It was if Charlie Martin was back in time, testing and tuning the lunar rover, one of Boeing’s greatest contributions to the Apollo missions of yesteryear.
“We put the rover into a space chamber,” said Martin, who worked for 25 years in research and development as a Boeing aerospace technician assigned to NASA’s Apollo program from the late 1960s to the early ’70s. “We had an artificial sun, which was a 23-foot beam that completely covered the rover, so we did a complete mission as if it was on the moon. … They even put it on big shaker tables. It did everything we wanted it to do.”
Inside Boeing Building 1824 in Kent, Martin and crew put the rover to the test in simulation. They played a big role in American space exploration, providing a dependable, battery-powered “moon buggy” for astronauts to navigate the lunar surface.
Amid fanfare Thursday night, the 84-year-old Martin joined Boeing employees and alumni, city and project leaders at mid-court inside the accesso ShoWare Center to bring the rover closer to the public. The group pulled away a large blue sheet to unveil a newly-constructed replica of the vehicle during a ceremony at the bustling Lunar Rover STEM Festival.
Plans are for the interactive rover to land next year in downtown Kent at Kherson Park, 317 W. Gowe St., part of a space-themed installation at the park to recognize Kent’s legacy in moon exploration and to inspire youth to pursue career opportunities in aerospace and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-related fields.
Boeing workers past and present, including lunar rover alumni, beamed as the public soaked in the sight of the vehicle.
“It’s a real moment of pride for me, not only being an employee of Boeing but also a Kent resident,” said Boeing corporate historian Michael Lombardi. “This generation will be able to see what I knew growing up here … that the people I lived next door to would go down the hill to Boeing, and they did something amazing.
“That’s who we are. That there are people in our community that do this sort of thing,” he said. “This is great inspiration to show (others, especially children) that they can do incredible things. We’ve done that here and they can do it too.”
Martin, long since retired as a technician, has become a teacher, sort of an historian today. He has visited groups throughout the area, telling the rover story. He makes time for children to explain how the rover came to be.
“This is great,” he said after sharing a moment in the rover’s seat on stage, pointing out the many functions of the rover to interested youth. “This is a fun time in life.”
The purpose of the project is education, connecting innovation and history of Kent Valley’s past to the possibilities of today and tomorrow for the next generation of scientists, engineers, technicians and explorers.
“That’s the whole point in what we are doing,” said Mayor Dana Ralph. “I am so proud of the work that we’ve done in the past, 50 years ago, that it has so much meaning still today. And just the idea to inspire all these kids to be able to do this again, I could not be prouder. This makes it real.”
The project continues to attract support.
The City Council approved earlier this year spending $123,615 for a company to build the replica, although more than $85,000 of that will come from private fundraising efforts.
The project got a boost Thursday when the Kent Lions contributed $10,000 to the effort. Boeing donated $25,000 to ignite the fundraising campaign. People can donate at ApolloLunarRover.com.
The rovers were first built at Kent’s Boeing Space Center in 1969. The three lunar rovers used in NASA’s historic Apollo Missions 15, 16 and 17 remain on the moon.
“This is the fourth one,” Ralph told the crowd, “and it’s going to stay here in the heart of Kent in our new space-themed park.”
Michelle Wilmot, city economic development program manager, led the campaign to get landmark designation for the vehicles. The eight-member King County Landmarks Commission in July unanimously granted the city landmark designation for the three lunar rovers.
The city recently received a King County Executive’s John D. Spellman Award for Exemplary Achievement in Historic Preservation category for its regional campaign for landmark designation of the rovers.
Thursday’s festival featured hands-on STEM activities for kids of all ages, displays, information and resource booths, and guest characters from Star Wars. More than 700 people attended the event, according to city officials.