VALLEY CITY – Lowell Busching shuffled into The Vault, pointed to the staff-less counter featuring self-serve sandwiches, Kuchen, and coffee before launching into a history of the building, once a bank. Books and magazines are piled in shelves and along walls in an honor system: take one, but leave a buck.
At 83, his fingers are bent, his shoulders sloop, but his mind is as sharp as the day he helped land astronauts on the moon July 20, 1969, his birthday 50 years ago. Raised and schooled in Valley City, he left to join the Air Force in 1954, and never strayed far from military and aeronautical programs until he retired 40 years later. From tropical paradises such as Bermuda, the Caribbean, to Cold War zones where he watched bricklayers along the Berlin Wall, Busching worked as a calibrator and data interpreter that helped launch the nation’s space program and send Commander Neil Armstrong on a two-hour walk along the moon’s surface.
Although never a direct employee of NASA, or the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Busching worked for General Electric and other companies that bid low to win contracts to track missiles and spacecraft.
“They postponed the whole deal so they could land on my birthday,” Busching said. He joked. He was one of approximately 300,000 people with dozens of companies involved in sending Apollo 11 Lunar Module, or the Eagle, to the moon. “What surprised us is we watched it on the TV like everyone else, right there with Walter Cronkite.”
The Apollo Project took ten years and $25.4 billion, but a little known mistake occurred just as Armstrong took his first steps, Busching said.
“When Armstrong landed – and he landed with about 20 seconds of fuel left – if he would have landed a little bit further they would have tipped over, but when Armstrong was getting out of the plane it was as if he was walking up from the right.”
Total silence followed, he said.
“And then came this loud booming voice over the speaker, in a southern Australian accent, saying ‘Do you know your picture is upside down?’”
When Apollo 11 landed, a camera was fixed to cable or “D” ring, almost a 1960s version of a selfie stick, Busching joked, and somehow the camera’s angle wasn’t correct. Busching spent 50 years trying to confirm that NASA tried to keep the slipup a secret, and only recently found footage of scientists talking about how it was fixed. A flick of a switch and the camera’s angle was corrected, he said.
“You see pictures in Houston and they were cheering and all that, but I was just dumbfounded,” Busching said. He didn’t know what to expect when Armstrong first stepped onto the moon.
“A guy next to me said ‘That’s it,’ and for me it was an anticlimax. All that work, ten years, and it was over. What was Apollo good for? Well, for one, we wouldn’t have all the iPhones and satellite communications without it.”
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