ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — “That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.” Who can forget those immortal words made famous by Neil Armstrong as he became the first man to take the first tentative step on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969? Certainly not St. Augustine, Florida residents Frank Fleming and Gene Harms.
As employees of the Grumman Corporation back in the 60’s and 70’s, Fleming and Harms were an integral part of the team which built the Lunar Modules (LM). Fleming was was responsible for the performance of the Reaction Control Subsystem.
This included electrical systems, structure, software and hardware. From 1987-1993 Fleming also was heavily involved as a part of the team that developed the International Space Station. Originally, this was to be called Space Station Freedom. . Fleming’s responsibility was to ensure that NASA’s engineering requirements for the Space Station had been met.
Among Fleming’s treasured memorabilia is picture of Lunar Module M 10 bearing the signatures, including his, of hundreds of the team members who helped build the spacecraft. Fleming is a recipient of the NASA Apollo Achievement Award presented in recognition of his being a “…a member of the team which has advanced the nation’s capabilities in aeronautics and space…”
Harms was intimately involved with the design of the Lunar Lander and was the Group Leader for the crew and Equipment Design Group. He also worked closely with the original seven astronauts – the Sigma Seven.
“We were responsible for the design of the LM Interior Flight Station,” Harms explained. “We designed all the instrument panels, installed all the flight controls in the Flight Station.
“In the preliminary design phase I configured the interior pressurized compartment from where the two astronauts flew the vehicle and where they lived on the moon. I also designed the external ladder they used in getting access to the lunar surface.
Within NASA circles, Harms is best known for submitting the suggestion to remove the two seats from the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM.) Among Harm’s prized possessions is a model of the lunar model that he knew so well.
What is fascinating about this change to the LEM is how it came about in the first place. Grumman had built a full-scale wooden model of the lander. Harms recalled that while sitting in one of the LEM seats, a gentlemen came up to the mock-up and asked if he could come inside.
Harms asked him to sit in the other seat. He introduced himself as John Glenn. After a brief pause he asked how much each seat weighed and why they were in the cabin. The seats weighed 75 pounds each and were there because all aircraft had seats.
Glenn then pointed out the lander would be flown either in zero gravity or 1/6 of earth’s gravity and that he could pilot the lander while standing and would find it easier to look out of the two portholes while piloting and landing the craft.
Thus two seats and 150 pounds were eliminated resulting in less fuel being needed to send the LEM back to the Apollo orbiter. Among Harm’s prized possessions is a model of the Lunar Model that he knew so well.
In addition to meeting Glenn, Harms met with other well-known astronauts including Neil Armstrong, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Jim McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart.