Apollo 13 is probably the most famous of the Apollo lunar missions, or at least in a close race with Apollo 11, the first one to actually land on the moon.
What made Apollo 13 famous isn’t that it landed on the moon, it’s that it didn’t, and that even in that failure, thanks to quick thinking from the astronauts on board and NASA engineers and scientists, they were able to bring the craft back with all crew alive.
Ed Grace was one of those engineers. He spoke to students at Community School of Naples this week about his experiences and how to approach their academic future.
“NASA for the most part isn’t on people’s minds much anymore, especially the youth,” Grace said.
He’s right. Since the shuttering of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA hasn’t had a manned spacefaring craft since. But the allure of space, of beating Earth’s gravity, of putting an object into the sky far beyond what many of us will ever experience, still captivates a few. It’s particularly the tech-inclined students, those interested in coding and programming, that seem to latch on the best.
“I’m usually pretty relaxed during these presentations, but a couple of these classes, especially the programming kids, have hit me with such passion and interest that it’s invigorating,” he said.
Grace worked at MIT Draper labs and was on the team that designed and developed the Inertial Navigation System that controlled both the Command and Lunar Modules flight missions. Grace was working in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston during the Apollo 13 mission. He, and all of Apollo 13’s operations teams were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970 by President Richard Nixon.
“I literally quit my job to go work on the design team at Draper, moved cross country. It was my life’s goal, why would I give it up?” Grace said. “It took an entire team to get things up and back down, no reason to stand out.”
What may be reinvigorating the interest in space for many young people today are the private rocket developers, companies such as SpaceX in particular. The company, founded by Elon Musk, launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6, and the founder hasn’t been shy about his designs on sending manned expeditions in the future, including to Mars.
Grace, who spent part of his day at CSN talking coding with programming students, is optimistic that the passion for space is returning.
“The future really is in these kids hands, and it seems like we’re going to be alright,” Grace said. “They’re whip smart and they adapt quickly. Any venture would be proud to get their hands on them.”
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