45 OG Det 3 and Apollo 11: 50 years later

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dalton Williams

On July 24, 1969 at 11:49 a.m., astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, landed in the Pacific Ocean after setting a milestone in human history.

After splashdown, personnel from the Department of Defense Manned Spaceflight Support Office (DDMS) swarmed the landing area and were able to safely recover all astronauts aboard the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia and transport them onto the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12).

The successful recovery of crew, research and equipment was a result of hard work, planning and training accomplished by DDMS, which is now the 45th Operations Group, Detachment 3.

On August 10, 1959, a memorandum was signed establishing the DDMS and its duties to NASA. The office's responsibilities were to provide worldwide rescue and recovery of astronauts. They were also responsible for planning resources and personnel leading up to recovery missions.

"It was a logical marriage between the Department of Defense and NASA," said Brent Maney, 45 OG, Det 3 contingency specialist. "The DoD had the capability and experience to provide worldwide rescue and recovery of astronauts assisting with NASA operations."

In the lead up to the Apollo 11 mission, numerous training exercises were performed including U.S. Navy divers and U.S. Air Force pararescuemen.

Practicing astronaut recovery came with challenges. Fears of possible biohazards acquired during the Apollo 11 mission required both the recovery teams and astronauts to wear Biological Isolation Garments (BIGS) for protection. For further biohazard protection, all equipment and personnel were scrubbed down with a bleach solution making it hard to grasp anything, let alone rescue it.

Besides training, there was a significant logistical situation to tackle. How do you acquire and organize all the people and equipment to support Apollo 11? Two lifeguards in a paddle boat would not cut it. A mountainous amount of resources needed to be in place before July 24, 1969.

DDMS got to work preparing plans, orders, documents and recommendations. These would detail: the who, what, where, when and how to safely recover three American heroes in the Pacific Ocean.

Their personnel also had to decide on the number of ships needed for recovery operations, number of search and recovery aircraft needed, requirements for intricate worldwide communications systems and placement of medical teams.

Despite these challenges and because of how DDMS was established, they were able to easily access different branches of services to acquire the necessary personnel and resources for the mission.

DDMS traveled to NASA Mission Control in Houston, 24 hours prior to the launch to assume operational control of recovery forces and support the mission.

Because of DDMS's coordination and hard work, 6,927 personnel, 54 aircraft and 9 ships were able to support Apollo 11 operations and successfully recover the Apollo 11 crew.

"It's amazing to think that 50 years later we are still here providing worldwide recovery and support for human spaceflight operations," said Lt Col Michael Thompson, 45 OG, Det 3 commander. "50 years later, our office runs on the same grit and determination that got man on the moon."