Remembering Guenter Wendt, Apollo-era 'pad führer'
Guenter Wendt was NASA's original launch pad leader – or 'pad führer,' as he was affectionately known – for the agency's manned space program and the last man the Apollo astronauts saw before launching to the moon. He died Monday.
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"It's easy to get along with Guenter," said Pete Conrad. "All you have to do is agree with him."Skip to next paragraph
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Wendt was more than the astronauts' launch pad manager though, he was also their friend and a familiar face to see them off.
Though he didn't close the hatch to the spacecraft himself ("that was my technicians"), Wendt was always the last to make sure the moon-bound crews were ready to go.
"I [would] lean in and ask each astronaut, 'Are you happy with your straps, with everything?' Everybody says, 'Okay,' we shake hands, 'Good luck, guys,'" Wendt said in a 2002 interview.
Wendt and the astronaut crews exchanged more than just pleasantries on the pad; they also traded gifts – and not just any gifts – but gag gifts.
Looking to relieve some of the pressure off the astronauts during what was a highly stressful time, Wendt presented them with handmade 'gotchas' and they answered in kind.
"Thinking of the ceremonial 'key to the city' that frequently was given by politicians to visiting dignitaries, I came up with the idea of a key to the moon," Wendt related in his book. He fashioned a Styrofoam crescent moon for Neil Armstrong.
"Armstrong gave me a small card that was stuck under the wristband of his Omega watch. It was a ticket for a space taxi ride, good 'between any two planets.'"
Wendt never had the chance to redeem the ticket and ride into space himself, although he continued to oversee the safety of the astronauts through the end of the Apollo program and beginning flights of the space shuttle.
Even after his departure, Wendt remained active in space activities. In addition to authoring "The Unbroken Chain," he served as a technical consultant for Tom Hanks' HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon," even making a cameo appearance.
Wendt was also recruited for the raising and recovery of the only U.S. manned spacecraft to be lost at sea, Liberty Bell 7, the Mercury spacecraft flown by Gus Grissom. He was there when the capsule was lifted off the ocean floor.
"Let me just go ahead and touch it after 38 years," Wendt said, as the spacecraft he helped launch sat before him in 1999.
Most recently, Wendt traveled just last month for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 13, taking part in a panel discussion hosted by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kan. One of the white rooms in which Wendt spent his time preparing spacecraft is exhibited at the museum.
Wendt is survived by three daughters.
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