50 years ago, Hendersonville man was on Apollo 11 launch team

Photo credit:{ }WLOS staff

Apollo 11's Saturn V rocket took off many, many moons ago now on July 16, 1969, a launch that eventually lead to the historic moon landing four days later.

"That was an awesome day!" exclaimed George Knudsen, who says it sure doesn't feel like a half century's gone by. “The greatest adventure we've ever embarked upon."

"And it's a beautiful, beautiful sight when it's going up in the air,” recalled Knudsen, who was part of the launch team for that memorable mission. “I can't believe it's been that many years since we did it."

NASA's Apollo Achievement Award went to those who had a hand in history.

"So, all of us that did that got one of these,” he said, showing News 13 a certificate. “I was in the Firing Room for that launch."

Knudsen was in the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center when the rocket soared into the history books.

In his 30s, Knudsen worked as a flight test engineer for North American Rockwell.

Long before the summer of '69, it took seven years of development to make President John F. Kennedy’s vision a reality.

"These are the five liquid hydrogen engines we fired. And this was up in the mountains in Santa Susana, California,” he said, showing News 13 a photo of one test.

The Saturn V used three stages.

"That's the stage I worked on, the second stage,” Knudsen said, pointing at a diagram.

A number of companies worked on different parts of the Saturn V under extreme pressure.

"All of that was done in parallel, and it was all brought together and integrated at the Cape in the vertical assembly building, and it worked!” Knudsen said, still in awe of what they did.

On the day of the launch, he collected signatures to mark the occasion.

"John Glenn Jr. right here,” he said, pointing at one of the notable names.

In the moment, he said making history wasn't on his mind.

"You know, we were so damn busy doing our part that it never occurred to us,” he said.

Days after the launch, the moon landing captivated the nation.

It was like an impossible dream come true.

"It was an immense moment of pride within me when that happened,” Knudsen said. “And it wasn't just me, it was all of us. And rightfully so, that was quite an achievement."

Knudsen is now 86 years old and he said many of those who played a role in the Apollo 11 mission are gone. He wants younger generations to understand the magnitude of the achievement.

"I think it's important that it not be forgotten that we did that. You know, the kids coming up now adays, they haven't got a clue,” Knudsen said.

Five decades later, we countdown to the anniversary of the mission.

To Knudsen, it proved Americans can do anything when we work together.