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T Minus 1 Day and Counting: The Pad Führer

I admit… [that] I got stuck every time we had VIPs and all that jazz, and some of them, the dumbest guys you ever will meet.

I mean, like Gephardt, Senator Gephardt. One time he came up on the Atlas pad, and, you know, the typical press corps all around, and well, he comes up and he says, “My good man, where are the engines on this thing?” Now, you’ve got to understand, he’s the number-two man on the Space Committee, okay?

I said, “Senator, they are way down there, below.”

“Oh, you mean it goes up like this?”

I said, “Yes, Senator, it goes up like this.”

And you wonder, “Shoot, number two on the space committee, huh?” [Laughter]

That’s launch pad technician Guenter Wendt, not suffering fools gladly in a 1998 interview.

The astronauts fondly called Wendt the “Pad Führer” for the efficient way he ran the launch pad and loaded them into their capsules, starting with the early Mercury flights and running on through Apollo 17. He gave the final wave to the Apollo 11 crew before the hatch was closed and they blasted off for the moon.

Wendt is at top right (in glasses):

An exchange of gag gifts with Wendt just before launch became a part of Apollo ritual, a way of easing pre-flight tensions. On Apollo 11, Wendt gave Neil Armstrong a mock “key to the moon”; Armstrong gave Wendt a ticket for a space taxi ride.

The gifts had grown more elaborate by the time Apollo 14 took off in 1971:

The helmet reads “Col. Guenter Klink.”

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