By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
A staggering 600 million people watched the first astronauts walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. Homer Reihm was watching, too, and he was more personally invested than most, and therefore more nervous.
Marking the exact 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable achievements in human history, the two-hour Discovery Canada original documentary MAKE IT TO THE MOON airs Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on CTV, and is available for streaming the same day, only on Crave.
Reihm, one of the expert engineers who provides a first-hand account in the doc, was the director of the spacesuit program at ILC Dover, the company contracted to build the spacesuits for Apollo 11. One of the most amusing and insightful moments in MAKE IT TO THE MOON comes when Reihm admits what it was like for him, watching the astronauts - particularly Buzz Aldrin - playfully bouncing around on the moon, and just seeming to be having a grand ol’ time. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong spent more than two hours on the surface of the moon that day.
“I was thinking, ‘GET UP THAT LADDER!’ ” Reihm recalled with a laugh, during an interview with The Lede. “I was saying, ‘The moon landing is already a success! The only thing you can do now is pull it back from success!’ ”
Reihm fully understood why the astronauts were so excited. But when you’re leading the team that’s responsible for the astronomically complex and intricate spacesuits, it’s easy to see why Reihm would be praying that the astronauts wouldn’t get too rambunctious and do anything to compromise the integrity of the suits, which of course would have had disastrous results.
“Buzz was totally at home on the moon,” Reihm said. “Buzz would obviously have had the same analytical feelings that we would have, except that he personally was totally at home. He was having fun. He wanted to make the most of it. And he wasn't in any big hurry to get back up the ladder, because he didn't see what the hurry was.”
The space race of the 1960s was all about being in a hurry, with the United States and the Soviet Union locked in a battle that had far-reaching technological and political implications. U.S. President John F. Kennedy had promised in 1961 that there would be a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and Reihm was one of the unsung heroes who helped to make it happen, as documented in MAKE IT TO THE MOON.
Reihm said the spacesuits were more like one-man spacecrafts than merely coveralls, and even the slightest irregularity in stitching could lead to tragedy. The suits had 17 layers of advanced materials crucial to keeping an astronaut safe in space, including an outer layer with all the hardware that made the suit functional, a layer to keep oxygen confined in the suit, biomedical layers that allowed for health monitoring, and fire-proof layers, which were instituted following the Apollo 1 tragedy that claimed the lives of three astronauts.
Having overcome so much, and looking back now on the remarkable achievement of Apollo 11, Reihm feels a true sense of accomplishment that few others on the face of the earth could possibly understand.
“It was an international event, there’s no doubt about that,” Reihm said. “Being 31 years old at the time, I'm elated when I think of what it represents now, for all the hard work that our people did, and the pride that they got from it. But in that moment, I had some personal feelings of, I'll be just as happy when this thing gets over!”