Men from Wilkes and adjoining counties were involved in various ways in activities leading to the first human steps taken on the moon 50 years ago next month.
They include Nick D. Foster, a Wilkesboro native and Wilkes Central High School graduate who died in Decatur, Ga., in 2008. He was the son of Arlie Roscoe and Elizabeth Duncan Foster.
Ken Canter of Wilkesboro pointed out that Foster was among many National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employees produced by North Carolina State University. Canter graduated from the N.C. State School of Engineering in 1964, the same era (1950s and 1960s) many NASA employees graduated from NCSU’s School of Engineering.
The cover story of the spring 2019 issue of N.C. State’s alumni magazine is about the university’s graduates who helped us get to the moon.
Foster worked for NASA as an aerospace engineer from 1960, when he graduated from N.C. State, until his retirement in 1997.
He was involved in the Apollo and Saturn programs and development of the Space Shuttle and Hubble Telescope. Foster worked at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Canter remembered that Foster’s NASA career included work on the Lunar Roving Vehicle used in some of the Apollo missions.
Foster was NASA’s division chief of configuration management when he retired. Configure management involves establishing and maintaining consistency of a product’s performance.
An article headlined, “Howling at the moon,” in the July/August 1969, issue of N.C. State’s “Alumni News,” included Foster among 26 NCSU graduates who played “key roles… in the successful voyage of man to the moon.”
Others among those 26 included H. William Wood of Hamptonville, chief of the Manned Flight Operations Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. This division managed the network that provided continuous and instantaneous two-way communications between astronauts and Mission Control in Houston, Texas.
Wood, a member of the NCSU class of 1955, received the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal.
Edgar C. Lineberry Jr. of Lenoir, in the NCSU class of 1959, was manager of mission development and operations officer of NASA’s Lunar and Mars Exploration Program. He worked at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas.
Wilkes native Howard Blackburn was on the NASA team that cared for and trained monkeys, chimpanzees and dogs sent into space on rockets in the early 1960s for safety tests before astronauts were sent. Data gained from these flights helped make human space travel a reality.
In particular, Blackburn worked with two chimpanzees, Able and Baker, who made separate sub-orbital and orbital flights from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in Mercury rocket capsules in 1961.
Blackburn graduated from Ronda High School and flew on Navy amphibious planes as part of an air-sea rescue team in World War II. He later was in the Army Air Corps and was in the Air Force when it became a military branch separate from the Army.
He also was assistant scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 336 in North Wilkesboro for many years.
Blackburn, who died in 2014, is featured in a year-long N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s lunar landing in Raleigh.
Visitors can try out a Gemini training module from the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, test their ability to follow directions at Mission Control during the Apollo 11 mission, experience weightlessness with a bungee-jumping station and much more during “LiftOffNC.”
Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon on July 20, 1969. By achieving its primary mission of performing a manned lunar landing and returning safely to Earth, Apollo 11 paved the way for more Apollo lunar landing missions to follow.