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50 years ago: WNY's contribution to Apollo 11

Project Apollo counted on technology built by Bell Aerospace in Wheatfield and Moog in Elma
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-16 18:31:03-04

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida for America's first manned, lunar landing mission with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins on-board.

Project Apollo involved hundreds-of-thousands of people across the country at several companies.

But it was the Bell Aerospace Company in Wheatfield and Moog in Elma that developed and built key technology that was crucial for getting the astronauts to the moon and back.

"Quarter-of-a-million-miles out in space and getting them back. That is an incredible human story," said Hugh Neeson, 85, a former Bell manager and current development director for the Niagara Aerospace Museum.

Engineers and workers at Bell constructed the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) that allowed Neil Armstrong, and other astronauts, to practice lunar landing techniques here on earth. Armstrong came close to losing his life in 1968 when a practice flight in the LLRV went out of control.

Bell also built the Lunar Module Ascent Engine which was used to lift the astronauts in the lunar excursion module (LEM) from the moon so they could rendezvous with the command service module for a return to earth.

The Wheatfield-built engine worked flawlessly in all six manned moon landings from 1969 to 1972 - had it failed, there was no way to rescue the astronaunts who would have died on the moon.

Steering the mighty Saturn V moon rocket was accomplished by swiveling the engines. Actuators designed and built by MOOG in Elma were able to move the Saturn's engines so precisely that the 363-foot-tall rocket flew straight.

Other WNY companies, such as Calspan, also contributed to the moon landing effort.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly spent the day at the Niagara Aerospace Museum talking with Hugh Neeson about the 50th Anniversay of Apollo 11.