One small town helped “one small step”
You think it gets rowdy around here when the Red Sox hit a walk-off homer? You should have heard the roar at RCA on Middlesex Turnpike on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 planted itself on the moon using RCA’s electronics. Bill Livezey of Lantern Lane was standing in the crammed RCA lunch room, watching it happen live on TV.
Actually, there was no roar. Just relief. Everyone was exhausted.
Livezey: “When it was announced that it landed safely and Armstrong gave that one step for man speech, you could hear everyone exhale. Everyone just felt total relief. We had to go back to work. Not a whole lot of celebration but a lot of relief.”
RCA’s Burlington branch was responsible for the radar systems that guided the lunar module to the moon. Livezey was in charge of the White Room, an assembly area where a mostly female team put together circuit boards that would help the lunar module control its descent. This included lots of soldering that would be done by machines nowadays. Why mostly women? They were usually more meticulous and dexterous than men. “They had to be very careful. They had to do everything just right. We had NASA inspectors looking at everything. If they saw one little pinhole, we’d have to start over and it would cause a huge loss of time.”
Time was short. NASA was under immense pressure from President John F. Kennedy, who vowed in 1961 to put the USA on the moon before the decade was out. Although Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, NASA passed the immense pressure onto its contractors like RCA to make good on Kennedy’s vow — and to beat Russia. How bad was the pressure? RCA’S moon mission chief in Burlington, John R. McAllister of Concord, MA, had a fatal heart attack in 1972 at age 53, just four years after Apollo 11.
Bill Livezey felt the weight too. “We were working 12 hours on weekdays and eight hours Saturdays and Sundays.”
Veronica McGowan Andrews was private secretary to the head of engineering. “There were 100 cigar-smoking engineers and I was four months pregnant. I had a blueprint cutter across my desk with a sign that said ‘cigar smokers beware.’ They were never stupid enough to approach.”
Here’s another Burlingtonian, Sandy McEhliney, among the parts inventory:
William Wigton worked in the environmental testing lab for the lunar module. RCA gave him this tie tack:
Despite the mad dash in 1969 to beat the end-of-decade deadline, there was still time for company softball at Marvin Field on South Bedford Street. Production would play design. Design would play engineering. Livezey was the pitcher for his squad.
Immediately after Apollo 11 came the layoffs. RCA had been so laser-focused on the moon mission that its marketing department hadn’t gone digging for new business, says Livezey. So activity fell off a cliff pretty quickly. One could say the same for mankind’s foray into space. After the Giant Leap, we’re back to baby steps at best.
Livezey saved a lot of RCA’s moon mission material, which made extensive use of . . . Snoopy!
Here’s a letter about Apollo 10, the “rehearsal” to the actual landing mission, dubbed Apollo 11.
“LM” stands for lunar module. It was pronounced “lem,” and even spelled that way sometimes. Employees heard “lem” all day, every day, for years.
Here are Bill’s credentials. Because — why not?
Winchester had nothing to do with Apollo 11 but made a cheesy attempt at cashing in anyway. Because — why not?
I noticed your PERSONAL DATA SUMMARY sheet and I thought that I would give you mine as I was the designer & builder of the test apparatus that was used to assure that the communications antenna which was on the LEM module, piloted by Neil Armstrong and asissted by Buzz Aldrin, would function properly.
PERSONAL DATA SUMMARY
Title: SR. Mechanical Engineer
Name: Gerald Ganley
Responsibility: LEM Project Designer
Location: RCA Burlington,MA
ARTICLE ON LEM
If you have any material to add, I’ll add it. The more, the merrier. My cell: 781-718-9872 — Robert Fahey, editor
My father, Robert Gordon Ridley was a Packaging Engineer at RCA Burlington.
I have his LEM tie clip and some pictures.
Did you know him?
L. Ridley Macdonald
My Dad was Ed Ozelius, He worked at RCA Burlington during that time and I see his signature on several of those documents. I remember RCA held an open house one Saturday for family to come by and see the plant, I vividly remember the High Bay and the posters explaining how we were going to land on the moon. My Dad was very proud of his work on the Apollo program. I’m very proud of my Dad.
I just went to the Kennedy Space Center. They were working on the Lunar Module display.
My family also went to the RCA family Open House.
L. Ridley Macdonald
I knew Ed from the 1980’s when I worked at RCA. I worked in the Project Management Office for C3I. I always found Ed to be a generally likeable and easy-going guy. My father, Al Frim, was an electrical engineer at RCA from the early 1960’s through the 1980’s and, of course, he knew Ed as well. Lots of the guys from the ’60’s were still around in the ’80’s. (Belden, Allen, Frawley, Plaisted, Riga, etc.) I was also at the family open house and I even still have the ID badge w/photo that they made for all the kids.
Psyched to found my dad on the employee anniversary page. They may have used an ‘e’ instead of an ‘i’ in DiFabio, but they got the ‘F’ correctly upper cased😊
My dad, George H. Akerley worked on the LEM project at RCA in Burlington, MA. He was in manufacturing, I believe. So many names on these documents sound so familiar to me. I will have to show this to him to see if he remembers.
Catherine Akerley Ventura
There are a couple of things related to the Apollo/LEM Program that I remember that were still remnants hanging around during the 1980’s when I was there. One was the “rabbit run” up near the softball field. This was a mechanical track that was used to test the design prototypes of the rendezvous radar and the transponder. It consisted of a long metal track and a carrier that ran quickly along it, back and forth, carrying the transponder, and the radar placed some distance away tried to “acquire” the transponder’s signal. It obviously was not in use in the 1980’s but it was still there. Likewise, there was also this telephone pole and cable apparatus set up near the softball field that was supposedly used to hoist up the transponder as high as possible to test it. Finally, there was the “smoky the bear fire tower” that was GFE from the U.S. Forestry Service, that was located on the roof outside of the second floor “penthouse” lab. In the 1980’s it was mostly rust and wasp nests, but this also was presumably used to test the radar. The clean room or “white room” also was still in use. In the 1980’s it was being used for assembling the optics for the AN/GVS-5 Laser Rangefinder, among other things.