Exhibit honors NASA scientist from Joliet

July 17, 2009 4:41:34 PM PDT
Forty years ago, the world was watching as Apollo 11 journeyed toward the moon. The landing plan was championed by NASA scientist John C. Houbolt from Joliet. A new exhibit is opening to honor his triumph and it's something anyone who values curiosity should see.

It's perhaps the pivotal moment of 20th century history that historians agree likely wouldn't have been possible without the determination of a brilliant scientist.

The family of John C. Houbolt take in the sights and sounds of a memorialized era when the future was opening up to us.

You can step on moonprints to activate the displays that trumpet the soaring achievements of John C. Houbolt -- markers that stem from a boy who had flight on his mind.

"One of the things john wanted me to do was take an umbrella and jump off the second story and see how i would fly. He didn't talk me into that. He did it and crashed on the floor," said Neal Houbolt, John's brother.

John Houbolt's fascination culminated in the summer of 1962 when NASA decided to adopt his 'lunar orbit rendezvous' system as the plan to get astronauts to the moon and back home again, safely.

President Kennedy wanted to establish America's preeminence and bolster pride wounded when the soviets put the first satellites in space. Houbolt fleshed out the concepts of earlier thinkers to show that the best way to meet the goal was to have a command module orbit the moon, and send down a small ferry-like lunar module to the surface -- a spaceship two astronauts named Armstrong and Aldrin would use as a base to explore the moon.

"John Houbolt did the math. He sat down and calculated and said this makes sense because in John's scheme there was a lunar orbit rendezvous, docking, undocking and the whole time you were losing a lot of weight on the way to the moon," said Tony Contos, museum curator.

The idea met with great resistance. But Houbolt's persistence, including going over the heads of his superiors, became NASA's strategy.

Houbolt's kids knew there dad was a key part of America's moonshot but in his modesty rarely talked much about his work or what was truly at stake.

"It was an incredible time. The chills went down my body. I just couldn't believe what dad had done for our country," said Joanna Hayes, Houbolt's daughter.

The exhibit opens Saturday in Joliet and admission is free. On Sunday, there are going to be more special events, including something called a 'cosmic jam.'


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