AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – In the wake of the death of astronaut James McDivitt, who commanded the Apollo 9 mission that orbited the Earth in 1969, on Thursday, the city of Amarillo made note of a local connection to the historic flight.
According to the city of Amarillo, Council Member Howard Smith served in the US Navy aboard the USS Guadalcanal in March 1969, during the time that the ship was the recovery vessel for the Apollo 9 mission. Following their 10-day orbit in space, the Apollo 9 crew (James McDivitt, Russell Schweickart and David Scott) planned to be picked up by the USS Guadalcanal after splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA described the primary objective of the Apollo 9 mission to be an Earth-orbital engineering test of the first crewed lunar module, which helped pave the way for Apollo 11 setting the first human on the moon a few months later in July 1969.
“We were down to the wire to accomplish what Kennedy laid out,” Smith said, in reference to President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for the US to reach the moon by the end of the decade. “We were aware of how historical this was. Bad things can happen, but Apollo 9 went as well as could be expected. They accomplished every goal they had.”
According to Smith, the USS Guadalcanal accomplished its pick-up without a hitch, even though waves in the Atlantic Ocean shifted the Apollo 9 crew’s landed near Bermuda toward the Bahamas.
“My ship had a job to do – to pick them up when they landed. Even though we played a major part, it only took a few minutes.” Smith said.
Smith detailed that the USS Guadalcanal was advised to listen for a set of sonic booms to find the astronauts. After the noise, three parachutes in the sky were able to clue the ship’s personnel in on where the Apollo 9 crew would land.
The astronauts’ successful return home included a lunch, which was their first traditional meal after 10 days in space. Smith had a menu prepared for each of the Apollo 9 crew members that they selected from, and has kept the menus as mementos.
For the record, as noted by the city of Amarillo and Smith, McDivitt’s meal included waffles and fresh milk. Schweickart ordered a grilled steak and French-fried potatoes, while Scott had grilled steak and scrambled eggs.
“I should have had the astronauts autograph the menus,” Smith laughed, “I was in charge of ordering mess. We had white tablecloths, napkins. The men under me prepared the menu.”
The successful moon landing that followed months after Smith’s encounter with the Apollo 9 astronauts, he said, “turned things around for the nation.”