Guenter Wendt

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Guenter Wendt
Guenter Wendt in 1999 in front of the Mercury Liberty Bell 7 capsule which had just been recovered from the bottom of the ocean. The spaceship sunk on 21 July 1961 following the return of Gus Grissom after a 15 minute suborbital flight.
Credit: NASA

Of German origin, Guenter Wendt was the legendary “pad leader” for the Apollo programme and as such ruled over the “White Room”, the room which gives access to the spaceship, with a professionalism unanimously acknowledged by the astronauts. He literally created this responsibility by working on the Mercury programme, the first American human space flight programme, and then continued with Gemini (2-man capsules). But the manufacturer of the Apollo capsule did not take him on in this position for the lunar missions. On 27 January 1967, it was with deep sadness that Guenter Wendt learned of the Apollo 1 tragedy: Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee perished when their spaceship caught fire during a ground rehearsal of countdown operations. The astronauts, with Walter Schirra in the lead (future Commander of Apollo 7), then demanded the return of the “Pad Fuhrer”. A nickname Guenter Wendt owed to his German accent (he obtained his American nationality in 1955) and his exacting professional stringency. In actual fact, he exerted his control over all the lunar programme blast-offs. Although meticulous, the man was nevertheless endowed with a great sense of humour and he started a tradition of giving symbolic presents to the crew before they left. Alan Shepard therefore, just as he was boarding for Apollo 14, was given a cane as part of his “Lunar Explorer Support Equipment”, an allusion to the fact that he was the oldest of the astronauts. Shepard, in return, presented him with a German helmet marked “Colonel Klink”, in reference to the character from the American TV comedy series, Hogan’s Heroes.

Guenter Wendt - Apollo 14
On 31 January 1971, in the Apollo “White Room”, Guenter Wendt is showing Alan Shepard his cane as a joke and is wearing the German helmet that the lunar mission Commander has just presented him with.
Credit: NASA

Guenter Wendt retired in 1989 but, a true enthusiast of astronautics, he continued to work on behalf of the space industry. He notably worked with actor Tom Hanks on the TV series “From the Earth to the Moon” which recounts the saga of the Apollo programme, and took part in the sea recovery operations for the Mercury Liberty Bell 7 capsule in 1999. Guenter Wendt died on 3 May 2010 at the age of 85 in his home on Florida’s Merritt Island, not far from the Kennedy Space Center. Thus he lived a little closer to the stars towards which he is now headed. He is also the author of the book entitled “The Unbroken Chain”, published by Apogee Books.

Press release from NASA

Tribute on CollectSpace

Publié le 4 mai 2010

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