StoryCorps: How A 10-Year-Old Boy Helped Apollo 11 Return To Earth Greg Force was just a boy when his father, the director of a NASA tracking station in Guam, called home with an important mission for him: to help the crew of Apollo 11 return safely to Earth.
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How A 10-Year-Old Boy Helped Apollo 11 Return To Earth

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How A 10-Year-Old Boy Helped Apollo 11 Return To Earth

How A 10-Year-Old Boy Helped Apollo 11 Return To Earth

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hey, it's Friday - finally made it - and it's when we hear from StoryCorps. Fifty years ago, Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Back on Earth, 10-year-old Greg Force was dreaming of going to space himself. Greg's father, Charles, worked on the Apollo missions, and his family lived on Guam, home to a massive antenna that connected the astronauts to Mission Control.

Greg is now 60 years old and came to StoryCorps with his daughter, Abby, to remember the little-known role that he played in the success of that historic mission.

GREG FORCE: I can remember where I was when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. I was 10 years old. We were going to the grocery store. And we were about to get out of the car, so we sat there and listened to it. I remember looking up and thinking that there are actually people up there on that moon right now.

ABBY FORCE: What did you think about Pop Pop working at NASA?

G FORCE: I loved it. I looked up to him a huge amount. Not only was it a prestigious job, but he was very good at it.

In my dad's office out at the tracking station, he had a little box that sat on the desk always playing...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRUCE MCCANDLESS: The magnitude of midcourse correction No. 1...

G FORCE: And all four of us boys, we'd go up there and sit and listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCCANDLESS: ...Looks like about one seven feet-per-second...

G FORCE: And it was the live communications between astronauts and Mission Control.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEIL ARMSTRONG: That sounds good to us.

G FORCE: So that evening, Apollo 11 was returning from the moon. We were at home getting close to my bedtime when my dad called, said that a bearing had broken in the big, huge dish antenna they used to track the spaceship, so they couldn't communicate with the capsule as they were coming back in.

His idea was to pack grease around the bearing. But the problem was the access hole to the bearing was small. And what he wanted to do was see if my arm would fit through that hole. So he took me out there. And we climbed up on the antenna - you had to go up these big access ladders. So I would take a big handful of grease. You know, you squish it, it comes out between your fingers, and I stuck them down in there and packed them the best I could.

Me being able to climb up there and help was kind of like I was part of the crew there just doing the job that needed to be done. And then the next day, some of our friends heard a news report about 10-year-old boy saved the day.

A FORCE: I mean, I think it's pretty dang important. My dad helped with Apollo 11. I look up to you and Pop Pop for it.

G FORCE: Now that I look back on it, I'm very proud - 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Greg Force with his daughter Abby Force at StoryCorps in Greenville, S.C. Greg's father, Charles, Force died in 2007 after almost 30 years of working for NASA. Their interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress.

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