Neil Armstrong. Buzz Aldrin. Michael Collins. The names of the Apollo 11 astronauts who were the first to journey to the moon are rightfully remembered and honored. How many remember Greg Force, a 10-year-old boy who helped bring the astronauts back home?
Greg lived in Guam in 1969. His father, Charles, was the director of NASA‘s Honeysuckle tracking station in Guam that made it possible for NASA’s Mission Control to see and communicate with the Apollo capsule during re-entry. For a 10-year-old boy like Greg, there was nothing more exciting than the chance to be around his father and the NASA engineers during the heyday of the Space Race.
After their successful moon landing on July 20, 1969, the astronauts began the four-day return journey to earth. Shortly thereafter, trouble arose at the Guam tracking station. A bearing in the massive dish antenna malfunctioned and took the tracking station out of commission. Unless it could be repaired in time, NASA would be unable to communicate with the ship at a critical point in its return to earth.
The bearing itself was an easy enough thing to repair. The problem was getting access to it. Deep within the dish antenna’s base, the access area was only 2.5 inches wide. To get to it, the entire apparatus would need to be disassembled. If they had to do that, it would be impossible to have the antenna operational in time.
Charles Force called home and asked his son Greg to come to the station. Reaching the bearing was impossible for anyone with adult-sized arms, but perhaps Greg would be able to do what the grown-ups could not. Greg eagerly agreed to try. Engineers greased his arm and told him to grab handfuls of grease and try to get it packed around the stuck bearing.
The 10-year-old rose climbed the ladder to the access portal, aware of the fact that the fate of three astronauts could be riding on his youthful shoulders. “I would take a big handful of grease — you know, you squish it,” Greg says. “It comes out between your fingers, and I stuck them down in there and packed them the best I could.”
Much to Greg’s — and everyone else’s — relief, he was successful. The antenna was again functional, and the safe tracking of the astronauts was assured.
Greg’s contribution to the successful moon mission was noted by a NASA public affairs officer in an announcement from Apollo Control:
“The bearing was replaced with the assistance of a 10-year-old boy named Greg Force who had arms small enough that he could work through a 2½ inch diameter hole to pack [the bearing].”
“Now that I look back on it, I’m very proud,” Greg says. “Not especially anything amazing that I did, but that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I’m also proud that my dad trusted me enough … to do it.”
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