GREENVILLE – This week is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, and a Greenville High School 1964 graduate was a part of it.
Dennis Forte worked at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft and Spacecraft (now Boeing) in St. Louis, Mo., as a lab technician for the Structures and Dynamics Aircraft and Spacecraft test lab. He worked alongside other technicians and engineers on testing the docking for (and training for) the Command-Space Module with the Lunar Excursion Module.
After graduating from Greenville, Forte had gone to school at United Electronics Institute in Louisville, Ky. and was approached by McDonnell Douglas. At the time, General Electric had a space program, all underwater outside Maryland, for simulating weightlessness. However, “This appealed to me more [McDonnell Douglas] because I was more in tune with the aircraft end of it,” explained Forte.
While given explicit instructions on expectations when it came to the docking equipment, Forte and others on the team (along with other departments) had no idea they were testing what would be part of the upcoming moon landing.
“We had very little input,” explained Forte, which seemed strange to all of them, though the job was telling at the start. He had to have a security clearance, the FBI going so far as to contact his first-grade teacher. They “almost exhumed my dad’s gravesite” as his father’s Army discharge paperwork was minus the letter e in Forte, with Dennis’ birth certificate listing the letter e. “That created a hassle.”
Things went well with the background check, and Forte would go on to work for McDonnell Douglas from summer 1966 to late-summer 1979 before moving back to Ohio to start his family. He met his wife, Carol, at McDonnell Douglas; she was employed in the insurance department.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” continued Forte on the testing and training at McDonnell Douglas, but happy and proud to be a part of what was going to help all the astronauts. Not realizing just how helpful they would become even as various military personnel came through the lab. Even diplomats came through, one group going so far as to take photos.
“I’m here with a security clearance, and they walked off the street with their little cameras,” said Forte with a laugh, though the group was only allowed in the shop area and mockup.
At the time, McDonnell Douglas had the only experience of docking spacecraft together with the Gemini Program, the latter consisting of a dozen missions that included spacewalks and connecting to other spacecraft. It wasn’t until the equipment Forte and the others had been using was removed and went to the launch pad for Apollo 11 that their work became crystal clear.
Forte pointed out the equipment that was taken on a black and white print of the lab where he worked, going on to share how he and Carol went to another technician’s house to watch the launch.
“That evening, I remember, we sat in the front room, watching the landing,” said Forte, who was nervous given so much was at stake in the landing process. He further explains in a written piece titled “It was so last century” should three small capture latches symmetrically located on a probe on the front of the Command Module, not function, two astronauts would not be coming home.
“It was like rolling the dice, 50/50 chance of success,” said Forte, who did not learn until later that Neil Armstrong took over the guidance due to a computer glitch.
Forte has a lot of respect and admiration for the astronaut and first man on the moon.
“He was not one to have praise showered on him; he was a down to earth guy,” said Forte who always thought he would meet Armstrong, but that never happened. It is something that he regrets as he went on to share Armstrong’s historic words: That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
Reach reporter Bethany J. Royer-DeLong at 937/548-3330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more news, features, and sports at DarkeCountyMedia.com.