Forty years ago, on July 23, 1969, as Apollo 11 strikes back towards Earth, there was a problem — a problem only a kid could solve.
It sounds like something out of a movie, but that’s what it came down to as Apollo 11 sped back towards Earth after landing on the moon in 1969.
It was around 10:00 at night on July 23, and 10-year-old Greg Force was at home with his mom and three brothers. His father, Charles Force, was at work. Charles Force was the director of the NASA tracking station in Guam, where the family was living.
A powerful antenna there connected NASA communications with Apollo 11, and the antenna was the only way for NASA to make its last communications with the astronauts before splashdown. But at the last minute on that night, a bearing in the antenna failed, rendering it nearly useless.
To properly replace the bearing would have required dismantling the entire antenna, and there was simply notime. So Charles Force thought of a creative solution: If he could get more grease around the failed bearing, it would probably be fine. The only problem was, nobody at the station had an arm small enough to actually reach in through the two-and-a-half inch opening and pack grease around the bearing. Greg’s fathers’ solution was to get him (because Greg’s arm was small enought to fit through the only access hole) and pack grease around the failed bearing so the stations could finish its support role in the mission.
And that’s when Greg was called in to save the day.