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10-Year-Old Boy Does What Others Can't

A half-century ago, America's dreams were realized in space. The power of US innovation and spirit took the Apollo 11 crew to the moon and back. That mission was possible because of a diverse team of engineers, astronauts, and mathematicians. It was also possible thanks to the help of one 10-year-old boy who was in the right place at the right time.

In 1969, Greg Force lived in Guam with his father, Charles Force. Charles worked as the director of a NASA tracking station that helped connect the capsule with NASA Mission Control for voice communication. After Apollo 11 began its departure from the moon, a problem arose. A bearing had broken in the dish antenna needed to track the ship. Without it, NASA risked losing the ability to communicate with the capsule as it approached Earth.

Scrambling to find a solution, Charles called home, hoping that Greg's child-size dimensions could be of assistance. He asked Greg to come to the tracking station and squeeze his arm through the antenna's access hole and pack grease around the bearing. The 10-year-old rose to the challenge and scampered up the ladder. Greg said, “I would take a big handful of grease—you know, you squish it. It comes out between your fingers, and I stuck them down in there and packed them the best I could.”

Greg succeeded, and a NASA public affairs officer noted his contribution in an announcement: “The bearing was replaced with the assistance of a 10-year-old boy named Greg Force who had arms small enough that he could work through a 2.5 inch diameter hole to pack [the bearing].”

The Apollo 11 moon landing succeeded with the help of a 10-year-old boy and the rest is history.

Source: Josh Axelrod, “How a 10-Year-Old Boy Helped Apollo 11 Return to Earth,” NPR.com (7-19-19)

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