It’s an exciting and golden time for the city of Friendswood as the entire community gears up to launch its own special celebration of NASA’s 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first man on the moon. When President John F. Kennedy announced the space program in 1961, it aimed the course of Friendswood toward the stars forever.
“There are a lot of NASA employees still living here who were involved with Apollo 11 and so many residents here now who work at the Johnson Space Center,” said Friendswood Mayor Mike Foreman, a former NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy test pilot who served in two missions to the International Space Station and completed five space walks. “With a lot of input from great folks, we’ve planned a full week of activities for late July. We’ll have a car show, a concert in the park, and activities for kids like rocket building, working alongside engineers who were working at the space center during Apollo.”
At the heart of the celebration, the city is paying deep homage to the persons who made the launch possible. From the spouses of leaders and NASA employees, to the engineers and people who manned the controls in the space center.
“We’ve organized a series of panel discussions featuring distinguished guests and speakers to present at the library,” said Harold Benson, the former Head of Landing and Docking Systems at the time of the Apollo Mission. “One of the panelists is a man who worked on the space suits and backpacks worn by the astronauts, another is an astronaut who did a spacewalk, and a flight controller who was on the job. One panelist is a gentleman who was on board the ship that picked up the astronauts when the space craft landed in the South Pacific.”
Celebrating the personnel and people who worked on the project, the city is acknowledging the many individuals and the community they helped to create, Benson said.
“People came in from everywhere,” Benson said. “They shaped the city’s future. About 16 percent came from what was known then as the Langley Aeronautical Research Laboratory which was established in 1917; mostly engineers and aeronautical researchers.”
One of the biggest impacts was dramatic population growth.
“Friendswood was just a rural town in the 1950s with about 500 people,” said historian Joycina Day Baker, author of Friendswood, a Settlement of Friendly Folk, an account of the city’s history. “By the mid 1960s it was approaching nearly 6,000.”
Baker’s husband opened the first full-scale grocery store in Friendswood in the early 1950s – the Lucky 7 – and she met many of the NASA personnel and wives of top executives who shopped there. “They were just regular folks,” Baker recalled. “Wonderful people, real friendly and a big part of the community. They were good customers, too.”