Apollo Program NASA Engineer Leaves Lasting Impression on Chapin Middle School
Chapin, SC – When Norman Chaffee was growing up, no one had been to the moon. His excitement about space and science fiction led him on a path to not only see the first man on the moon, but actually played a part in getting him there.
“If there’s anyone here in the audience who thinks ‘Well I might like to be an engineer or a scientist,’ would you raise your hand?” Chaffee asked the students at Chapin Middle School.
He smiled and told the students they were in for “a lot of fun.” As an engineer for NASA during the Apollo program, Chaffee was an actual rocket scientist in the Propulsion and Power Division where he worked on attitude control engines.
He showed the students a 100 lb. thrust rocket engine that he helped develop, design, test and use in space. The engines steer space crafts by firing a quick burst to stop an object in motion. There were 16 of these engines on the Apollo Service Module and 16 on the Lunar Module. Each would fire between 25,000 to 100,000 times per mission.
The once in a lifetime opportunity to meet with a NASA engineer left an impression on students. Seventh grader Katie Barfield said, “It was cool actually hearing from someone who worked for NASA, how it was from their perspective. You already know it’s an interesting thing, but hearing it from someone that got to experience it, I feel like that was amazing.”
Chaffee went on to hold a range of positions at NASA throughout his career, including time in the Lunar and Mars Exploration Program. He is enthusiastic about humans reaching Mars, and told the students he is convinced it will happen in their lifetime, like the moon landing happened in his.
“I can easily imagine somebody sitting in this basketball court gymnasium today will be part of that,” said Chaffee. “Maybe you’ll be one of the engineers like I was on the Apollo program. Maybe you’ll be a flight director or a flight controller in mission control and be helping the astronauts keep things straight. Maybe you’ll work for a company that manufactures parts of the spacecraft. And maybe, just maybe the Neil Armstrong of Mars is here today.”
Chapin Middle School principal Anna Miller said, “We are incredibly blessed and fortunate to have hosted Mr. Norman Chaffee at Chapin Middle School. His stories, knowledge, zest for life and adventure, and his experiences with NASA made him quite the entertainer. It was amazing to hear from an individual who played such a vital role in our nation's space exploration history and who personally knew Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Charlie Duke and Dr. Werner von Braun! Our students, faculty and visitors laughed and learned all day in his presence, and we all have memories we will never forget.”