The Apollo 11 launch may have been prepped and successfully accomplished in sunny Florida in 1969, but a Smethport father-son duo were up close and personal during the entire process of preparation for the historic occasion that led to the first man walking on the moon.
Bill Barton, a Smethport native, moved to Florida in 1966 to become a photographer for Technicolor, a Kodak Company, that was under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
At the time of his move, his oldest son, Bart, was away in the Air Force.
However, when Bart was discharged, his first job straight out of the armed services was as an employee of ITT Federal Electric, a subcontractor hired to work on the Apollo 11 launch. Bart Barton’s jobs included both maintaining the countdown clocks located throughout the Kennedy Space Center and helping prepare the cameras on the launch site that are attached to the Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT), a part of the Mobile Launch Platform used to stabilize the space shuttle during the build-up process and until just prior to launch.
Bill Barton’s work was primarily in the photo lab, processing the various photographs taken during the stages of space shuttle preparation and pre-launch proceedings. However, Bill Barton also had his turn behind the camera, a single instance of which was captured on film and Bart Barton includes in his presentation.
Bill Barton recognized the immensity of the project on which he was diligently working. Each night, he brought home mementos — rejected photos or press release items that were passed over in favor of other options. For each of his six children, he saved these items in sealed envelopes marked with their names so he could be sure each had a share of the landmark mementos from this project.
For Bart Barton, however, the experience was multi-dimensional, as he saw it through his father’s work and through his own presence and work assignments. Bart Barton got an interview for the job with ITT Federal Electric through a friend and was put to work just days after his discharge.
One of the highlights of Bart Barton’s personal experience during this employment was actually being permitted to look into the interior of the space shuttle itself.
“The countdown clock in the White Room required maintenance, and that was my job. When I went in, I was wearing the suit that everyone had to wear,” Bart Barton explained. “When I had done what I needed to do, I asked if I could look inside (the shuttle) and they said ‘Sure,’ so I got to stick my head inside Apollo 11 and look around.”
The suit Bart Barton refers to is called a “bunny suit,” which includes special coveralls, hoods, boots, gloves, and masks worn to eliminate dirt and dust from clothing, avoid flakes and hair from the scalp, and keep the satellite away from exhaled breath.
The gear is required at all times inside a White Room — a highly clean enclosed area where satellites and rocket parts are assembled and tested prior to launching.
The White Room maintains a constant temperature and humidity, eliminates dust, and protects the satellite during its development, construction, and testing.
This was not Bart Barton’s only brush with the equipment that would later make history during space travel. The company he worked for had supplied equipment that was on the crawler, and during its move from building power to the launch pad, Barton had to ride in the crawler and make sure all of the equipment worked as it should without the support of the building’s electricity.
Barton was also one of a four-man crew tasked with retrieving a camera that was at zero level during the launch, broke free and went through a nearby chain link fence — landing in the nearby swamp.
While some of the crew searched for the expensive equipment, the rest kept an eye out for alligators and poisonous snakes. Barton noted that, at the time, the attitude was simply,
“Someone had to get that camera.”
Following the launch, Barton remembers the prevailing attitude of those on the ground to be confidence in the mission’s success.
“Everyone (had faith), and they were proud. We knew that we had done our jobs properly, and it was up to the three (astronauts) now,” Bart said. “We knew they had a very good chance of pulling it off.”
Barton will be the main speaker at a presentation on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 astronauts returning to Earth, at 7 p.m. on July 24 at the McKean County Courthouse. During that presentation, Barton will answer the question of “What is unique about the framed photo of the Earth from Space?” which is a part of his collection of presentation materials.
He has previously given presentations to science classes in Otto-Eldred, at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and at the McKean County Courthouse. He discusses his father’s work as a photographer and shows the stages of preparation of the space shuttle as they are completed.