Like millions around the world 50 years ago today, current Tusculum resident Walt Stone watched the first step of a human onto the surface of the moon on his home television.
Over many days prior to when he settled in front of that black-and-white screen, though, he’d been far closer to the Apollo 11 mission, and in fact had played a personal role in one aspect of it.
When Walt Stone heard the iconic phrase “The Eagle has landed,” he heard it not through his television, but through electronic means tied almost directly to the astronauts, and not accessible to the general public.
And he heard it 30 seconds before the rest of us.
At that period of his life, now-80-year-old Walt Stone was a young Navy veteran working as an electronics technician for RCA Service Company. If that sounds like a television repair business, it wasn’t. RCA Service Company built most of the equipment used in tracking Apollo 11 and relaying it to the world.
“RCA had all of the downrange instrumentation, all of it,” Stone recalled in an interview last week. “All the radar units were made by RCA,” though “a couple of the microwave units were made by Motorola.”
The location of Stone’s job when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were bounding about on the barren moon was Rosman, North Carolina, at the Rosman Satellite Tracking Station. The site, established by NASA in 1962, was part of the worldwide Spacecraft Tracking and Data Acquisition Network, and a key communications link for Project Gemini and Project Apollo, manned space programs of the “space race” era.
At the time Stone began working at Rosman in 1965, four years prior to Apollo 11, the complex was still developing, and much of it was downright “primitive,” Stone recalled.
Though there was a large, modern building informally called “the Big House” at the mostly rural location, the facilities in which Stone and about 50 others operated consisted of two mobile units. The clearest visual evidence of 1960s high-tech at the location were the two huge communications dishes on site.
At first, Stone and companions didn’t even have a restroom in their work area. The surrounding woods were often used as a substitute. He recalls the time one man came running out of those woods with a copperhead snake clinging to his trousers. It had struck at the man while he was answering a call of nature. The snake’s fangs fortunately connected only with trouser fabric, not human flesh.
Eventually a restroom facility and small lounge was built, and finally a “full-blown instrumentation building,” Stone said.
In normal times, the work done at Rosman was mostly routine, uneventful tracking of satellites, but when a manned space flight was in progress, things grew more interesting.
When the Apollo 11 launched, almost all attention at Rosman turned to it. Initially, though, the journey up to space was fairly bland, things working correctly, routinely. Once lunar orbit began, things perked up some, the descent to the moon’s surface growing closer by the hour.
“What we were mostly doing at that time was listening in,” to the communications between the astronauts and the ground, Stone said. He recalls the astronauts engaging in friendly banter with one another, the technical folks on the ground getting to listen in.
One of the things Stone knows but most Americans perhaps do not, was that there was a 30-second delay in communications, visual and auditory, between Apollo 11 and the general public on earth, including the press. This, Stone said, made news reporters and broadcasters angry at the time. “They wondered why they couldn’t get it all live,” he said.
A NASA spokesman gave the reason, saying, as Walt remembers it: “Not all our astronauts are Sunday School teachers.” It was a veiled reference to the fact that some people curse, and astronauts are people. And indeed a few things were said by the space men that justified the precaution, such as Armstrong’s frank and salty commentary on whatever mission planner allowed a potentially serious fuel-related problem to come about.
One of the challenges of landing on the moon, Stone said, was that it required development of rocket engines that could be “throttled,” allowing the thrust to be reduced so the landing craft could descend gradually. Good engineering overcame the difficulties.
There was some improvisation involved in bringing the lunar module down to the moon. The terrain where NASA insisted on landing the craft proved problematic, something Stone said had been forewarned, with NASA paying little heed.
Clever piloting and fast adjustments allowed Armstrong to bring the module down safely, but with fuel almost entirely expended in the process.
Stone was still working his shift when the moon landing occurred, allowing him to hear Armstrong’s message, “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed,” as it was being said (rather than 30 seconds later). But his shift ended and he had to race home in time to see the astronauts actually step out and set foot on lunar soil, or “green cheese,” as Stone likes to call it.
He remembers the sense of relief and happiness when the mission successfully reached the moon, and just as importantly, when it made it safely home again.
A year later, Stone and others working in and around the space program would experience a far more stressful, troubling space mission with the launching of Apollo 13, a planned lunar mission that was fraught with trouble and barely made it home again.
An upcoming column in The Greeneville Sun will present some of Stone’s memories and thoughts about Apollo 13. Was it as bad as everyone thought then and later? What was it like to be close on the edges of that near-disaster? And did Ron Howard’s film starring Tom Hanks get the story mostly right?
Stone has other life tales worth hearing as well — his growing up poor in Southwest Virginia and the difficulties and joys that involved, how he was present when three of the dozen astronauts who walked on the moon visited the Greeneville airport. And there are more tales than that.
In the meantime, today he’ll be busy reliving the day 50 years ago when he was involved in one of world history’s boldest and biggest events.
The Greene County Fair will kick off on Monday for its 70th season, though with several changes from previous years.
“Preparation for the fair has been going really well and we’re right on track,” said Rick Clark, president of the Greene County Fair Committee. “It’s two weeks earlier than before. Scheduling has always been a problem because of the first week of school, but we think this will be better.”
In addition to the date change, some rearranging has allowed for a third night of the Demolition Derby — Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Perhaps the most notable difference for the fair this year is parking. On Friday and Saturday evening, guests will have the option to park at the upper lot of Chasan Industries, the location of the former Magnavox building. The lot contains roughly 300 spaces, and guests must enter the lot from Kiser Boulevard in order to park. A free shuttle bus by Premier will begin to transfer guests to the Greene County Fairgrounds at 5:30 p.m., and the final shuttle will run at 11 p.m.
Handicap parking will also be changing. The entire lot next to the Expo Center will be available for guests with handicaps, which Clark says will make it easier to tell when the lot is full. Additional handicap parking will be available between gates 1 and 2 and gates 4 and 5.
The gates open each weekday at 4 p.m., at 1 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. The carnival will be open from Monday to Sunday, starting at 5 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“The carnival originally wasn’t supposed to be open on Monday, but the carnival is running ahead of schedule and we should be set to do a final inspection this weekend,” said Clark.
Ticket prices are $7 per day for adults and children 12 and older. Children ages 6 through 11 are admitted for $2 each, and children under 5 are free. Season passes are also available for $25.
The fair opens Monday with senior citizens’ and veterans day. Visitors ages 60 and over and veterans can attend the fair for $4.
The Medic Blood Mobile will also be at the fair Monday, and admission to the fair is free in exchange for a blood donation. Blood donors may choose which evening they would like free admission to the fair.
Among the scheduled events are smoker tractor pulls at 7 p.m. in the Jim Saulsbury Motorsports Arena and DJ Trivia East Tennessee at 7 p.m. in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion. Music bingo will begin at 9 p.m.
As per usual, the Tri-Am RV Main Stage will host the Fairest of the Fair Contest at 8 p.m. for contestants ages 16 to 21. The winner will qualify to attend the state competition, receive a $1,000 college scholarship and a $500 clothing allowance for the state competition.
Featured events on Tuesday include tractor and truck pulls at 7 p.m. in the motorsports arena and the corn bag toss tournament at 7 p.m., sponsored by Greeneville Federal Bank. The carnival will open at 5 p.m.
The main stage will host the Little Miss Fairest of the Fair at 6:30 p.m.
A Junior Miss Fairest of the Fair competition will immediately follow the Little Miss Fairest of the Fair at 7:30 p.m.
Country musician Justin Terry will perform at 9 p.m. in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion.
Featured events on Wednesday include the School of Morton Wrestling at 7 p.m. in the Livestock Show Barn, sponsored by Southstate Contractors. The corn bag toss tournament will continue at 7 p.m., sponsored by Greeneville Federal Bank.
Music bingo will be in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion at 8 p.m. Also at 8 p.m. will be the Southern Rough Stock Association Rodeo in the motorsports arena. Sponsoring the event are Davy Crockett TA Travel Center, Papa Johns and Dunkin Donuts.
The Whiskey Sticks will perform on the main stage at 9 p.m.
Featured events Thursday include Demolition Derby-Powder Puff at 7 p.m. in the motorsports arena. The event is sponsored by Kyker’s Extreme Automotive and Advance Auto Parts. The corn bag toss tournament will continue at 7 p.m., sponsored by Greeneville Federal Bank.
A Youth Talent Contest will be held on the main stage at 7 p.m. This contest includes ages 13 through 21, and the winners will be eligible to attend the Regional Youth Talent Award Contest at the Tennessee Valley Fair.
Strong Ties, a bluegrass gospel band, will perform on the main stage at 9 p.m. Madison Metcalfe and her accompanying band will also perform at 9 p.m. in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion.
A Teeny Tiny Tale Contest will be held in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion at 7 p.m. This contest includes ages 1 through 12.
The Demolition Derby, sponsored by Terry Law Firm, will begin at 7 p.m. in the motorsports arena.
Able Brown will perform on the main stage at 7 p.m., followed by Joe Lasher Jr. at 9 p.m.
Featured events include the Demolition Derby at 6 p.m. in the motorsports arena. The corn bag toss championship round will start at 7 p.m., sponsored by Greeneville Federal Bank.
The Dugger Band will play on the main stage at 7 p.m.
The Aaron Walker Band will perform at 9 p.m. in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion.
A rendition of Family Feud will begin at 9 p.m. on the main stage. Contestants will be picked by a random drawing at 8 p.m. Five family members must be present in order for the family to compete. The deadline to enter is Friday, July 26, at 5 p.m. To register, please visit greenecountyfair.com.
First Christian Church will be sponsoring a Christian Music Fest in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The Baby Show, in the Andrew Johnson Bank Pavilion, will take place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Classes 1-7 will compete Tuesday at 6 p.m. Classes 8-14 will compete Thursday at 6 p.m. Classes 15-20 will be held Saturday at 5 p.m.
There will be five places in each division and a Friendliest Baby award in each class. Contestants are based purely on cuteness, not on clothing.
For more information about the baby show classes, please visit greenecountyfair.com.
Livestock shows are planned Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The schedule, according to the fair’s printed guide, is:
Further details about agricultural and livestock contests, entertainment and events can be found at greenecountyfair.com.
Guzzle more water and blast the air conditioning.
Forecasters warn that a heat wave is expected to produce dangerously hot temperatures through early next week.
“We usually have a few days each summer were temperatures rise like this, so this isn’t completely uncommon,” said Tim Doyle, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown. Still, he said the public should be aware of the scorching weather. This weekend, actual temperature highs won’t be so bad.
The heat index — what the temperature actually feels like when relative humidity combines with the air temperature — is what has forecasters concerned.
Saturday’s high is 90. Sunday’s peak temperature is 85.
But the heat index could reach 100 both days, and may climb as high as 103 in Greeneville on Saturday.
Especially troubling is the heat index reflects how hot it will feel in the shade. If you’re outdoors in direct sunlight, add several degrees.
In theory, the “feels like” temperature in an open Greene County field on Saturday could top out around 115.
On Friday, Doyle said he and his Morristown colleagues were deciding whether or not to issue an excessive heat warning for the region. Parts of southeast Kentucky, as well as portions of Middle and West Tennessee, are under that warning through Sunday.
“Technically, the criteria for our office is a 105-heat index,” he said.
Nationwide, about 40 children die each year after they are left in locked vehicles, figures from the National Weather Service show.
The Tennessee Department of Health and the weather service offer a range of tips as the public endures the toasty weather:
Across the United States and around the world, the sweltering summer is breaking records.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last month was the world’s hottest on record, besting 2016 for the hottest June. Those records stretch back 139 years to 1880.
NOAA also announced Thursday that this year’s January-June ranks as the third warmest for that period in recorded history.
Fortunately for Greene County, temperatures will be a bit cooler during the middle part of the week. Tuesday’s high is 77, with rain likely. Wednesday’s top temperature is forecast at 80.
As muggy conditions grip northeast Tennessee, strong thunderstorms are possible through early next week. Gusty winds, heavy rain and frequent lighting are all possible. There is a 40 percent chance of storms Saturday and a 50 percent chance on Sunday.
Less than 24 hours after the incident, Greeneville police were filing arrest warrants late Friday against a man suspected of pulling the trigger in a shooting that wounded another man.
Greeneville Police Department Chief Tim Ward said just before 11:30 p.m. Friday that warrants were being filed against Kevin Yarnell Mackey, 36. Police say Mackey should be considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached.
Mackey is being charged on two counts, aggravated assault and being a felon in possession of a firearm, Ward said.
Police received a report of a man shot just after 11:45 p.m. Thursday and responded to 1016 Tusculum Blvd., where officers found one man with apparent gunshot wounds, GPD Capt. Tim Davis said in an early Friday news release.
Greene County-Greeneville Emergency Medical Service transported the victim to an unnamed area hospital for treatment. Details about the man’s identity and condition have not yet been released.
Ward credited a team of approximately 20 officers for diligent work on the case, in which the public’s help had also been sought. Hours of police investigation preceded the warrants’ issuance late Friday night.
Other details, including investigators’ narrative of events leading up to the shooting, had not yet been released as of press time.
Monitor GreenevilleSun.com and see Monday’s edition of The Greeneville Sun for additional information as it becomes available.