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50 years ago: worldwide celebrations for the return of Apollo 11

97-year-old former Bell engineer remembers it well as he lived among the astronauts in Houston
Posted at 1:59 PM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 18:33:18-04

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WKBW) — On July 24, 1969, the world celebrated the safe return of the Apollo 11 astronauts after the first successful mission to land men on the moon.

One of those cheering the safe return was Bill Swenson, a former research engineer and field representative for the Bell Aerospace Company in Wheatfield.

Bell had sent Swenson to live in Houston so he could work with the Apollo astronauts as they learned to utilize space technology developed in Niagara County.

"We were encouraged by Larry Bell to have the first of everything," said Swenson, who is now 97 years old.

During his time in Houston with project Apollo, Swenson had Neil Armstrong over for dinner and his daughters did babysitting for the astronaut's children.

"My family mixed with the astronauts families in church, school and in the neighborhood," added Swenson.

While there was intense pressure to succeed with the moon landing, Swenson admitted the astronauts could be "party boys" during downtime.

Swenson started his career at Bell in Wheatfield during World War II when the plant was building fighter planes.

He was later assigned the job of trying to sell Bell ideas to NASA.

While NASA accepted some, it declined other ideas submitted by Swenson, such as using the famous Bell rocket belt on the moon.

"They (NASA) thought it was too risky," explained the aerospace pioneer who now lives in the Amberleigh Retirement Community in Williamsville.

Reporter Ed Reilly sat down with Bill Swenson to talk about his memories of working on the Apollo program 50 years ago.