Apollo 11 nearly delayed, if not for crucial repair

The anniversary of one of the most important launches of all time is on July 16, 2019.  Tuesday marks 50 years since the launch of the Apollo 11 mission.

In 1969, there was a man who was so committed to Apollo 11 being on time, he literally went to great heights to make it happen -- not "out on a limb," but down on a ladder.

The massive Saturn V rocket was taller than the Statue of Liberty, and it had millions of parts, so something breaking at an inconvenient time was pretty much guaranteed, and when a quick fix was needed, Bob Giffen was the right guy for the job.  He was part-acrobat, part-handyman.

To tell this story, we need to rewind four days before launch. The rocket was on the pad when a hose accidentally broke away from a circular vent.  Apollo 11 project leaders discussed rolling the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, but it would have taken a week tom complete, throwing the schedule way off kilter.

“I volunteered to crawl down a ladder, hang on the end of it, and repair that piece,” said Giffen.

He said he remembered feeling confident about the task at hand, and as a senior technician on the launch team, it was his moment to shine.

“The ladder went down from the arm, I went to the bottom of it, I leaned out so that I could reach -- they didn’t believe I could reach it -- and I repaired the cover," Giffen recalled, "and we launched four days later.”

It took about two hours to reattach the part.  Given the enormous size of the Saturn V, that’s akin to a two-hour trapeze act. Giffen had a wife and three kids at home, but he chose not to inform of his potentially dangerous mission.

“It was all over with by the time she found out about it,” Giffen said.

Giffen was one of 400,000 who worked on the Apollo program, and he says the trait that everyone shared was the get it done attitude.

“Get it done we’re going to the moon.” Giffen said.