TARPON SPRINGS, FL – The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing was celebrated this summer with an emphasis, of course, on the most recognizable figures associated with the spaceflight, the astronauts- Neil Armstrong who took that historic first step, Buzz Aldrin- the second man on the moon, and Michael Collins- the command module pilot. There were, however, many more people involved in the effort to get those astronauts to the moon, including Greek-American Paul Georgopulos, the Design Supervisor for the mechanical aspects of the Seismometer Experiment Package for Apollo 11. He spoke with The National Herald, noting that his grandparents immigrated to the United States from Greece and settled in Delaware. Like so many Greek immigrants, they opened a restaurant. Georgopulos told TNH that he attended Greek school as a youngster, but has not kept up with the Greek language as his siblings did. He shared his memories of the Apollo 11 experience with TNH in the following article, entitled Blood on the Moon:
My name is Paul Georgopulos, currently of Tarpon Springs, FL. I was the Design Supervisor for the mechanical aspects of the Seismometer Experiment Package (measures moon-quakes and anything hitting the Moon’s surface). I worked at Bendix Aerospace in Ann Arbor, in the mid-’60s where we designed the Experiment Packages that were placed on the Moon for Apollo 12 through 17. Each package had an array of five to seven experiments for each flight. There was nothing scheduled for Apollo 11 because they thought it would be too involved for the first landing on the Moon.
As we got within a few months of the date for the Apollo 11 mission, it was obvious that the USA was going to beat the Russians to a Moon landing. The question was then raised, “Why are we going to the moon?” The political answer became “Because of science,” but there really wasn’t anything more planned than “getting there.”
Bendix was then asked, “Can you come up with a scaled down version of an Experiment Package?” The result was the Passive Seismometer Package, complete with six solar panels (new invention) and the Laser Reflector Package, a device that accepts a beam of laser light sent from Earth and sends it directly back to wherever it came from. The time it takes to do this gives us the exact distance to the Moon within 3 inches. Both of these items are seen in almost every photograph shown of the Apollo 11 landing. Science was satisfied (and so was I).
A few weeks before take-off the Astronauts announced that they were going to place the experiments only about 30 feet from the spacecraft. This created a panic amongst our Thermal Engineers because they were afraid of the dust that would be raised during the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) take-off. This would ruin the thermal design that was necessary to survive the extreme temperatures during Lunar day and night. The temperatures fluctuate from plus 250 degrees F to minus 250 degrees F with every rotation of the Moon. They quickly designed a special covering made of Kapton (a gold-colored reflector). It was designed as a kit and I flew it down to the Cape [Canaveral] for installation. I spent that evening in my motel room assembling the kit which required me to sew one of the parts into a cylinder. During that process, I pricked my finger and it started to bleed, but I kept on working, resulting in several bloodstains on the threads. At the time, there was nothing I could do about it and though nothing of the episode. The kit was put on the equipment before it was installed into the LEM.
I now realize that my blood is probably the only human blood on the moon and certainly the first. All Astronauts are encased in a suit that protects them from the environment. When the experiments were first placed in the LEM, Buzz Aldrin wanted to see them before things were “buttoned up.” I was in the spacecraft (wow!) making final electrical connections and taking an X-ray of the connectors to insure their accurate alignment. The system was now anchored into the LEM. I had to wait while he flew in on a private aircraft from Houston. By the way, the Apollo spacecraft was 42 stories high. Quite a thrill for me.
When he arrived, he didn’t say a word to me and went directly to the Experiment. After viewing it, he started to pull on the handle that is used to remove it from the spacecraft. The reason he did that is because on the Astronaut Model that we made for him to practice with had a faulty weld on the handle and it broke during their practicing. He braced his foot on the LEM structure and started to pull over and over and I yelled, “That’s enough.” I was so afraid that if he broke it, there wouldn’t be enough time to fix it before flight time. He abruptly stopped and very slowly turned to me with that “Do you know who I am?” look. He didn’t say a word, and that was that. (I later got an autograph from him and told him who I was.)
During the actual moon walk, I was in NASA’s Houston headquarters in a small room with a telephone and all the drawings of the equipment. (No TV.) I was connected to Capcom [the capsule communicator] which was in direct contact with the crew, and my role was to tell them what to do if something didn’t go right with the equipment deployment. When I asked him to verify that the antenna was pointed properly (there were three possible positions), I heard the words, “We have data.”
The equipment lasted for at least three years and was finally turned off.
As an aside, when people don’t believe that we really went to the Moon because of the flag waving appearance, here is a simple explanation:
The atmosphere of the Moon is a total vacuum. The gravity is only 1/6 of that on Earth. When the Astronaut waved the U.S. flag, there was nothing to stop it from waving for quite a while. Makes sense, right?
It’s been 50 years since that happened, but to me, it seems like yesterday. I’m 80 now.
It should be noted that Georgopulos also told TNH that his name is also on the moon. He wrote it on a “throwaway item” that was part of the experiment package he worked on.
[An edited version of this article appeared in the Tampa Bay Times as “How my blood ended up on the moon during Apollo 11” on July 18.]