By Peter P. Donker
Telegram & Gazette Staff July 17, 1994
When astronaut Neil A. Armstrong stepped on the moon 25 years ago this Wednesday and uttered his first words, Joseph A. Ruseckas sighed with relief.
The headset communication system that connected Armstrong from the lunar surface to millions of American television sets had met the challenge.
Ruseckas, who is now 76 and retired as head of research and developement at David Clark Co. Inc. in Worcester, helped develop the headset communications systems the Apollo 11 astronauts used.
Louis J. Trostel was on vacation in Baltimore when he watched the moon landing on television. "It was great, it was wonderful," he remembers.
A member of Norton Co.'s research department, Trostel had more than passing interest. His company had supplied engineering expertise and a number of products to the Apollo 11 moon mission.
"It was obvious they worked. It worked great and we were very happy," remembers Trostel. "The Norton products were well-tried. We had a lot of confidence."
No less exciting to George Friedman were Armstrong's first lunar steps. In some small way, Friedman was part of the accomplishment. "I was as nervous as anybody else and the people involved," said the 74-year-old Honematic Machine Corp. engineer, who still works three days a week.
But from a technical point of view, Friedman said he was not worried about Honematic's contribution - the lunar landing module's legs. "Our part of the thing was set to work."
David Clark Co., Norton and Honematic were among more than 200 Massachusettes companies that contributed to the 1969 moon mission, the first six moon landings that U.S. astronauts would make over a three-year period.
The Apollo project was a huge success, cost about $25.4 billion, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (or about $95 billion in 1990 dollars), and at its peak involved more than 300,000 people in industry, universities and government nationwide.
A number of area companies share in the accomplishment of what has been called one of mankind's greatest voyages of exploration.
Significant contributions were made, among others, by:
- Norton Co. as the supplier of the Crystar Rocker nozzles for control of steering changes in space.
- David Clark Co. with its communications headsets that carried Armstrong's now historic words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" from the moon to Earth.
- Honematic Machine Corp., which provided the spindly legs for the Lunar Excursion Module.
- Wyman-Gordon Co., which manufactured parts of the thrust system that hurtled the Saturn rocket with its Apollo craft into space.
- Suprenant Cable Corp. of Clinton, a manufacturer of high-tech wire and cable, provided cable for the launch support systems.
- The semiconductor division of Sprague Electric Co. Inc., which later became Allegro Micro Systems Inc., made a time disc of pure silicon that was left on the moon. Using a newly developed process, Sprague photoetched microscopically small messages from world leaders on the disc.
There is a lot of good technology, a lot of expertise in the state and in Worcester, said Norton's Trostel. "You hear about the bigger companies but a lot of smaller ones supplied parts also. It's probably not as well appreciated but just as important."
Ruseckas, too, thought that the makeup of Worcester's industrial base made it possible for the region's companies to contribute significantly to the NASA space program.
Wyman-Gordon and David Clark Co. were heavily involved from NASA's early start. Wyman-Gordon forgings, for instance, many of them newly developed, were used in every U.S. space shot. For the first moonshot, the company made 14-foot-long aluminum engine mounts that weighed 865 pounds. Wyman-Gordon also made forgings for the Apollo propulsion system and supplied the decent stage nozzle for the lunar module.
Altogether, the company provided the Apollo mission with some 50 different parts for structural, propulsion, guidance and propellant handling applications.
Many of these forgings represented cutting-edge technology, said Sanjay N. Shah, vice president of corporate planning and business development. Techniques developed for the space program were later applied in forgings for commercial aircraft. Today, Wyman-Gordon continues to be involved in the space program, making large landing gear forgings for the space shuttle.
But of all area companies, however, it is David Clark Co., 360 Franklin St., that probably had the most visible association with the nation's space program. Starting out as a maker of brassieres and girdles in the 1930s, it later moved into anti-gravity flight suits for pilots during World War II and in the early 1950s became involved in the nation's space program.
Its space work accelerated in the 1960s with the same manufacture of space suits for the Gemini mission and for America's first space walker. Astronauts would fly into the city to have space suits custom fitted at the company. David Clark also made the flight suits for the country's U2 and SR-71 spy planes and the X-15 experimental rocker plane. It manufactured astronauts' helmets, gloves, boots and communication units. Like all other equipment in the space program, these products needed a high level of reliability and performance because "any failure could cause disaster," said Ruseckas.
Feeling Of Relief
For the Apollo program, NASA asked David Clark Co. to make an Extra Vehiclar Mobility Unit Communications Carrier, space language for a communications headset. Ruseckas remembers that it took several years of design and development - and some apprehension on his part. There is always some concern when a product is being developed for a hostile environment with a number of unknowns, he said. Ruseckas remembers feeling relief when Armstrong stepped on the moon and "his conversation came pretty much as had been expected.
"It suddenly was a relief that all of our efforts turned out satisfactorily. It translated into a lot of pride at the company," he said.
Today, David Clark Co. is a leading supplier of communication systems for the military and commercial market. It also continues to make space suits. Today's astronauts who ride the space shuttle wear David Clark Co. launch/re-entry suits designed to protect them in an emergency at high altitude.
For the Apollo program, Norton's protective products division supplied a coating for the nozzles that control steering changes in orbit. Made of Crystar, a high-strength heat-resistant silicon carbide developed by Norton, the coating on the nozzles was able to withstand the extremes of heat and cold without chipping or cracking. Crystar today has a number of commercial applications.
Studies For NASA
Norton also provided superinsulation for the Apollo craft and its lunar module. A variation of this insulation material was used in the astronauts' suits. Norton also conducted a number of studies on metal and on welding and provided space simulation chambers, gauges and pumps that were used in testing the ability of materials and devices to operate in space. The protective products division also had a contract to simulate moon soil, said Trostel, who in 1990 retired as research manager advanced ceramics, commercial products at Norton.
Honematic Machine of Boylston, then of Worcester, a specialty machine shop, manufactured the aluminum-alloy leg-cylinders and struts that supported the lunar module on the moon's surface. Engineered to perform at moon gravity, the supports were so slight that they would collapse under the 16-ton weight on the module in the earth's stronger gravitational field.
"There was not a formal celebration after the successful landing but at work we talked quite a bit about it," remembers Friedman. "There was quite a bit of excitement, a great feeling about it."
After its safe landing on the moon, the bottom half of the LEM, including the legs, was used as a launching pad when the module with its moon visitors returned to the Apollo mother ship for the voyage back to earth. Honematic's contribution to the space effort still sits in the Sea of Tranquility.
It was to the semiconductor division of Sprague Electric Co., now Allegro, that NASA administrators turned to leave a record of the moon visit on the lunar surface. Using a new process, Sprague engineers photo-etched messages from 74 heads of states, congressional committees, and quotations from Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon on a silicon disc about 2 inches in diameter designed to withstand the moon's extreme temperatures.
"We were looking at reducing the lettering to a millionth of an inch but still have them readable with a microscope," said F. Raymond Dewey, Allegro technical information coordinator. "We assumed that if anyone landed on the moon they would have a microscope."
"Technologically, it was quite an achievement," said Dewey. "It was the first time the photo-etching process was used for something like this. The text was photographically reduced and was etched on the disc through a chemical process. The disc then was attached on one of the lunar module's landing struts." In addition to the messages, the disc is signed by President Nixon and the three astronauts, Edwin E Aldrin Jr., with the text, "Here men from the planet earth first set foot upon the moon, July, 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
Dewey, who at the time was working at Sprague's headquarters in North Adams, remembers the pride in the success of the Apollo 11 mission. "It was a race in space against the Russians. There was such a pride we could do it. And pride that we Sprague, my company, had something to do with it."
But perhaps the most important contribution the city made to the nation's space program and its moon landing was in the person of Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern rocketry. It was Goddard, a Clark University physicist, who in the 1920s pioneered the concept for rocketry that less than 50 years later was credited for making possible man's landing on the moon.
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