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Wednesday, Jul 29, 2015
Local News

Lake Placid man recalls being an engineer during the Apollo 11 mission


— When Apollo 11’s lunar module landed on the moon to the excitement of people all over the United States, it was the culmination of years of hard work by many people, including Walter F. Montz, who is now a Lake Placid resident.

“It was very exciting,” said Montz, who is vice president of his son’s construction firm in Lake Placid.

Montz, who later became a full time Church of God minister, worked as an electronic engineer at the Kennedy Space Center.

He added in regards to the flight, “It was a thrill to see it happen. It was fascinating to have been part of this piece of history.”

Montz said that he was confident the July 20, 1969, landing and the subsequent moon walk and return would be successful.

Although he was employed by Chrysler Corp., he also did work for Grumman Corp., which built the lunar module. Montz received certificates of appreciation for being part of the Grumman team that created the module. One certificate recognized his contribution to the successful launch of the first manned Apollo space craft and the first flight test of the lunar module, among other missions.

As an engineer, he said, his job was ground support, helping to make sure it would have the power to lift off. He would work to make sure everything was OK in preparation for the mission.

He said he did go inside the module to do checks.

Montz said he did not personally know the astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. But they would often walk by the area where he worked.

The work at the space center was a lot less hands-on than a previous job regarding rockets being used to help study the ionosphere.

“At the cape you usually told the technicians what to do,” he said.

It was as a young man that Montz became interested in electronics. He said he built a tube radio using a two-volt battery at a time when no electricity was available. While serving with the Air Force during the Korean War, he built a radio, he said, adding that others with him were fascinated by it.

But for awhile after the war, it appeared that he would embark on a different career. He said he became an accountant.

After the first manned space flight, Montz said, he insisted on returning to school to become an engineer.

Montz said he got his first job as an engineer at the University of New Mexico. There he was involved with a project that would eventually send up rockets to study the ionosphere. Those rockets would shoot off grenades and transponders would send back data.

He said he would test the materials making up the transponders to make sure the devices could withstand the heat and other factors involved in the launches.

After that came his work at the Kennedy Space Center. Following the moon missions, a lot of engineers were laid off and they had to find other jobs and careers. Montz said he had already became a pastor and continued doing that for some 30 years, serving churches in a number of cities, including Lake Placid.

“I would have liked to have been an astronaut,” he said. “But you can’t do everything.”

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