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Ypsilanti Man Helped Put Science Experiments On The Moon For Apollo 17 Mission

Nearly 50 years ago, the world came to a stop when the first human walked on the moon.  It's a time in history that will once again be celebrated during this special anniversary.  As part of our Moon Landing coverage, 89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan interviewed a Washtenaw County resident about his experience with another Moon Landing mission.

"That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

About 600 million people watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20th, 1969.  Among them was then 33 year-old Wayne Morsfield from Ypsilanti.  At the time, he was working as a design engineer for the Ann Arbor electronics and radar research firm called Conductron.

"I was at home with family, and we were sitting on the living room floor watching TV and watching the footsteps going down the ladder and the imprint on the moon.  Again, it was just very unreal.  We’re watching live photographs of people on the moon.  That’s just surreal." said Morsfield.  

What’s even more surreal is that Morsfield had no idea that, three years later, he would watch another moon landing that he would appreciate even more.

"As I step off at the surface at Taurus-Littrow, I’d like to dedicate the first step of Apollo 17 to all of those who made it possible."

Shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, Morsfied accepted a new job as a design engineer for Bendix Aerospace Systems Division in Ann Arbor.  He helped astronaut Gene Cernan set foot on the moon on December 11th, 1972 to conduct lunar science experiments for Apollo 17.  I met up with Morsfield at St. Joseph’s Village in Ypsilanti.  It’s a senior assisted living facility he now calls home.

"I worked on what was known as the Lunar Mass Spectrometer.  And its purpose was to analyze the gases that were residue on the moon surface.  There is a very slight atmosphere, there’s no oxygen, so it’s not breathable.  But they were examining, they identified half a dozen of different elements that compose the atmosphere.  So they were tracking what those elements were, how they change with lunar day, lunar night and with time," added Morsfield.

During the 1960’s, Bendix Aerospace Systems Division already had military contracts in place, that relationship helped them get a contract with NASA.  Bendix helped build and test theEarly Apollo Scientific Experiment Package that was part of Apollo 11. 

Morsfield says he’s had a passion for space since 1954 when NASA recruited him to work as an engineering aide at one of their testing facilities in Cleveland, Ohio.  He was obtaining an electrical engineering degree at the time.  With a smile on his face, the 83 year-old says our Apollo 17 conversation brings back good memories of when he worked at Bendix.

"They had a conference call with the astronauts on the moon to talk about some issues they had with the scientific package that was left there or with different instruments.  So, they patched the astronauts directly into the Bendix conference room, and, based on my knowledge with the particular experiment that I worked on, I was asked to attend that meeting as a representative should they have any questions about that.  So, I never got to talk directly on the phone to them, but I sat in the conference room listening to this call and at times thinking, this is just unreal.  We’re talking to people who are on the moon," said Morsfield. 

Stories like those are like music to Peter Church’s ears.  He’s a volunteer for the Ypsilanti Historical Society’s archive department.  Church plans to meet with Morsfield to document his work with Apollo 17. 

"For the Ypsilanti Historical Society, they’re always after those first source type information from people who have either have done it, or saw it, or participated in it.  So, yeah, this definitely fits into I think the overall collection and does tie people even closer to the history," said Church. 

It’s been nearly 47 years since astronauts placed Morsfield’s equipment on the moon, and it still remains there.  He says it’s about the size of a car battery and weighs six pounds.   

Jorge: "Are there nights when you look-up at the moon and think about your work, your equipment?"
Wayne: "Oh yeah, when you get a nice full moon up there, I say, 'I wonder where it is up there.' The design life was a couple of years and the experiment had some problems with high voltage, which you don’t experience on Earth as much as you would think. So, it eventually failed but they still have some, I think they’re still able to communicate with some of the experiments up there.

Morsfield left Bendix in 1976 and went on to work as an engineer for the auto industry.  And while the astronauts were the face of the historic Apollo missions, it's people like Wayne Morsfield from Ypsilanti who should also be recognized as heroes for the work they did.

The Ypsilanti Historical Society will host a 50th anniversary Moon Landing celebration.  For more information, click here.  The Ann Arbor District Library is also hosting events.  View those here.  Eastern Michigan University will offer a special anniversary presentation at the Mark Jefferson Science Complexon July 16th.  Meanwhile, University of Michigan professors will take part in an event hosted at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in conjuction with Detroit Public TV. 

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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