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Denver man witnessed history

The phrase “it’s not rocket science” doesn’t apply to Denver resident Paul Schaarschmidt.
For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, Schaarschmidt helped engineer the Lunar Excursion Module.
“I worked for Grumman Aerospace, who built LEMs for NASA,” he said.
In constructing the 18 LEMs that Grumman built during Schaarschmidt’s time with the company, 10 test articles were designed.
“These test articles were designed in different places to be individually tested,” said Schaarschmidt.
He remembers one test article that submerged in a pool in Houston to simulate the weightlessness that’s on the moon.
“NASA did things that was because it was too large a job for any one person or organization to handle,” he said.
Once the LEMs were designed, Paul felt his time at Grumman was temporarily over.
“I left in 1971 and came back four years later,” said Paul. “I didn’t think there were any challenges there for me, so I left.”
According to Schaarschmidt, working for Grumman was a most rewarding experience.
“It was cutting edge because we were doing everything regarding the LEMs for the first time,” he said. “The LEM was a figment of everyone’s imagination in the early 1960s.”
It wouldn’t be until the Apollo 8 mission that the first LEM saw space flight. Three more missions would pass, according to Schaarschmidt, before the first LEM would actually land on the moon.
“Before Apollo 11, NASA was launching lunars to check for different things,” said Paul. “One was launched to go around the earth’s orbit, while one was sent around the moon’s orbit.”
He added that some were only manned with sensors to check for things like air tightness and radiation levels.
A typical lunar module was 14 feet high and came in two sections, one that would eventually stay on the moon and the other that would go back to the main space vehicle, also known as the command vehicle.
Schaarschmidt said that NASA was very tedious in building what would become the space program, doing everything step-by-step.
“They were asking the question of could we get a man into space during the Mercury program,” said Paul.
Working on the lunar module was special for Paul because he worked with his father, Emmanuel, on the project. They were the only father/son duo to do so.
“I was shocked when I learned that,” said Schaarschmidt. “I never even knew he had signed a plaque that actually went up to the moon.”
Schaarschmidt added that to this day, the plaque sits on the moon with all of the names, including his, that worked on the LEMs.
He cited many examples of things people enjoy today that started with the birth of the space program.
“Velcro is one example,” said Schaarschmidt. “We had to come up with a way to make something temporarily attachable.”
He added that the space program also drove the development of personal computers.
“That computer had 64.000 bytes of memory,” said Paul. “Some calculators today had more memory than that thing did.”
Correll was also used in the space program, specifically for the Mercury and Apollo missions.
“They used correll as a heat shield,” said Schaarschmidt. “Today, it’s used in many of the plates people use for dining.”
He added that people today take modern technology for granted.
“All of these modern conveniences are there because of the space program,” said Paul. “Many people don’t realize that.”
Schaarschmidt remembered his time working with the space program fondly.
“That was history in the making,” he said. “It makes me yearn for the old days again.”

by Jon Mayhew

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