Local rocket man recounts experience working on Apollo IX

Buckley Report
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If you were a tobacco farmer in the 1950s in Randolph County, you didn’t often look beyond the horizon.

Although it was difficult and demanding work, it paid well and was so consuming you really didn’t have time to think of much else.

But, from an early age, Ellis Whitt had ideas beyond the golden leaf.

“I think it was in 8th grade, I told him, ‘Dad, I’m going to be an engineer,’” Whitt said. “He didn’t know what an engineer was.”

Whitt spent six years at North Carolina State studying engineering math and mechanics and earned not just a bachelor’s but a master’s degree as well.

Then, after a couple of years in the Army, he went to work for Boeing and was assigned to the Apollo missions in 1968.

Many people don’t realize that NASA was largely the supervisors of the program and non-NASA people like Whitt, working for Boeing, did much of the work.

“Every time I think about it and I’m so proud because a lot of things had to happen for the first time, ever,” Whitt said.

Putting a man on the moon was hard enough.

“We had to get them home safely to earth, too,” White said. “Re-entry of the earth’s atmosphere is not a casual thing. They have to come in at 6.9 degrees.”

A larger angle and they’ll miss the earth. Any slighter angle and they would burn up.

“All they were doing was putting their lives in our hands,” Whitt said.

He was the first in his family to go to college, but his four children have earned 10 college and advanced degrees between them.

See what mathematical error there was on Apollo XI that nearly cost all three astronauts their lives, in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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