By House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif
Tomorrow commemorates the 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable achievements in history – the Apollo 11 Moon landing. This mission not only marked the first time that Americans stepped foot on the Moon’s surface, but it was also the first time that any human accomplished this extraordinary feat. Even though I was about 4 ½ years old at the time, I can still remember a feeling of excitement and patriotic pride that resonated throughout my house.
Although at the time I was too young to understand the gravity of what it all meant for our country, today I continue to stand in awe of the unparalleled level of commitment and innovative prowess it took to get our astronauts to the Moon. The Apollo Program advanced America to the forefront of space exploration, demonstrated the power of the American spirit, and proved that a nation of free people could truly achieve anything.
The spotlight of the Apollo era goes to the Apollo 11 flight crew who risked their lives embarking on the journey to the Moon. Less known are the men and women who worked behind the scenes to make the Apollo Program a success. Their monumental efforts began years before the Moon landing.
Many of these unsung heroes reside in the Mojave Desert of California. It was at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) where the sound barrier was first broken. Through this and similar flight tests, these men and women obtained the scientific understanding of high-speed, high-altitude flight that was necessary to develop the technology to send humans into space.
Naval personnel based at present-day Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake performed critical testing on launch escape systems for the Mercury and Gemini Programs, two programs that were critical early steps informing the Apollo-era missions.
Extensive rocket engine testing at the present-day facility known as the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Rocket Lab at Edwards AFB proved to be key in developing the large engines that powered the Saturn V rocket, which carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins into the cosmos.
The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), developed at present-day NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (NASA Armstrong), led to the training vehicles used to equip the astronauts with the skills to land on the lunar surface. There too, engineers and pilots developed the first Reaction Control System necessary for maneuvering outside Earth’s atmosphere, which is now widespread on spacecraft today.
To keep pace with rapidly-changing requirements and to continue to push the boundaries of human flight, a grueling curriculum was developed at the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, which became the nation’s first formal course used to train astronauts.
Kern County was home to the men and women responsible for these significant contributions to the Apollo Program. Their work touched nearly all aspects of spaceflight, from scientific knowledge and technology, to astronaut training and education, to testing and developing the tools and equipment required to put astronauts into space. These men and women are also heroes of our American space program.
Today, this type of incredible and innovative work continues at NAWS China Lake, Edwards AFB, and NASA Armstrong, and our emerging commercial space sector is taking our space program to new heights. All these efforts build upon the legacy of prior generations and signal that our nation’s greatest achievements are yet to come.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the monumental accomplishments of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, we find inspiration in the dedication and proven success of the past and look to continue to harness their spirit to propel the United States to new and equally impressive achievements in space.