By Joe O’Halloran
On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) honored a group of Long Islanders for the role they played in the construction of the space module that successfully landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon on July 20, 1969.
Inside the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, Israel welcomed groups of children from local space camps along with representatives from Northrop Grumman as he extended his appreciation to the Long Island men and women—former Grumman employees—who worked tirelessly to make Long Island the “aerospace capital of the world.”
“People think NASA landed Americans on the moon. No. It was Long Island that landed Americans on the moon,” Israel said as he stood before walls of photos commemorating the event. “It was the tens of thousands of Long Islanders who woke up in the morning and went to their jobs in researching, developing, engineering, and producing a means of transportation that allowed Armstrong and Aldrin to take that giant leap for human kind,” he said.
John Vosilla, manager of communications at Northrop Grumman, said he is proud to work for a company that created a milestone in the nation’s history. “To be part of the legacy that built a vehicle that put humans on another planet, an extraterrestrial entity, is phenomenal,” he said.
Vosilla, who has been a part of Grumman since 1980, pointed to the tremendous level of teamwork and dedication that was involved with the space module project and said many Long Island aviation companies shared the same passion for their work.
“NASA was the glue that put this whole program together, but it was the Long Island workforces who were determined to build a means of transportation that was safe, efficient, and would bring the astronauts home safely. They were the inner-workings behind the scenes,” he said.
On September 12, 1962 President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation and challenged America to “Go to the moon this decade…not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” From that message, Vosilla said the whole project started to unfold.
“The president set out a goal for the country and everybody wanted to make sure they met the goal, and they did. They were attempting to solve a problem nobody tried to solve before,” he said.
Seymour Berg spoke fondly of his experience working on the lunar aircraft. “The dedication and the overall energized feeling everybody had with the project, especially the upper administration, was immeasurable,” he said, “everybody was so excited that you could always find someone working in the plant, even on holidays.”
Berg, who lives with his wife, Francis, in Plainview, said he started with Grumman in 1964 at an entry-level position and was later employed on the project of constructing the lunar module in 1965. He said he was assigned as the group leader for the systems reliability engineer group shortly after he began working on the mission.
“As group leader, it was my job to make sure that we, as a group, ensured that no signal point of failure could cause the loss of any limb, mission, or life. And we were very successful,” Berg said.
Berg said through the course of his employment working on the lunar space module, both his wife along with their five children were very supportive of what he was doing. “We would watch everything on television that pertained to what he was doing and we were so proud,” Berg’s wife said.
Gondolfo Gallegro, 70, also took part in building the spacecraft and said it was one of the most fantastic experiences of his life. Gallegro, of East Northport, said that after serving in the military he was hired by Grumman and had worked at the plant for 40 years before becoming involved with the lunar space module.
Walking past an exhibit, Gallegro pointed to an inscription on a glass window, and read aloud, “ ‘ You know I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for you, but I can tell you this, it won’t fail because of what I do’ that’s what every worker at Grumman felt and believed in, because they didn’t want to be the one to make the program fail,” he said.
Gallegro said he still has a passion for space and now volunteers giving tours of the museum. “I love giving tours of this place to other people, especially when I show them the display of one of the antennas that I constructed. It’s all about personal experience and people have told me that is what makes the tour more fulfilling for them,” he said.
Rep. Israel, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, has long been calling for advanced energy research and development modeled after the Apollo Program. “Today’s challenges remain daunting, but it’s through Kennedy’s words and the work of these Long Islanders that let us know if we could put Americans on the moon in seven years, there is no challenge we can’t meet,” he said.
On June 18, the House passed the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Act, which included $18.2 billion for NASA.