Ferguson played part on Apollo 11 launch team


Mike Ferguson outside the Kennedy Space Center.

Fifty years ago, before Neil Armstrong took his legendary small step toward a big future, Mike Ferguson was there.

As a Boeing employee and electrical inspector who was part of the Apollo 11 launch team, he stood outside the NASA Launch Operations Center vehicle assembly building, filled with confidence and excitement.

The day had come. Men would walk on the moon. And he had helped them get there.

“When that thing lit up, you can’t describe the feeling,” Ferguson, 76, recalled of the Saturn V rockets he worked on, one of which shot the American astronauts to the moon. “And there’s never been a launch vehicle that you could feel that it launched like that Saturn V. It vibrated and the crackling noise was deafening. It was an awesome, beautiful sight.”

He was born in Seattle, and he moved across the country during his 36-year career with Boeing. In retirement, Ferguson lived in Jasper from 2006 to 2008. He now resides with his wife, Marie, in Evansville.

He remembers fondly the extremely long days he spent working in the space program. Being one of the approximately 20,000 launch team members that put Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon was rewarding, and the experience also launched him into missile inspection after the Saturn V program ended.

Mike Ferguson worked for Boeing for 36 years, which included time working with the space program.

Ferguson was 20 years old when he began working at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in 1963. There, as a fixture builder, he built the tooling that assembled the massive rockets. He was later promoted to an inspector, where he worked with electronic assemblies, cable manufacturing and other technical aspects of the rockets.

He was shipped out to the launch operations center in June 1966, before the manned Apollo missions took place. Prior to the first unmanned mission Saturn V was part of, Ferguson remembered feeling like an athlete filled with jitters before a championship game.

“To be involved in something that man’s never attempted, getting ready for the first launch of a Saturn V vehicle was just anxious anticipation,” he said. “Is this thing gonna go up, or is it gonna blow up? We think we built something good, and we believed in it.”

The rest is history. The 363-foot-tall rockets were hallmarks of 13 trips to space, including the famous Apollo 11 flight. The last Saturn V was launched in 1973, and was used to propel the Skylab space station into orbit.

By the time work began on the Apollo 11 mission, Ferguson was an electrical and mechanical inspector.

He regularly gets stopped by kids who ask him about the day man first walked across the moon’s barren landscape. Those who were alive and remember that day thank him for his service, as if he was a member of the military.

“And that’s embarrassing,” Ferguson said with a laugh. “But there’s people that realize what that did for this nation. Not just the pride in being the first man on the moon, but in accomplishing something that nobody else had done.”

Most of the launch team members Ferguson was close to have passed away. As for the men who made the fateful first moonwalk, Armstrong died in 2012 from complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, and Aldrin is 89.

But if the space program gets rolling again, Ferguson said it could offer good-paying jobs for many young people that will allow them to provide for their families and grow.

“It provided me a good job, good training and ability. After that program went downhill, we didn’t have anything to do as far as the Boeing company,” Ferguson said. “I had enough time with them to transfer out in the field and work on missiles for six years in the northwest. And that kept me with the company.”

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