Go for launch...” were the inspired and long-awaited words each time a massive Saturn V rocket, aimed at the sky, prepared to send another crew to the Moon from America’s space port in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


“Go for launch...” were the inspired and long-awaited words each time a massive Saturn V rocket, aimed at the sky, prepared to send another crew to the Moon from America’s space port in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The feat, to put a man on the Moon and bring him back safely to the Earth within the decade before 1970, was declared by President John F. Kennedy. Billions of dollars later and a herculean effort of thousands of dedicated scientists, technicians and laborers were behind the Apollo program that ultimately put eight men on the Moon. 
Every one of the force staying on Earth proved critical, and every step had to be flawless and timed perfectly.
One of those who helped make the dream of the ages possible was Louis Cariola Jr., today of Peekskill, NY and a part-time resident of  Pike County, PA. He is known as Lou.
Lou worked for Grumman Aircraft Company, based on Long Island, which had the contract to build the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) for the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA).

‒‒‒ Ultra-thin film

He explained his role, which in part involved developing a means to measure thermal radiation from a curved surface. He worked on the design of an ultra-thin foil that would envelope the LEM’s descent stage, and give it that shiny, gold look.
How well a spacecraft would reflect the intense heat of the Sun from the vacuum of space was critical to a mission’s success, which Lou pointed out, relied on a multitude of factors that had to be done right. The technology to send men to the Moon and back had to be developed quickly, and much of it had never been done or tried before. The spinoff of applications for everyday uses on Earth later proved practically astronomical.
“It wasn’t just Tang,” he said, referring to the instant breakfast drink championed by the astronauts.
Overheating, he added, may have been one of the factors that led to the explosion on Apollo 13, which aborted the lunar landing and narrowly risked losing the astronauts as they hurled away from the Good Earth. He wasn’t involved with the Apollo 13 mission.

‒‒‒ On top the launch tower

On the way to the Moon and back, the spacecraft “rotated like a chicken on a rotisserie” to even out the temperature, he said.
He first worked on Apollo 7, which was the first crewed flight of the Saturn V rocket to put the Command - Service modules in orbit. Lou was on duty for Grumman five days before launch in October 1968 at the launch tower. He had to take measurements of the curved surfaces of the Command and Service modules.
Apollo 10, in May 1969, tested the LEM in orbit around the Moon, with astronauts aboard but never touching down. NASA determined that some of the foil on the lander had burned off during descent. 
Lou was involved with a solution, to cover the base around the descent engine cone with an aluminized mylar, known as H-film. This was 25/1000′s of an inch thick, he added. He was assigned to ensuring quality of the materials, traveling to the various vendors around the country and testing the foil to see that it met Grumman’s standards.
Although the various H-films appeared to be metallic on the outside, he said it was actually plastic, with a coating of aluminum on the backside.
Lou had come to Grumman in 1964 with an Industrial Engineering degree and was starting a master’s program in physics. He was on a team utilizing a spectrograph to investigating various materials that could be used for these films.
During the mid-60′s, NASA ordered that the LEM had to be lightened as much as possible. The thickest part of the lander was the crew compartment hull, two inches thick. The outside skin had 25 layers of super-thin mylar H-film.
The whole weight of the LEM without fuel was about 10,000 pounds. NASA paid Grumman a $50,000 bonus of each pound Grumman could shave off. He said they reduced it by about 250 pounds.
Apollo 9 (March 1969) was the first mission to send the LEM into space, staying in Earth orbit.
Prior to lift off, Lou was sent to Cape Canaveral to train quality control people. NASA wanted as much data as they could, from the first of the LEMs to go into space. 
He and another team member from Grumman were high up on the tower, measuring the Spacecraft Lunar Adaptor, the module that encased the LEM for its trip orbital trip. He had to go through a small hatch and use a narrow work stand to test the thermal emissions inside the adaptor, coming from the LEM’s folded legs and descent engine cone.
The Saturn V rocket was 363 feet high, as tall as a 36-story building.

‒‒‒ High pressure

His job for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission in July 1969, was to test the radar rendezvous antenna on top the lunar lander. It was found to be slightly out of specification, not noticed by NASA until the preflight stage. Lou had to go to the historic Launch Pad 39 with a NASA inspector. He said he had to go through about four security clearances, switching badges. It was around 12 midnight at the Cape.
“The NASA guy said we had 23 minutes; everything was timed to the minute,” he recalled.
They went up the elevator to near the top of the rocket.
“He told me if you find it out of spec, it would hold it [the launch] up two to three months,” Lou said.
Launch was scheduled in T-minus 30 days.
“There was high pressure on me,” he said.
“My measurement showed it was borderline- by my experience I felt it was OK,” Lou said.
If wasn’t OK, Lou added, the whole thing would have to be taken back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The antenna on the LEM was the only way Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could communicate with Michael Collins, waiting in lunar orbit. Lou had to be sure the solar absorption was not too high, which could cause the antenna to heat up and lose its communication link.

‒‒‒ Moon rock?

Apollo 11 returned the first crew to land on the Moon, along with 45.5 pounds of rocks and dust. There was much speculation over what companies would have a chance to get one of those precious rocks to study.
One day, two months after Apollo 11′s return, there was a bag put in Lou’s in-box with a note saying his laboratory team was to analyze the rock inside. This was quite unexpected.
Was it a joke? The documentation appeared to be real. “I betted it was a joke,” Lou said. “This guy came in- a pain in the neck- and asked if we got a rock.” Lou showed him what they received and the man said he would tell others about it. Other workers started filing in to see “the rock.”
Grumman’s newspaper photographer arrived. the Product Development manager came in the lab with an engineer from a lab in Germany to see it. Then the Vice-president of Grumman called and said he wanted to see this supposed piece of the Moon.
They found out the rock was not from the Moon.
“I told my partner, if I go down, he goes down,” referring to the guy that started the practical joke. “We played along with it I suspected it was a practical joke. Pranks were common.”

‒‒‒ Lament

He worked on the NASA assignment until after Apollo 12 (November 1969). He went back to working on aircraft for Grumman. Later he went to Santa Barbara, CA, where he pursued a fine arts degree. This is where he met his wife. 
Lou lamented the fact that after Apollo 17 in 1972, America- and the world- has not been back to the Moon with another crewed vehicle and is yet to venture beyond 250 miles from Earth.
The $25 billion Apollo program had to succeed, he reflected. In a sense, it helped unite America, although in the end, people were losing interest. The lunar landings were being taken for granted.
“It was heartbreaking to see the interest wane,” he said.
He further reflected that over 40 years ago, we went nearly 250,000 miles to the Moon and back- with less technology than is represented in your pocket phone.

‒‒‒ Speaks at schools, etc.

Lou retained a quantity of the H-film he helped develop for the lunar landers, including what was used for the window shades. In 1979, he wrote to Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong for a recommendation on whether he should donate a piece of the window shade material to the Smithsonian Institute; Armstrong replied that it would be a good idea.
For more than 10 years Lou has spoken to schools, mostly in New York State, about his experiences. He utilizes slides, samples of actual H-film and model spacecraft, and said he does not charge for the speaking engagement.
He has also made pieces of the H-film available for nonprofit organizations to raise funds.
He said he is very grateful for the opportunity to have worked on the Apollo program. “You step back and realize you worked for something important,” Lou said. “I was in the right place, at the right time.”

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Editor's note: This story was first published in The News Eagle in October 2015.