by Terry Rogers
On Thursday, July 18 ILC Dover celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing with a ceremony that recognized the work done at the company that helped make the landing possible. The spacesuits worn by the astronauts on Apollo 11 were designed and constructed at ILC Dover.
“I came to ILC immediately after graduating from the University of Delaware in 1960 with a degree in electrical engineering,” Harold Riehm, former President and General Manager of ILC, said. “When I came here, engineers were already working on a moon suit. The idea was to use special joints to allow for more free movement which would be needed on the moon. When NASA came out with a request for proposal, we responded with a video of our walking suit. We were awarded the contract.”
Riehm and the lead designer at the time, George Durney, were sent to Houston when the suits were to be tested. Riehm explained that the two men had no idea how important their visit was until they stepped off the plane and were surrounded by television crews from around the world. They worked with the astronauts to test the suit extensively before the mission to the moon.
“This was truly the biggest time in my life,” Riehm said. “I will admit that I was very relieved when they were back inside the moon rover safely. That was when I truly knew we had done our job.”
From 1956 to 1974, over 900 ILC Dover employees were involved in the Apollo program, Fran DiNuzzo, President and CEO, said. Over 8 million hours were put into designing, building and testing the spacesuits and the plant sometimes operated 24 hours a day.
“I was thirteen years old when the moon landing was accomplished,” DiNuzzo said. “I was too young to think about the enormity of what happened, from development of rockets to the moon landing to the spacesuits that kept the astronauts safe. Technology was stretched beyond what was known to be possible. When Neil Armstrong took that one small step, he was wearing an ILC spacesuit which was designed to be a small spacecraft. It carried oxygen, protected them from radiation, extreme heat and flying asteroids. Apollo 11 was a milestone for ILC Dover. One day, the grandchildren of the people her who worked on those spacesuits could wear an ILC spacesuit on the surface of Mars.”
Engineer Nicole Stott, an astronaut who spent three months on the International Space Station, told those gathered for the celebration she was thankful for the work done at ILC Dover.
“It takes people like you here at ILC to make this happen,” Stott said. “Because of the work you do, I know it is really beautiful to look out the window and experience space. I did three space walks while I was on the space station and that is all because of you. I was six and a half when man first walked on the moon and it had a profound influence on my life. It made me realize that things we think are impossible are not.”
Stott described the International Space Station as a recreation of Earth and hoped that when a permanent presence was established on the moon it would be the same thing. She talked about how, when she was making one of her space walks, she realized that she was relying on the spacesuit to keep her alive.
At the end of the ceremony, Rachel Andrews, a trustee for the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame, announced that Riehm would be one of the inductees for this year, a surprise for the former ILC Dover employee.
“Over the years, people would say to me that I should be in the Hall of Fame,” Riehm as he accepted the award. “I would say that I was a rider, not a pilot, so why would they ask me? I am extremely proud that I became a technical guy on one of the largest traveling expeditions in the world and I appreciate this honor.”