50 years later: NC State alumni reflect on their role in launching the Apollo 11 mission

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Tuesday marked 50 years since the launch of Apollo 11, the mission that first sent astronauts to the moon. While only two men walked on the moon, many people played a role in the mission including about two dozen NC State University alumni. 

“Apollo 11 really changed our understanding of our place in the universe,” said NC State University professor Paul Byrne. The Apollo 11 mission shaped his field of study as a planetary geologist, but it did much more than that. “It gets people dreaming about what might be possible when a whole nation gets together behind one goal supports it and sees it through,” he said. 

It was a proud moment for our country and especially for NC State. “During Apollo 11, there was more than two dozen graduate of the University variously involved in the program,” explained Byrne. “They were involved in every aspect – from designing the parachute for the reentry protocol, to getting involved in designing flight plans for Apollo 11, or even being assistant flight directors there in mission control.”

Fifty years later, NC State alumni are still involved in the space program. Christina Koch, who is currently on the International Space Station, has degrees in electrical engineering and physics from NC State.   She says the Apollo 11 mission still motivates her. “To think back to what the teams were able to accomplish when they really put their mind to something and they took on the challenge that was so huge they knew it would alter the course of history,” she said. 

Koch is now set to make a history of her own.  When she leaves the ISS in February, she will have logged a longer space flight than any other woman.  It all started with a mission to the moon 50 years ago. “We are in a period now where we are able to explore the frontiers of science and uncover and unlock the secrets that help to benefit life on earth, so feeling that connection and that inspiration is really what it means to us today,” said Koch. 

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