Feature

Barber "Holds the Pulse of Kennedy"
08.13.09
 
Barber Fred Puig

Image above: Longtime Kennedy Space Center barber Fred Puig at work. Image credit: NASA
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As NASA celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Fred Puig reminisced about his 40 years as a barber at Kennedy Space Center. He mused that if you were to lay the hair he's cut from end to end it might reach the moon and back.

"The Apollo missions were a tremendous accomplishment," Puig said. "It's important that more people are aware of all of the advantages that have come from our country's space program."

Puig, a native of Havana, Cuba, came to the United States when he was six years old. His father, a U.S. citizen, brought the family to live in Key West, Fla. He and his siblings were tutored in English so they could go to school.

In the late 1950s, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a radio operator and was stationed on Iwo Jima, a refueling station at the time. He worked part time as a barber and also was a ham radio operator with the call sign K4QLM, which stood for "quirky little monster."

Puig worked in a salon in Cocoa Beach, Fla., from 1963 to 1964. He applied for a barber job with a contractor to the NASA Exchange at Kennedy and was hired in 1966. He worked at the Headquarters building for 20 years, and then took a short break from 1986 to 1989 to finish his U.S. Coast Guard Reserve obligation. He received his military retirement in 1995.

The cosmetologist and professional barber returned to Kennedy in 1989, and moved into a new shop in the Operations and Support Building I, or OSB I. He's remained there ever since and manages both barbershops.

Puig said he's cut every Kennedy center director's hair, beginning with Kurt Debus. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts also were his customers, including Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. He's cut nearly every shuttle astronaut's hair at the shop, or prior to a mission in the astronaut crew quarters.

The best part of his job is meeting new people and hearing about their work at the center.

"The barbershop is a watering hole of information," Puig said. "I enjoy hearing what workers are doing to support the Space Shuttle Program and future missions."

He and co-worker Sharon Metz, keep a wide range of books and magazines on the shelves for their customers. Puig said they spark conversations about current events and issues.

He has regular customers, including several NASA retirees. Ernie Reyes began coming to Puig in 1964 at the E&L shop at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Reyes was a systems engineer for the Gemini Program and then worked in preflight operations for the Apollo Program. When he retired in 1995, he continued to come back to Puig for haircuts.

"I like the way he cuts my hair," Reyes said. "He’s a good listening post. He holds the pulse of Kennedy."

Puig has a passion for languages and is fluent in Spanish, and some French and Russian. He took a course in Mandarin, a Chinese dialect, at Brevard Community College.

Puig and his wife, Lois, celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary in October 2008. They have two children, a son, Sandy, and a daughter, Jennifer, and two granddaughters.

Puig loves animals and has four dogs that he says "keeps us poor." Two Lhasa apsos are named Rowdy and Cookie; a Shih Tzu is named Muffy; and Punkin is their poodle.
 
 
Linda Herridge, Staff Writer
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center