PILLAGER -- Elsworth Gerrels, a 1952 graduate of Pillager High School, returned to his home school recently to share his enthusiasm for space science.
"I never planned on being a rocket scientist," he said.
He intended to work for the automobile industry designing cars, but after the launch of Sputnik, he was recruited to be a member of the NASA team working side by side with the famous German scientist, Werner Von Braun.
Elzie, as his friends call him, studied at Macalester College, the University of Minnesota and the University of California in Los Angeles earning a degree in electrical engineering and an advanced degree in nuclear engineering.
In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the United States with the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Gerrels was a member of the NASA team that accomplished this goal with the Apollo 11 manned flight to the moon in 1969, where he was responsible for designing the last 18 minutes of the launch countdown.
After the Apollo missions, he was asked to head a NASA team to begin work on a manned mission to Mars. Gerrels said he is considered a manned space expert with emphasis on nuclear power.
After retiring from NASA in 1995, he has been serving as a consultant to NASA on a Space Technology Advisory Committee.
His 1 1/2-hour presentation followed by a lively question/answer session on Oct. 31 was informative and enjoyable to the 150 students in attendance.
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