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WNY aerospace pioneer remembers his team's role in 1969 moon liftoff

Paul Morgante led a team at Bell to build the Lunar Module Ascent Engine
Posted at 7:00 PM, Jul 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-19 19:13:25-04

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Like people around the world, Paul Morgante from Tonawanda has been reminiscing about Apollo 11 and the first astronauts to walk on the moon 50 years ago.

For Morgante, now age 91, the look back is more personal - he led a team at Bell Aerospace in Wheatfield that developed the Lunar Module Ascent Engine in the 1960's.

"There were no backups. No backups. Every system on the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) had a backup with the exception of the LEM engine because of weight restrictions," explained Morgante.

The ascent engine was required to lift astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from the moon's surface so they could rendezvous with the orbiting command service module for a return to earth.

If the engine failed to ignite, the astronauts would have been left to die on the moon with no chance of rescue.

It turned out that the Lunar Module Ascent Engine, built at the Bell Aerospace plant in Wheatfield, worked flawlessly on Apollo 11 and every other lunar landing mission from 1969 to 1972.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly talked with Paul Morgante about what it took to develop such a crucial component for the Apollo space program - and how he felt when it successfully worked on the moon.

Cindy Buffamonte said she and her brothers, Paul Jr. and Mark, are now watching the 50th anniversary specials on television with a special sense of family pride.

"The lunar landing module was about to liftoff and I was watching with bated breath, knowing of course that it did liftoff, but knowing that was the moment - the key moment - that my father worked on for so many years."

On Sunday July 21st, Morgante will give a talk about his team's effort during a free open house at the Niagara Aerospace Museum next to the Niagara Falls Airport.

More information about the museum's moon landing celebration can be found here.