Former astronaut and Dryden pilot Gordon Fullerton returned July 23 to speak about the legacy of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) A former Dryden research pilot, NASA astronaut, and space shuttle commander spoke to a standing-room-only audience of Dryden employees and educators during a July 23 event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
During C. Gordon Fullerton's second day on the job at Johnson Space Center, Houston - July 20, 1969 - astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. As he watched the mission from the living room of an astronaut he had met the day before, he was beginning an important chapter in his life. He went from reading about Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo in the newspaper to being a participant, and to entering the ground floor of the space shuttle program.
Fullerton was selected to attend the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the Air Force Test Pilot School) at Edwards Air Force Base in 1964. Upon graduation he was assigned as a test pilot with the Bomber Operations Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He was selected to be a flight crewmember for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1966, but the program was cancelled in 1969.
Trained as an astronaut in the MOL program, he then was assigned as an astronaut to the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center), where Fullerton served on support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16 and 17 lunar missions. In 1977, he was assigned to one of two flight crews that piloted the space shuttle prototype Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Test program at Dryden.
Fullerton also had a key role in development of the controls for the space shuttle fleet, piloted one shuttle mission and commanded another. He logged 382 hours in space flight, including as pilot on the eight-day STS-3 space shuttle orbital flight test mission March 22-30, 1982.
"First-stage solid rockets are noisy and the ride is rough - like a ride down the river at 80 miles an hour. Once the solid rockets drop off, it's a smooth ride - like an elevator, and vibration free," Fullerton said of the shuttle ride to space.
He recalled his work with the Apollo program.
Fullerton talks with cooperative education student Erin Waggoner. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) "It was a time when people came to work without even thinking about starting and quitting time. It was a matter of a challenge, and they met that challenge with enthusiasm. I've never seen that before or since. It was an exciting time to be there. Everyone involved, from flight controllers and mechanics to secretaries, all considered [supporting Apollo] a higher calling," Fullerton said.
Fullerton showed slides he photographed during the Apollo program of facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., "unbelievable infrastructure built so quick to assemble moon rockets," he recalled.
"Saturn V rockets were truly a magnificent engineering feat. The three-stage launch system has a five-engine first stage, a five-engine second stage and single-engine third stage. It also had a launch-escape rocket on top, and was 360 feet tall."
Fullerton also helped train Apollo astronauts such as Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell in the gray Florida sand that simulated the surface of the moon. Heavy extravehicular-activity suits for moon missions were used in the training, minus life support, to reduce the weight of equipment carried on the moon.
Fullerton has received a number of honors for his work and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2005. During his career he accumulated more than 16,000 hours of flight in 135 types of aircraft.
The workshop, entitled "The Apollo 40th Anniversary Back to the Moon and Beyond," attracted 53 educators. The workshop also featured a Dryden tour and presentations by Christian Gelzer, Peter W. Merlin, Laurie Grindle, and Tibi Marin.
Peter W. Merlin and Sarah Merlin contributed to this report.