Roy residents Frank Servine and Jerry Kelley are among the few people who truly understand the scope of the Apollo space project.
Kelley actually worked on the Apollo 11 spacecraft and Servine worked in the fire room of the aircraft carrier that ran communications for the vessel’s oceanic pickup.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking man’s first steps on the moon.
“It’s like, from one extreme to the other,” Kelley said. “My end of it was when the capsule was first being wired. (Frank’s) was picking it up at the end of the project.”
Kelley’s job with the spacecraft was to check out the basic wiring harness that engineers at the space division in Downey, California, put in the space capsule itself. He would go in and check it for continuity and any insulation breakdowns that could occur.
This work was done by a machine called a DIT-MCO, with stands for Drive In Theater Manufacturing Company.
“In those days, we didn’t have computers like you have today,” Kelley said. “A DIT-MCO was actually a machine used to check out wiring in drive-in theaters, and it was used to check out the wiring in the Apollo project. They were all mechanical and the programmers programmed the machine with cards, punch cards. Then they would transfer that to celluloid tape. Then you run the tape through the machine. We would run the tape about three times, and as we go we would have corrections made.”
Kelley said he worked as a DIT-MCO operator for the Apollo project for three years until 1969 in Downey, California, at North American Rockwell Space Division, a NASA contracting company.
“They were for NASA,” Kelley said. “It was all a contract. The Apollo project was so widespread. We were lucky enough to have the assembly. We would put it together in Downing, the basic spacecraft together.”
Doing all his work inside the Apollo 11, Kelley was the very front end of installing the spacecraft’s wiring.
“It was an exciting time as a young man,” Kelley said. “It’s nice to be a part of it. It was one of the neatest things to ever happen to me — truly, to be a part of something like that.”
Yet he noted there are still a lot of people who don’t believe Americans ever went to the moon.
“My grandfather was one of them,” Kelley said. “I used to tell him I was working at space division. When a man landed on the moon, he says, ‘We didn’t go to the moon, we did it all with cameras.’”
While Kelley’s grandfather may not have believed in the moon landing, Kelley and Servine have hands-on experience with the Apollo project.
For Servine, that meant working in a massive boiler of a communications aircraft carrier for 18 hours a day in 130 degree heat, with steam mounting to 950 degrees.
“I was aboard the USS Arlington…” Servine said. “It was an old WWII helicopter carrier, converted to communications.”
The USS Arlington happened to be running communications back to the U.S. mainland when Apollo 11 splashed down. Servine worked in the fire room when the capsule actually made its watery landing, but he was able to brush shoulders with President Richard Nixon, whose helicopter had landed on the Arlington en route to the carrier that retrieved Apollo 11.
Servine said that Nixon was charming.
“I didn’t necessarily like Nixon, but he was a great person,” Servine said. “He didn’t care who you were or how high up in the level you were, he came down to the mess hall to meet with the real sailors, the real guys that ran the ship, and I appreciated that.”
With Kelley being on the front end of the project, and Servine taking up the rear, the residents of Roy have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to the Apollo project, Kelley said, indicating how much of a small world it truly is.
“I was just part of a wonderful thing,” he said, an accomplishment that he and Servine hope people remember for years to come.
“The Apollo 11 is true history, and I was there to see it,” Servine said. “It would be nice to have people actually believe it happened, because it did. People forget history so quick, and then you repeat it. It’s important that we keep it alive.”