SEQUIM — It’s a simple fact retired U.S. Air Force Col. Joey Lazzaro knows well and sometimes passes along as advice to youngsters considering their future endeavors: It doesn’t hurt to be lucky.
The Sequim resident worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and was part of the mission control team that oversaw operations during Apollo 11’s landmark lunar landing 50 years ago this month.
Lazzaro looks to share a bit of what he experienced as part of a massive crew of scientists, engineers and others involved in this and other Apollo missions at a special presentation set for 6 tonight at Shipley Center, 921 E. Hammond St.
Advanced tickets are required and are $10 for general public, $5 for center members; only 120 are available. Funds raised go to Shipley Center’s nonprofit operations. (See www.shipleycenter.org or call 360-683-6806.)
While a number of those involved in the lunar landing July 20, 1969, are giving perspective on their respective roles on this milestone anniversary, Lazzaro said he aims to “talk about what happens on the ground” during his Shipley Center event. A question-and-answer session follows.
Lazzaro was working on a U.S. Air Force missile crew in Montana when he was first contacted to work in conjunction with NASA efforts in the mid-1960s; they wanted someone with experience in missile communications, he recalled. Lazzaro’s particular program was canceled, however, and while a number of his fellow Air Force cohorts went to serve in the Vietnam War, he stayed stateside.
About 20 months later he was contacted again to work with NASA, which led to a four-year stint working with NASA from 1968 to 1971.
Lazzaro said he got to work on numerous key missions, from Apollo 7 to Apollo 15.
“There was no question: We were in a space race,” Lazzaro recalled. “Every time we did something in space it was for the first time.”
For much of his time in NASA’s Mission Operations Control Room, Lazzaro worked as a procedures officer making sure operations were followed properly.
Within the Control Room there were three shifts of about 30 people or more at a time, he recalled. It surprised him that so many there were relatively young; most were in their 30s, Lazzaro said, and he was 34 at the time of the moon landing.
In addition, there were about 400 to 450 support staff just outside the control room and countless others involved in missions at various locations, he said.
Lazzaro was instrumental in helping with the constant recording of data as astronauts on various missions orbited the Earth — which meant he gave orders to move a ship or airplane from one location to the other.
He said the Apollo 1 incident — the first crewed mission of the Apollo mission never flew after a capsule fire killed three crew members — changed the program significantly.
“It was preventable … but we learned a lot,” Lazzaro said. “Everything [following] was triple-redundant.”
As for the lunar landing? “There was no doubt we would get it done,” he said.
The fervor for space exploration dwindled after the moon landing, Lazzaro said, and NASA completed just 17 of the 20 slated Apollo flights.
“People were asking, ‘Why are we spending money to go to space?’ ” he said. The cost of the program was relatively little compared to what else the government was spending money on, he said.
That continued for years, Lazzaro noted — something that disappointed him and might have been helped if NASA had been able to better promote what they were doing and all of the ancillary technology that came out of the space program.
While most involved in the space program left for various promising careers with entities such as the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Lazzaro continued his U.S. Air Force career, overseeing launching and testing in various missile programs such as the Minuteman III ballistic missile.
He worked in Washington, D.C., for a number of years and ended his 26-year military stint once again working with NASA. He spent 1982-86 in the Space Shuttle program, helping coordinate efforts and resources between the military and the administration.
“I got to wear civilian clothes for eight years,” Lazzaro joked.
Lazzaro went on to work for the Boeing Co. for a dozen years, the last two years in Seattle. He and his wife, Mahina, who leads and teaches Hawaiian dance classes, began spending more time on the Peninsula.
As Lazzaro puts it, the couple “slowly drifted up here.”
Music fans may recognize him from his trumpet playing with the Olympic Express Big Band and Cat’s Meow, a five-piece jazz band.
The retired Air Force colonel said he’s planning on joining a number of his fellow Apollo 11 colleagues back in Houston for the 50th anniversary. A $5 million historic preservation project has restored the iconic control room used in the moon landing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and it reopened to visitors July 1.