By Alexis Ramanjulu
SIERRA VISTA — Test engineer George Broxton and a friend were standing right next to each other, miles away from the Saturn V rocket, when the five-engine space vessel started during a test run.
More than 50 years later, Broxton stands in his Sierra Vista home demonstrating how the sound pressure levels and vibration caused unexpected movement and temporary deafness.
“We couldn’t communicate with one another,” Broxton said. “We tried yelling but we couldn’t hear.”
Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Saturn V carried astronauts Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin in the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July 1969. The launch occurred July 16 at 9:32 a.m. from Cape Kennedy, present day Cape Canaveral, off of Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Armstrong, the commander, and Aldrin, the lunar module pilot, stepped foot on the moon, the first humans to do so, on July 20 — which according to NASA’s website was roughly 109 hours and 42 minutes after the initial launch.
“I was at church with my family,” Broxton said. “We hurried home so we could watch as much of the launch on the television. My biggest regret is not tape recording when it happened.”
The Apollo 11 mission lasted just over eight days but the preparation took years.
Broxton, 84, was one of more than 150 people working in the vibration and acoustics division, assisting NASA with preparations for Saturn V and their other projects as a test engineer.
“For me and thousands of others it was just going to work everyday,” he said. “My contribution was small.”
His first interactions with NASA and the space programs came in 1962, right after he graduated from Georgia with a freshly printed physics degree. Broxton was hired by Chrysler Corporation, which was contracted by NASA to help perfect the Saturn rockets in Alabama.
“It was just an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “It was boring work though.”
A year later he was hired by Brown Engineering, another company contracted with NASA. It was with his new company he was involved with vibration testing the rocket.
“It was general knowledge, you would be paid more working for a contractor than working for the government,” Broxton said.
Broxton said there were times he would be instructed to “shake to failure” because the higher ups wanted to know what would cause these different components going on to the rocket to fail in order to be better prepared and informed.
Broxton recalled putting a “safe and arm” device through testing. This device stuck out to him because it controlled the more than 10 explosives that were on the rocket. The safe and arm device controlled explosives, which were put on Saturn V as a precautionary measure so it could be destroyed it went off-target and threatened people.
Broxton also worked on the development of the lunar lander. These vehicles were not used during Apollo 11, but were sent on following missions with astronauts to help them travel once on the moon. These buggies had to be partially assembled once the astronauts landed, due to the large size of many of the components.
A total of 12 astronauts have stepped onto the moon during the six manned space flights that successfully made it to the lunar surface.
Right before the Apollo 11 launch, Broxton and his family were sent to Seattle, which didn’t make him happy because he wanted to be in the area during the launch. Even to this day, the scope of what he helped accomplish is elusive.
“It never really hit me (what I was a part of) until the 50th anniversary,” Broxton said. “(There were) 15,000 to 20,000 people that were going just as important work as I was.”