t get to graduate, but ended up in the space programs, somewhere, anyway. You know, it would be interesting for the alumni office to find out, ……….how many did help get men on the moon ?