Retired Huntsville NASA Engineer recalls Apollo 11 mission

"The idea of going to the moon didn't exist very long when I moved here," he said.

Posted: Jul 17, 2019 7:05 PM
Updated: Jul 19, 2019 10:26 PM

A retired NASA Engineer shared a fascinating account from when he helped put man on the moon. He was so committed to the mission, he moved his family to Huntsville on a wing and a prayer to join the historic team.

Robert Beaman said he had worked with airplanes and studied missiles, but never a rocket before coming to Huntsville.

Robert Beaman

"The idea of going to the moon didn't exist very long when I moved here," he said.

In 1961, he brought his family to Huntsville from North Carolina after hearing about an opportunity to work with the Space Race team.

"We did six days a week work, 12-hour days, but it was fun," he said.

Beaman said designing the Saturn V was not an easy task.

"When I got here, no one knew what Saturn looked like. We only had some engines," he said.

Over the years, they worked to determine if they had enough power to accomplish something no man ever had.

"There were times that the weight of the engines and the propulsion were touch and go as to if we were really going to get to the moon or not," he said.

Beaman said after years of preparation, he traveled with Wernher von Braun to Washington D.C. to present the final Apollo 11 plan.

"The most exciting thing that I ever did was to sit in a meeting that made the final decision of which flight was going to go the moon," he said.

Once they got the go-ahead, Beaman and von Braun returned to Huntsville in a private plane, a memory that's still vivid in Beaman's mind more than 50 years later.

"You know with all the excitement, von Braun flew part of the way back. It was just like someone who hadn't rode a bicycle yet and it was, it was jerky," he said.

Beaman said during that flight, he had uninterrupted time with von Braun.

"We had a conversation that was the most intimate time I ever spent with the man I thought was the smartest man in the world, and that's the way I convinced myself that nobody was smarter than von Braun," he said.

In 1969, his family traveled with him to Cape Canaveral, Florida for the historic launch.

"It was exciting. Of course, I had seen the tests at Marshall [Space Flight Center] and knew about we were now about to see the work we worked all these hours to do," he said.

In home video, you can see Beaman's wife and four children waiting in anticipation.

"The first thing you saw was a little bit of dust to occur where they were starting the engine, and then when the engines fired, you knew it was either going to go somewhere or have a big catastrophe on the pad," he said.

Fifty years later, Beaman looks back at all the years spent as a part of the Space Race team with fond memories.

"There will never be another period in U.S. history as exciting as developing and going to the moon and all the things that were done," he said.

Beaman retired from NASA in 1997 as Chief Engineer, but his family is still heavily involved. In fact, one of his son's is working on NASA's mission right now to put boots back on the moon by 2024.

Beaman worked with many of the other programs including Spacelab, Skylab and the Atlas projects.

Check out more of our Apollo 11 50th anniversary stories here. To watch our Apollo 11 specials, click here and here.

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