Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Guenter Wendt Appreciated at the Cosmosphere

Last week during the blogger fam tour, we had a tremendous tour of the Cosmosphere by the CEO, Chris Orwoll. During our behind the scene tour, he showed us a photo of Guenter Wendt, known as the "Padleader" during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.

When he showed us this photo I was instantly reminded of how important so many people are to any project of this magnitude. Those of us outside the industry may not know their names, but they play a critical role.

It was Guenter Wendt who closed the hatch. That, alone, should be enough to put anyone in the history books. He was the last person to see the astronauts before they rocketed off to space. Wendt was there for their last few seconds being Earth-bound, before they undertook what would be life-changing - and sometimes life-ending.

In those early days of space exploration, fires and explosions were not unusual occurrences. Everyone knew the risks involved, but I doubt that awareness kept the normal human emotions at bay. No doubt Wendt saw excitement and fear at various times.

The Cosmosphere has one of the "White Rooms" used for the Apollo missions, as well as others, where Wendt was stationed during launch. They have a photo shot through the open hatch door from the Apollo 10 mission of May, 1969. That view of Stafford, Young and Cernan strapped to their couches, preparing to go to the moon, was Wendt's view.

You can walk into the White Room on display and be where Wendt watched history being made. Where he was participating in history being made.

The White Room was suspended more than 300 feet above the launch pad, attached to a 60 foot long swing arm connected to the rocket. About four hours before liftoff, the astronauts would walk across the swing arm and enter the White Room where Wendt and his crew were.

Right before lift off, the White Room swung away from the space craft, leaving the astronauts alone on top of the 36 story tall rocket that would send them into space. Astronaut Wally Schirra is quoted on Wendt's website as saying, "So it came to pass that when the white room was closed out for Apollo 7 and his smiling face disappeared from the window, Donn Eisele asked, "I vonder vere Guenter vent?" I stole that line and made it famous." He also referred to Wendt as the "dictator of the launch pad."

The particular White Room in the Cosmosphere's collection was from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad Complex 39. There were three white rooms, and no records were kept regarding which missions used which room, but it stands to reason that you can stand where roughly a third of the astronauts in the Apollo Lunar program made their final preparations.

In another part of the Cosmosphere, outside an upstairs meeting room, is a whiteboard where celebrity visitors to the museum leave their signatures.

It's good to see the Cosmosphere recognizes Wendt's contributions.

Wendt has written a book, "The Unbroken Chain" about his experiences at Padleader.
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