The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was a huge media event, but it was a hugely personal event for Port Orange resident Kathleen Esposito.
Ms. Esposito's father, Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, was director of NASA’s Apollo Manned Lunar Landing Program from 1964 to 1969.
Gen. Phillips, a four-star general in the U.S. Air Force, also served as director of the National Security Agency from 1972-73 and as commander, Air Force Systems Command, in 1973-75. He earned numerous awards and honors, including the Smithsonian Institution’s Langley Gold Medal in aviation and space exploration for his contributions to the Apollo program. It was in 1969 that America put the first man on the moon.
Ms. Esposito and her husband, John, traveled to Denver for a week-long Apollo Palooza celebration recently at the Wings over the Rockies Museum, where she introduced two prominent people, Dr. Darren Raspa and Dr. Robert Zubrin, during the events. Dr. Raspa is working on a biography of Gen. Phillips and Dr. Zubrin is president of the Mars Society and author of The Case for Space.
“My father would be happy with the resurgence of the space program,” she said.
Her father, when talking to Congress after the Apollo 11 mission, said, “We should make a major commitment to a mission to Mars, like we did with Apollo.” The moon is considered a “stepping stone” to Mars.
She said that, in 1989, when her father was giving a speech at the Werhner von Braun Memorial Symposium, he said “I am convinced that if we had committed to a Mars mission in 1969 with the same kind of determination and support that we gave to the Apollo mission today, we would be in the final stages of a Mars voyage.”
That was 20 years ago, she said, and we’re still a long way from landing on Mars. She worked with author Richard Maurer, giving him information on her father as he wrote Destination Moon.
Another author, Dr. von Braun, wrote Space Frontier and signed a copy of the book for Gen Phillips with this inscription: “Under his competent and enlightened leadership, we landed the first man on the moon.”
Dr. von Braun was an aerospace engineer who worked on the Nazi Germany rocket development program under Hitler during WWII before secretly coming to the U.S. He was assimilated into NASA and worked on the Apollo program with Gen. Phillips.
In today’s world, Ms. Esposito said, her father would say, “We need a commitment to something big, where we come together as a nation -- a team to accomplish something for the greater good.” She thinks her father would want to unite us in strength, create jobs, advance science and technology, and advance peace keeping defense. Her father was a visionary.
Mr. Esposito added that John F. Kennedy wanted to send men to the moon in the 1960s, but the only way to get NASA to reach this goal was to bring high level men into NASA with skills. Gen. Phillips, with systems engineering in the Air Force, was brought to NASA as the Apollo program director.
In the movie, Apollo 11, there are some cameo shots of Gen. Phillips. In numerous NASA photos, Gen. Phillips is pictured with other prominent NASA and government figures. Ms. Esposito loaned many pieces of memorabilia to the Wings over the Rockies Museum when she was in Denver.
“I just want to make sure my father’s place in history is preserved,” she said.
That wish is literally paved in concrete. In September 1991, the main road to Cape Canaveral was officially named the Samuel C. Phillips Parkway.