This year, July 24th will mark the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.
If you were born in the last half-century, you’ve never known a world before lunar exploration. You have no doubt read about the moon landings in every history class, seen them play out on screen a dozen times and absorbed every image, sound and quote about them until they have become another simple fact of life.
Gerry Griffin ’56 has a different perspective. Not only does he remember a time when landing on the moon was an outrageous goal, but he also remembers being part of the team that made it happen.
In the 1950s, Griffin enrolled at Texas A&M University in the Corps of Cadets with the intention of enlisting in the military soon after. When he graduated in 1956, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were approaching an all-time high. A year later, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth, and kicked off the space race. Griffin was a U.S. Air Force officer at the time, and he knew then that he wanted to help take his country to the final frontier.
In 1964, Griffin joined hundreds of engineers and scientists at NASA to help conduct the iconic Apollo missions, which took men to the moon and back. He acted as a flight director on every Apollo mission, including Apollo 8, which first sent men into lunar orbit, and Apollo 11, in which men first landed on the moon’s surface. When a massive oxygen tank failure threatened the lives of the three crew members aboard Apollo 13, Griffin’s team executed a critical maneuver to get those astronauts safely back on Earth’s soil before time ran out.
If Aggies today can learn anything from stories like Griffin’s, it is that great advancements don’t occur spontaneously. They come from dedicated people who work diligently to do what has never been done before. Griffin didn’t leave college knowing how to send people to the moon, but he nevertheless had faith that he and his team could get the job done—and he credits his Texas A&M education with inspiring that faith in him.
To give back to the university, Griffin recently donated his Aggie ring, which traveled to the moon aboard Apollo 12, to be displayed in the renovated and expanded Zachry Engineering Education Complex. If you get the opportunity to see his ring on display, take a long look at it and remember all the Aggies who have come before us and the lives they have impacted. Remember that what we do here at Texas A&M matters and how you choose to use your skills matters: The sky is not the limit. You decide how far you can go from here.
Thanks and Gig ’em,
Tyson Voelkel ’96
President, Texas A&M Foundation