Bill Burgemeister of Honesdale worked on each of the Lunar Modules.

HONESDALE -  Probably most of us admire the Moon shining in the sky. Likely many of us have been fascinated with the thought that man has walked on the Moon and interest is building to do it again. Then there are a very few, like Bill Burgemeister of Honesdale, who knows the story so intimately, he actually had his hands directly in enabling astronauts to land on the lunar surface.
Burgemeister, who is 94, was an electrical engineer with Grumman Aircraft (later known as Northrop Grumman), the company that had the contract to build the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) (or Lunar Module- LM). Burgemeister worked personally on every LEM that the National Air & Space Administration (NASA) used throughout the Apollo moon program, including all the test models. Grumman made 15 lunar modules; six landed on the Moon. Each successive LEM had a significant upgrade, and Burgemeister was part of the team making it happen.
With amazing memory, that he confides still surprises him, he sits and describes in incredible detail the inner workings of the two-stage spacecraft, a work of American technology.
This machine, only part of the colossal vehicle launched from Cape Canaveral and the infrastructure that had to be fashioned to support it, was successfully developed in the few short years from President Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 to send men to the Moon within a decade, and the first landing in 1969.
The notion had never been attempted before but arose from science fiction and wishful thinking to reality as the United States competed against the Soviets. The Associated Press reported that the effort involved as many as 400,000 people working behind the scenes to send the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
Of the 27 astronauts who went and orbited the Earth’s satellite between 1968 and 1972, a dozen actually landed there.

Overcame stuttering

He frames his story as a testimony, who despite personal handicaps, enabled by the grace of God in whom he kept his trust, which he says gave him incredible opportunities and the power to overcome. Burgemeister had to deal with stuttering, he says, and was inspired by the Apollo 12 commander, astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., the third man to walk on the Moon. Burgemeister cites Conrad’s experience, dealing with dyslexia.
Burgemeister is a World War II veteran. He served in the Army Air Corps, and had hoped to fly planes but that was ruled out due to his speech impediment. Using his abilities at electrical work, however, Burgemeister was in England working on the planes that were being sent across the Channel on D-Day. He said he received six Bronze Stars for his role.

Grumman in 1960

After the war, Burgemeister worked in aviation employing his electrical knowledge, when in 1960 he was transferred to Grumman. “The Lord was directing my path constantly,” he said. He was put to work in the new aerospace program at Grumman. He did work on the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO), and octagon-shaped satellite that was used to study the heavens in ultraviolet. NASA launched the first OAO in 1966.
After about three years, Burgemeister was transferred again and placed on the Lunar Module project.

The Live Wires

He and his fellow electrical engineers were dubbed, “The Live Wires.”
“In NASA and Grumman they were very particular about nomenclature,” he recalled. “Later, they had to change the name from ‘Live Wires’ because that indicates a short circuit. I’m telling you the truth.” He added, “They didn’t want the astronauts to get nervous.” He said he thinks it was November 20, 1966, when the name was changed to “Level Three Control.”  It only took about a month he said, when the name was again changed, but were still known as the “Lives Wires” in the background.
As he became indoctrinated over the first couple weeks with The Live Wires, he learned he had to make a speech ever so often, with huge drawings to explain the subsystems of the LEM. Very concerned about his stuttering, he was not a little relieved when a memo went around saying there would not be any speeches to make. “The Lord was right there again,” he said.
Thomas J. Kelly was the chief aerospace engineer, working on the LEM. Kelly led the design of the lunar module. Burgemeister was with Kelly in a meeting with about 100 engineers. “The chief engineer came in there and didn’t say a word. He used to look like a bum, he came in there with a beat-up sweater, and he wouldn’t say anything. The two of us were like twins, and I was happy for that,” Burgemeister said with a laugh. At the meeting there was discussion about the way they would be going with the project. At the end, Kelly got up and gave direction in each of the problem areas.
“Anyone has a problem, you don’t push it under a rug,” Burgemeister said. “It comes to The Live Wire group. Our group was like the DNA… Our department did all the schematics. It was like the DNA; everything began there…. There was an electrical engineer from each subsystem.”
He reflected on how honored he felt to be entrusted with the electrical power subsystem.
“It didn’t go to our heads or anything,” he said. “We were too busy.”
They got to the point they were working 64 hours a week. “The latest I ever worked was on the wires connecting the ascent and descent [stages] that went into the sealed connectors- I was working till 3 o’clock in the morning. But I finished it. The janitors were just going home.”
They did it all without the computers they have today.

Explosive guilotine

Burgemeister’s role included work on the explosive devices necessary in separating the ascent stage carrying the astronauts from the descent stage. He explained the positioning of the device switches in the ascent stage, which would be operated by the LEM commander- Neil Armstrong in the case of Apollo 11. It was situated between the two astronauts and covered on a red cover, to prevent an accidental activation.
When astronauts were launching from the Moon to rejoin the Command/Service Module and go home, the “guillotine” came down and chopped the lines connecting the LEM’s ascent and descent modules.
“The reason for the explosives,” he said, “the inside of these sealed connectors… have a socket and a plug; you got your pins. Just before the guillotine is going to come down, these explosives go off automatically… The pins disconnect from the gas of the explosives. It pulls them apart, so when the guillotine comes down, there’s no power, no sparks.”
They had to make six schematic drawings each was more complex than the one before.
“It was all sequentially timed, like in micro-seconds. All these wires between the ascent stage and the descent stage… had three connectors,” he said, for each LEM.
There were plumbing lines carrying hydrazine fuel, he stated. There were no ignition or spark plugs. On one side were oxidizer tanks, and helium on top to push it through. During flight, the hydrazine and oxidizer had to be kept separate, until they were needed to ignite the engines, he explained.
A simulator was designed and built for the astronauts to train on the LEM controls.
Each Lunar Module sent to the Moon, in turn, had some changes and adaptations made. Burgmeister reflected that changes made by the time of the Apollo 13  mission, saved the astronauts when a problem occurred in the Service Module. The LEM became their “life boat” to get home.

Worked on aircraft

Although he did not get to meet the Apollo astronauts, he did happen to meet one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Scott Carpenter, at a hanger. This was quite unexpected. Burgmeister was able to get his autograph.
After the Apollo moon program, Burgmeister left Grumman when the company did not get the Space Shuttle contract. Among his jobs after Grumman, he went to work for Fairchild Republic. He worked on the A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter jet, for the U.S. Air Force.
He back to Grumman briefly for a half year, when they were working on the Space Shuttle wings.

Vast Universe

He retired when he was 62. He and wife Eleanor moved to Honesdale, Pa. in 1987. When he was 79, he said, he learned to paddle a kayak. In 2010, he survived a bout with cancer. “The Lord was watching over me,” he said.
He stated he desired by his story to interest people in space. He noted how space research has benefited mankind, including medical research.
“The Universe is far; it’s hard to contemplate; our brains our [limited] in comparison to what’s out there,” Burgmeister said. “But it’s good to be adventurous and bold.”