Armed only with a math degree and his knowledge as a Navy pilot, Tex Ward walked into NASA and applied for a job. A small town boy from Oregon, he had no idea how far it would take him or the adventures he would experience.
Ward told his story Thursday at the weekly meeting of the Athens Rotary Club.
So one day in August, Ward and a friend put in their applications for NASA, and he started in December. He didn't know exactly what he was getting hired for. Ward became critical in training astronauts how to fly the Apollo. His experience as a pilot made him more relatable to his astronaut peers than the engineers, he said.
The first Apollo crew was killed in a fire on the launch pad, which caused a two-year delay in portions of the program. Several equipment issues contributed to the fire, which made these equipment field tests Ward participated in even more critical.
One of his jobs was teaching water egress for the astronauts. The crew had to be trained on proper technique when they landed in the Pacific Ocean. He went in the pod with 12 feet or higher seas for three days with the astronauts. The crew lay horizontally in the seats and bobbed around for three gut-wrenching days. Radios and other equipment were tested and maintained to ensure success on future real-life space launches. During these test missions their vitals were monitored to make sure they were still alive.
“We had sandwiches packed on board in case we were starving. With one guy sea sick the whole time, none of us ate,” Ward quipped.
After the mission was over, the vehicle was lifted with a crane, and the crew was served apple pie and steak.
They did the initial training in a water tank next to the shuttle. Preliminary training and tests simulated potential failures. The controlled environment prepared them for safe evacuation once they were in the ocean after a real launch. Ward went in with the astronauts and could only train two at a time.
When they would open the hatch, water would rise to a certain level equalizing the cabin pressure. Then the team would dive down with a raft to exit the vehicle.
John Young, one of the Apollo astronauts, was known for being cool as a cucumber. His heart rate did not go up during launch like most of his colleagues. On one training mission Ward recalled the water level went above the standard level point on the instrument panel. Young said “we have a problem,”.
Ward's hard work and dedication to these training missions helped prepare the safest and most dependable equipment and highly trained astronauts.
Ward was one of the flight training coordinators for Apollo 14 and 17 crew members. He also coordinated their other instructors and set up simulators. He remembers lunar surface training was done in a sandpit behind NASA. He displayed a photo of the crew practicing in the pit while an armadillo crossed through photo.
When the shuttle was transported it would take a good part of the day, Ward and his wife Judy were able to attend that, ride on it during transport and also attend several shuttle launches. It was one of the perks.
“At the time we were so used to associating with all these NASA people our kids thought it was normal,” Judy Ward, wife of 55 years, said. “Our neighbor two doors down was a doctor who checked the moon-rocks.”
Germs were a primary concern. Ward participated in one mission where he was quarantined 14 days staying in an airtight trailer and followed additional procedures as if he was returning from the moon. He received a certificate for this 19 day test.
Ward finally left NASA for the private sector at Lockheed Martin. He did return on occasion especially when the Columbia flight crashed for clean up.
He said his favorite part was “being right there next to the action, being able to go in the mission control room and say, OK, there is my equipment up there. I am responsible for the team that made that and it's doing great!” Ward said.
He said it was such a remarkable experience.
“One of a kind, I thank God for the opportunity every day to get in there and be part of Apollo 11 and be part of the team that put the space station in orbit,”