Pearland, Friendswood remember Apollo 11 as NASA prepares for moon return

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Fifty years ago this July, man first landed on the moon. While this was momentous for Pearland, Friendswood and the Bay Area, it was huge for the world as well, Pearland Mayor Tom Reid said.

“It became an international project, in a sense that people from other parts of the world were making contributions,” Reid said.

Reid worked at the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake for 32 years with his tenure including Apollo 11.

Reid worked at the space center from 1965 to 1997. His time at the space center included several different jobs, including working on manufacturing for the lunar landing and working on air-to-ground communication.

Now, as the Johnson Space Center celebrates the 50th anniversary of that monumental day, the Bay Area prepares to repeat history: NASA wants to be back on the moon by 2024 to learn more about traveling and surviving in deep space before humanity attempts to reach Mars, officials told Community Impact Newspaper.

The Johnson Space Center and private companies will hire more personnel over the next several years in preparation for NASA’s most ambitious mission yet. This will have economic repercussions  for the area, officials said.

“What used to be science fiction is not science fiction today,” said Bob Mitchell, the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. ”It’s all extremely exciting. It’s going to be very beneficial to our community.”

Apollo 11’s local effect

While Apollo 11 had an effect around the world, it changed the demographics of Friendswood in particular, said Harold Benson, former NASA employee and Friendswood resident.

“These people came from all over the United States and the world—that made a different type of city than just the one based on its economy,” Benson said.

The city of Friendswood was primarily made up of Quakers, the religious sect that gave Friendswood its name. Once more people moved to Friendswood to work at the Johnson Space Center, more faiths and ways of thinking were introduced, Benson said.

“I think the most important thing was that everyone worked together,” Benson said.

At the time of Apollo 11, 200 people who were employed at NASA lived in Friendswood, Friendswood Mayor Mike Foreman said. Foreman was an astronaut at NASA from 1998-2015. While he came to NASA after Apollo 11, the event had a big effect on his desire to enter the space program.

“I always wanted to be an astronaut ever since I was eight years old,” Foreman said. “The newspaper and TV were always talking about the astronauts and what they were doing. That’s what inspired me. Watching Apollo 11 was just more emphasis on the fact that I wanted to do that.”

The city of Pearland provided a place for astronauts  and space center employees to live as well, Reid said. The migration had the similar on Pearland as it did Friendswood, adding diversity to what was at the time a small town primarily focuses on farming, Reid said.

“We were just running around amazed at what was happening at that process. Of course, you don’t sleep real well until the guys get on the moon and then you don’t sleep real well until they come back,” Reid said. “We had been working on it for years. You knew it was going to come out right, but kept your fingers crossed to make sure it would.”

Moon to Mars

When NASA unveiled its plans to revisit the moon, three companies, including Intuitive Machines in May, won contracts to help, making the small Bay Area business likely to be one of the first private companies to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface, President Steve Altemus said.

“We’re like the lead-off batter for NASA’s mission to the moon,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be that company.”

Intuitive Machines has a $77.25 million contract to deliver several payloads, or science experiments, to the moon. The first will be the company’s Nova-C lunar lander, which is being built and tested at the Houston Spaceport and is scheduled to launch to the moon on July 16, 2021, to collect data for NASA’s mission, Altemus said.

Advancements and investments in global technology from the 1970s in software coding, analytics processing and more make it possible for small companies such as Intuitive Machines to go to the moon today, Altemus said.

“It’s really interesting to be in Houston, Texas, as a lander company on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11,” Altemus said. “That’s history right there. You couldn’t write a better script.”

Other Bay Area-based aerospace companies will also be involved in NASA’s mission.

The Boeing Company, which has a Houston presence, helps operate the International Space Station and is working on the Commercial Crew Development program that will allow commercial companies to fly crews to the ISS. Later this year, Boeing will launch a crewed test flight of its Starliner spacecraft, which could possibly be the first time astronauts will launch from U.S. soil since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, said Peter McGrath, Boeing’s director of marketing for space exploration.

Boeing is also developing the Space Launch System, the only existing rocket able to get past low Earth orbit and to the moon, McGrath said.

Such projects will allow NASA to expedite the bigger projects that will eventually get humans back to the moon and beyond, a mission many Bay Area residents are excited about, Mitchell said.

NASA wants to create a permanent space colony to allow astronauts to live and work on the moon’s surface. What they learn could be used to fly to Mars, which takes months to reach, Altemus said.

Bay Area resident Clayton Anderson is a retired astronaut who helped build and spent months aboard the ISS. He said going back to the moon is the right move for NASA.

“Mars is the glory destination. Returning to the moon, I think, is a key step in being able to get humans to Mars,” Anderson said. “We have so much to learn before we can send people to Mars successfully.”

Economic Boon

The effects of NASA’s mission to the moon and beyond will be felt on Earth, particularly economically.

Intuitive Machines, which employs 90 people, plans to hire 30 more this year as it develops its lunar lander. Mitchell said the Johnson Space Center accounts for about 20%-22% of the Bay Area’s workforce today, though it was once much higher.

Today, fifteen of the United States astronauts still live in Friendswood, Foreman said.

When NASA attempts returning to the moon in 2024, Friendswood will be there, Foreman said.

“I think the future of NASA is bright and continued support of Friendswood as a place to live … we will be here. We will be proud of the fact that we are supporting NASA by giving those folks a good community to reside in,” Foreman said.

The space center is still largely the reason why the Bay Area is the way it is today, Mitchell said.

“The Johnson Space Center is still the heart and soul of this region and still makes it tick,” he said. “If it weren’t for Johnson Space Center, all these small businesses wouldn’t exist.”

Many who work at Intuitive Machines are already accomplished in the aerospace industry, and the company’s growth will be a natural extension, Altemus said.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for space industry-related jobs,” he said. “Other industries benefit from having space industry jobs here.”

The Johnson Space Center will also see a boost. The center will not create hundreds of jobs overnight, but its number of employees will slowly climb up, Mitchell said.

The space center is the cornerstone of Bay Area’s economy. It employs 3,000 civil servants and 10,200 contractors, all of whom live in about a 20-mile radius. The Johnson Space Center’s annual budget is about $4.4 billion, $1.2 billion of which is for salaries, Mitchell said.

“Without NASA, would we have a medical center the way it is today? Would we just have oil and gas here and not be the energy capital of the world?” Mitchell said. “That innovation has come from the space industry.”

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Haley Morrison
Haley Morrison came to Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after graduating from Baylor University. In her tenure as a reporter, she has primarily written about education, health care and transportation.
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