Chasing the Moon

Charles M. Duke, Jr.
NASA

A half-century ago, as the world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong took that "one small step" into history on the surface of the moon, a voice from Houston was his constant connection to humanity back on Earth.  Earlier, however, as the landing craft neared its destination, that voice had called "60 seconds," to warn the Apollo 11 astronauts - Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins - that they had only one minute's worth of fuel to land, or they would have to abort the mission.  That voice belonged to future moonwalker Charles Duke of Lancaster, South Carolina.

Physicist Ronald McNair, a Lake City native, became a NASA astronaut because his brother said "Ron was the one who didn't accept societal norms as being his norms. That was for other people.  And he got to be aboard his own starship Enterprise."
NASA

The Palmetto State has produced numerous astronauts and scientists.  A South Carolinian, Charles Townes of Greenville, invented the laser, and another native, Dr. Ron McNair, was the first person to operate a laser in space in his role as a NASA astronaut.   A physicist, McNair was killed in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986.  It was his second excursion into space. 

Journalist Recounts the Race to the Moon 50 Years Later

Jul 5, 2019
Overall view of the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center at the Manned Spacecraft Center showing the flight controllers celebrating the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on Jul 24, 1969.
NASA

It was the late 1950s and the nation embraced a race to space fueled by the Cold War.  Journalist Mark Bloom wasn’t yet 30 years-old.  But he would chase the story long after Apollo 11 landed and men took their first steps on the moon.

“I was in the right place at the right time, actually throughout my career,” says Bloom.  “Of course you have to know what you’re doing when you get there.”

US Navy Frogmen Recover Apollo 8;  Lt. Richard Flanagan (Left) waving and Bob Coggin (Right) attaching flotation collar
Patriots Point Naval and Maritme Museum

Bob Coggin was just back from serving in Vietnam as a diver in an underwater demolition team when he got his next assignment from the Navy:  train to possibly recover Apollo 8.  The first manned spacecraft to leave the earth's atmosphere and orbit the moon would soon splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

Coggin understood the importance of the astronauts' mission.  But he didn't think much of his own role. 

"It was a big deal back then, but we couldn't understand why it was such a big deal," he says.  "It was just another day kind of thing really."

There's South Carolina Gold in Them Thar Rockets

Jul 2, 2019
Spun gold. These shiny bands are actually a fiber soft enough to make space suits with and tough enough to shield firefighters (and astronauts) from flames.
Scott Morgan/SC Public Radio

Forgive yourself if you can’t pronounce “polybenzimidizole,” much less know what it’s used for. But if you ever went to the moon, you were sure glad to have it on your skin.  

Familiarly, polybenzimidizole goes by the much more vocally friendly name of PBI. It’s a twill-like material made by, fittingly, PBI Performance Products in Rock Hill. The company makes polymers, solutions, and films for industrial purposes, but the Rock Hill plant is the only place in the world that manufactures the company’s most visible product, PBI staple fiber.

Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
NASA

Columbia native Charles Bolden has had a remarkable career: Marine fighter pilot, commanding general in Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait, deputy commandant of midshipmen at the U.S.