Monday, May 3, 2010

Guenter Wendt, 1924-2010

From friend and Apollo obsessive (I use the term with affection) Sharyn November I learned that Guenter Wendt passed away this morning. Wendt was the “pad leader” for the Apollo flights, the man who ran the White Room at the top of the launch tower and who oversaw the astronauts’ ingress into their spaceships. Several astronauts describe riding up to the White Room on launch day as the moment that it hit them that, yes, this is really going to happen. Wendt and his closeout crew were waiting for them at the top, a last set of trusted hands and eyes to see them on their way.

Wendt (someone playing Wendt, I should say) appears briefly in the movie Apollo 13; Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell gets the line, “I vhonder vhere Guenter vhent?” (It’s a joke that was actually made by Donn Eisele on Apollo 7, but who’s counting?) Wendt’s German background and accent seem to have been a running source of comic material for the astronauts, with mixed results; he was affectionately known as the “pad f├╝hrer,” and there’s a photo out there somewhere of Alan Shepard giving him a WW II-era German helmet labeled “Col. Guenter Klink” as a gag gift just before the liftoff of Apollo 14. The image is a little jarring and apparently Wendt wasn’t thrilled with the gift, but I suppose nobody ever said Al Shepard was hired for his cultural sensitivity.

Wendt is not mentioned in Moonshot, but I included him (and his glasses and bow tie) as the man sealing the hatch in the drawing above. An obituary today at the web site Collect Space, here, points out that Wendt never actually closed the door himself (So do I tell you that the drawing includes a mistake, or artistic license? Okay, mistake.) but also helps give an idea of why I wanted him in the book.

Wendt’s personal web site is here.

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