BUFFALO, N.Y. — The road to the moon went through Western New York, paved with ingenuity and creativity from the minds at several local companies.
Before that one small step, The Kodak Lunar orbiter, powered by a Bell Agena engine built in Niagara Falls, photographed the moon surface so they knew where to land.
The Apollo Astronauts trained on a Lunar Landing Research Vehicle also created by Bell Aircraft, so they knew how to land. In fact, Neil Armstrong went on the record as saying he doesn't think they would have landed safely on the moon had it not been for the training they received in the LLRV.
The high speed wind tunnels at Cornell research, now known as Calspan, were used to test aerodynamics. The minds at Moog Inc. in Elma were tasked with keeping the Saturn V Rocket on course. David Chaves' father Marc Chaves worked on those early steering devices called actuators. The elder Chaves joined Moog in 1955 and holds three patents for actuators.
David was only 9-years-old at the time of the Apollo landing, but remembers it clearly. "We were actually on vacation up in the Adirondacks, so Dad piled us all in an old rec hall where they had the black and white television, and we watched it happen."
Being that young, David doesn't remember the exact emotions, but does have vivid recall of his father watching his work take flight on the space shuttle. "As the vehicle took off and then was flying, I look over and Dad's got a tear in his eye."
Now once the astronauts were in orbit, they relied on another local company. Carleton Controls, now Cobham, designed the oxygen valves and regulators on their suits.
But possibly the most vital pieces of local technology was the Bell ascent engine. It lifted Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong off the moon surface and back toward home. Paul Faltyn of the Niagara Aerospace Museum says it had to work, there was no back up. "If it didn't the astronauts would still be sitting there."
Fellow Niagara Aerospace Museum board member Hugh Neeson was working at Bell at the time and while he wasn't in the rocket division, he looks back a half century with a lot of pride. "The things we were doing were profound, but we probably didn't know how profound until they happened."
The Niagara Aerospace Museum is holding an Apollo party on Saturday and an open house on Sunday 11 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., to celebrate this monumental achievement, as the united states won the space race 50 years ago this week.