Roger Richmond had the day off. It was understandable considering he was the lone architect on staff surrounded by more than 5,000 engineers working at NASA.

Nonessential personnel were not allowed at mission control in Houston, so like most everyone 50 years ago today, Richmond sat at home that evening, glued to his television watching the grainy images of astronaut Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon, followed soon by Buzz Aldrin.

“It was unbelievably exciting,” Richmond said last week from his home in South Freeport. “It was quite an event. Those guys were like gods.”

Roger Richmond holds two of his prized possessions from the Apollo 11 mission that he was part of in the 1960s. At left is a label from the box that the space suits were delivered in and at right is a commemorative replica of that plaque that was placed on the moon. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Richmond, who came to Maine years after his NASA tenure, is among  a small number of Mainers with ties to the space program. Two graduates from the University of Maine hold management positions overseeing the International Space Station. And of the 38 astronauts on active status, two are from Maine — Chris Cassidy of York and Jessica Meir of Caribou.

Cassidy has been in space twice, while Meir is preparing for her first flight in September, which will include several months on the International Space Station.

NASA’s only architect and 5,000 engineers

Richmond was a graduate student in Florida when he received permission from NASA to explore the living conditions on a space station or on the moon.

They had never considered the difficulty of living in space for long durations and the monotony of living under unchanging conditions, he said.

“Change the environment, the lighting and the temperature to derive some stimulus to it,” Richmond said. “Otherwise, they would get unquestionably bored if the environment didn’t change.”

NASA saw value in his work and hired him as the agency’s first architect. He designed mock-ups of space stations and moon ports, bringing an Earth quality to the living conditions in space and featuring outside stimuli.

This photo is a concept space station module that Roger Richmond designed. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

It was his first year at NASA at age 22 that Apollo 11 landed on the moon. He excitedly recalls getting the chance to walk closely past the space capsule Columbia that returned the crew to the Earth.

Richmond left NASA after a couple of years, but remained active as a consultant to the agency. He came to Maine in 1981 to start the state’s first architectural curriculum at the University of Maine at Augusta. He believes it was also the first one in New England at a public school.

Space station office

Born in Bangor in 1972, Dr. George Nelson lived in Frenchville for several years before graduating from Ellsworth High School in 1990. He went to UMaine and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree.

While he was always intrigued by NASA, a career with the space agency didn’t seem possible.

“I’ve always been a big fan of the space program,” Nelson said. “You don’t think it could be a likely option living in The County. But a friend of mine called and said there was NASA money available to go to grad school.”

After graduate studies at the University of Kentucky, Nelson arrived at NASA in 1998 and began working with the International Space Station team.

Roughly a decade ago, Nelson sought to become an astronaut. He said he reached the final round in the selection process, before coming up short.

Nelson serves as director of the Technology and Science Research Office for the ISS, which oversees the experiments and cargo delivered to the station.

With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing being celebrated, Nelson calls it a “pretty enduring achievement,” but they have enough work to keep everyone distracted.

Another UMaine graduate, Bridget Ziegelaar, an Old Town native, serves as operations manager for NASA’s International Space Station Research Integration Office. She was unavailable for comment the past two weeks.

Future trips in space

Chris Cassidy of York, a Navy SEAL for 10 years, became an astronaut in 2004 and flew on one of the final space shuttle missions. He later flew on the Russian Soyuz capsule in 2013.

American astronaut Chris Cassidy of York, Maine. NASA photo

Cassidy was the 500th person to fly into space.

He has made six space walks, lasting 31 hours, and has spent nearly 182 days in space.

Cassidy was inspired by fellow Navy SEAL and astronaut William Shepherd to become an astronaut, following the same path to the astronaut office.

Having flown on both the space shuttle and Soyuz, Cassidy compares them to riding in a large pickup truck and a Mini Cooper.

The training for both is different, he said, with much of the Soyuz training happening in Moscow before it blasts off from Kazakhstan. Nearly all of the training is in Russian. All American astronauts must be fluent in Russian.

His Maine colleague Jessica Meir just returned to Moscow in the past couple of days to finalize training for her September mission.

“Jessica is very well-prepared and excited,” Cassidy said. “When you’re assigned to a mission, you get two years to prepare. She’s more than ready.”

Astronaut Jessica Meir during International Space Station training. Bill Stafford/NASA NASA-Bill Stafford

He expects to fly again, perhaps as soon as next year, and could be on the space station at the same time as Meir. It likely will not be on a commercial space flight, which was the plan until recently.

“Commercial space flight is a little bit delayed,” he said. “They’re not ready to go.”

With a tentative mission to the moon in 2024, Cassidy said he would leap at a chance to go. He remains amazed at the fearlessness of the Apollo astronauts, who were basically test pilots in space.

“Their successes are what is allowing us to keep operating today,” Cassidy said. “It almost feels routine now. That wasn’t the case back then. It was all new. Every flight was testing something new.”

 

 

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