A member of the team
LONG ISLAND—Grumman Aerospace was once the largest employer on Long Island and played an integral part in the space race that took place in the 1960s, which resulted in NASA’s first lunar mission that successfully placed Americans on the moon. There were six Grumman-made lunar modules, also known as the lunar excursion module or LEM, and they carried 12 astronauts to the moon’s surface between 1969 and 1972.
The first and perhaps most widely remembered lunar mission is Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. The 50th anniversary of that historic mission brought together many of Grumman’s former employees who were a part of the team that made it all possible, from engineers to mechanics and even Grumman secretaries.
Islip resident Patricia Campagnola was assigned to Plant 39 in Bethpage, where she was the secretary to the engineers who coordinated the building of the LEM. Her signature, along with all of the others who worked on the program, can be found on a poster that was shrunken down to the size of a negative and placed in the space capsule and taken to the moon.
Last month, Campagnola attended the celebratory events for the 50th anniversary that were held at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. While there, she shared her experiences with others of what it was like being so close to that momentous event. She fondly remembers those times with even more reverence than when it first took place, and shared some of her memories with the Islip Bulletin.
“I was 20 years old at the time of Apollo 11 and never realized the danger of it,” Campagnola said. “I didn’t grasp [the enormity] of men going to the moon. I appreciate it more now reliving it all.”
During the interview, Campagnola wore an official Apollo 11 patch pinned to her shirt. It was given to her by the company at the time of the mission. She has been wearing the patch more often lately. “It draws a lot of attention,” she said, noting that at the celebrations, people wanted to take her picture. “I felt like a celebrity.”
She also carries a folder filled with memorabilia from that time, including signed photos of the astronauts from Neil Armstrong—who was the first man to walk on the moon—to Jack Swigert, a member of Apollo 13 along with Fred Haise and Jim Lovell. That mission was aborted for technical reasons and was further dramatized by Hollywood years later in the movie “Apollo 13.” Campagnola reached into her folder and pulled out a photo of her shaking Swigert’s hand, which was taken when he visited Grumman after the mission. She said that after each mission, many of the astronauts would stop by to thank Grumman employees.
Campagnola worked with Richard Dunne, a Grumman spokesperson for the Apollo Lunar Module, who was a subject of an article that appeared in this newspaper last month (“Where were you during the moon landing?” July 18, 2019). She remarked that NASA’s successes were the effort of “thousands of people,” some of them just average employees like herself and others who risked their lives to move the space program ahead. “It didn’t happen overnight. These people should be remembered,” she said.
Fifty years ago, Campagnola gathered with coworkers at Plant 39 on that historic night. Anticipation filled the space. “We watched the moon landing on closed-circuit TV,” she said. “I think it was around 11 at night.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘[we] were a part of making history.’”
Campagnola, who is now retired, left Grumman in 1971 to work at another electronics company. She is grateful to have had the experience of being a part of the Apollo 11 team. “I was a part of it in a very small way, but still a part of it,” she said. “And I’m so very proud.”
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