NASA engineer to offer an insider’s view of the first landing on the moon

DOVER — Fifty years ago on July 20, Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Though the astronauts’ names are the ones most remembered, NASA’s Apollo Moon Program marshaled the efforts of many thousands of engineers, scientists, mathematicians, mechanics and ordinary citizens to reach the heavens.

One of them, Jack Clemons, will speak at the Delaware Public Archives on Saturday.
A “rocket scientist” and author, Mr. Clemons worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during several of the Apollo programs.

“They were probably the most significant space launches that we’ve ever had,” he said.
The free presentation, dubbed “Catching Apollo: Inside NASA’s Moon Program,” gives a nod to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

At the event, scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Archives on 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Dover, Mr. Clemons will also tell some little known stories about the people and teamwork that saved both the Apollo 12 and Apollo 13 missions from near disaster.

Mr. Clemons decided to call the presentation Catching Apollo because in his time as an engineer working on the Apollo missions it was his job to shepherd home the Apollo reentry vehicles.
“Our responsibility was Apollo reentry, from the time the astronauts came back and hit the atmosphere, to the time they landed — hopefully safely in the ocean somewhere not too far from the carriers that were picking them up,” he said. “In the presentation, I’ll talk about the background I had, but also take the audience through the flight of Apollo 11 specifically from the prospective of what the spacecraft had to do at every step.

Jack Clemons

Mr. Clemons will include vintage photographs and anecdotes drawn from his time as a lead engineer supporting the Apollo astronauts during their return flight from the Moon.
Lighthearted on the topic, Mr. Clemons equally invites moon landing conspiracy theorists (those who believe the moon landing was staged) to the event.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask questions along this line over the last 10-15 presentations I’ve given since September,” he said. “It’s funny because I don’t really know where it’s coming from, but a lot of people say ‘you only had slide rules’ or ‘I saw the film and we can see the flag waving.’
“There really are simple explanations for everything, but it’s been my experience that the folks who really deny the moon landing tend not to really want an answer.”

While Mr. Clemons says he’s happy to answer all questions to the best of his ability. He likes to have a sense of humor about the skepticism which he says seems to be in vogue at the moment.
“One joke I’ve heard that I use now is: ‘Yes, it was completely fake, a movie crew did it all. But, to make it look real, they decided to film it on location,” he said.

“Honestly though, there were 400,000 of us who worked on that program, and it really would be an impossible bout of secret=keeping if that were the case. If I actually believed it was fake, that’s all I would talk about! I could probably sell a lot more books that way.”
For more information on the program, contact Tom Summers at (302) 744-5047 or email thomas.summers@state.de.us

Should the program be canceled due to weather, it will be listed on the Archive’s website at archives.delaware.gov.

Background
Originally from Pennsylvania, Mr. Clemons retired to Lewes in 2005.
He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and was formerly a senior vice president of engineering for Lockheed Martin. He appeared in the “Command Module” segment of Moon Machines, the Discovery Science Channel’s six-part documentary about the Apollo Program.

During the Apollo Moon Program, Mr. Clemons was a TRW Space Systems lead engineer supporting operations at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center) in Houston, Texas. He developed procedures allowing astronauts to monitor and control the Apollo Command Module Onboard Guidance Computer during atmospheric reentry.

He provided real-time support during missions Apollo 9 through Apollo 14, including Mission Control Center backroom support during Apollo 11 and the extended 5-minute reentry blackout period on Apollo 13.
Following Apollo, he was the IBM senior program manager at the Johnson Space Center responsible for the design, development and support of the onboard software for NASA’s Space Shuttle.

A prolific author on the subject as well, Mr. Clemons’ book “Safely to Earth: The Men and Women Who Brought the Astronauts Home” is a memoir of his time on NASA’s Apollo and space shuttle programs that was published by University Press of Florida in September 2018. It was awarded first place for autobiography or memoir by the Delaware Press Association, and was named one of the top twelve books for Christmas 2018 by BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

It is also the 2019 national recipient of first place award for memoir by the National Federation of Press Women.
Also a writer of fiction, his works earned him a 2018 Established Artist Fellowship for Literary Fiction by the Delaware Division of the Arts and membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

He writes a quarterly space and science column for Amazing Stories Magazine.
He was also awarded the Department of the Army Commander’s Award for Public Service for his advisory work with the Department of Systems Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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