"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Farewell To The Pad Leader

With my attention focused on the bank holiday followed by the election, one piece of sad news that I’ve only just discovered is the death of Guenter Wendt on Monday 3rd May. Guenter Wendt worked at Kennedy Space Centre for 34 years and was in charge of operations at the top of the launch tower in what was known as the White Room. He was often the last person that the astronauts saw before they blasted off into space, shaking the astronauts by the hand and ensuring they were happy with everything before the hatch of the space capsule was sealed by his technicians.

Wendt was born and educated in Berlin, was a flight engineer flying with the Luftwaffe during WWII, becoming an American citizen in 1955 when he got a job with McDonnell Aircraft that led him to work in the space programme. Strict but good humoured, Wendt was popular with the astronauts who appreciated that his authoritarian management in the White Room was in their interest. The astronauts nick named him “Pad Führer” and would exchange joke gifts before a space flight; the Apollo 14 crew presented him with a WWII German military helmet before their flight to the moon.

He sounds like he was a great guy, someone who did his job to the best of his ability but also knew how to treat people. He was there practically from the start of the space race through Mercury, Gemini and Apollo and the story of mankind’s greatest achievement would be incomplete without his part in it being taken into account. He was 85 when he died and it appears he led a good and fulfilled life, which is probably the best any of us can hope for. I’m sorry to hear of his death but will drink a toast to his life at the next opportunity.

You can read more about Guenter here, here and here. His official website can be found here.
However, a much more detailed account of his critical involvement with the space programme can be found in his memoires "The Unbroken Chain", which he co wrote with Russell Still and is also on my must get list.

1 comment:

  1. I now have this fine book and am looking forward to reading it.