On the afternoon of July 20, 1969 — a Sunday — Dick Zimmer sat abaft the council caster of his VW Bug, active east alternating Interstate 10.
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Zimmer and his wife, Reta, had larboard their home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, that morning for College Station, area he would be interviewing for a position with the Texas Transportation Institute.
As he drove, Zimmer kept fussing with his car’s radio dial.
“Why don’t you acquisition a abject and leave it?” Reta asked.
Zimmer was acquisitive to locate a radio abject broadcasting that afternoon’s Apollo 11 moon landing.
He had a claimed absorption in the aftereffect of the celebrated mission.
But as he acquainted up and bottomward the AM dial, mostly what he begin while traversing the sparsely busy high-desert country of West Texas was static.
As a systems specialist and above Air Force chief airman from Canton, Ohio, Zimmer was actively acquainted that one of the astronauts bottomward to the lunar apparent that day was a adolescent Ohio native.
Zimmer knew Neil Armstrong’s adventure well. Best Americans did.
But best Americans, clashing Zimmer, weren’t anon complex with the nation’s amplitude program.
In the year or so arch up to the barrage of Apollo 11, Zimmer formed for the Zia Company, a NASA contractor. He accurate the accumulation testing the ascendance agent of the lunar lander.
His baby allotment in the colossal adventure of putting the aboriginal bodies on the moon helped ensure that astronauts Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin could cautiously accomplish the acknowledgment cruise home.
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And if the mission was accomplished, Zimmer knew the Zia arrangement would not be renewed.
Thus, the continued drive to account for a new job.
The Apollo 11 moon landing was a success and TTI assassin Zimmer afterwards that aforementioned year.
Now alleged the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, TTI’s testing armpit charcoal located, as it was aback Zimmer was aboriginal hired, on the area of the above Bryan Air Force Base, now alleged the RELLIS Campus.
But not until afresh did Zimmer apprehend the added affiliation he shares with the added man to airing on the moon.
Zimmer has spent about 50 years with TTI administering all-encompassing agent blast tests on roadside assurance devices.
Aldrin spent almost 90 canicule at Bryan Air Force Abject in the aboriginal months of 1952 advancing to become a fighter pilot, a cogent footfall on his claimed adventure to the moon — and aback home to Earth, acknowledgment in allotment to Zimmer.
Zimmer’s job with the Zia Company saw him acceptable in the aliment and operation of the analysis angle in which the Lunar Excursion Module’s ascent-stage agent was accursed at the White Sands Missile Range.
“A ‘full-scale’ analysis meant they would put a full-size lunar lander into a ample exhaustion chamber,” explained Zimmer. “The exhaustion was created with beef generated by the battlefront of three X-15 engines.
“In those tests, the LEM agent would bake and bake for several minutes.
“It wasn’t our job to appraise the aftereffect of the tests,” Zimmer added, “but to see that they were conducted correctly.”
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Each of the six lunar landers that alien astronauts to the apparent of the moon alternate their crews to the orbiting Command Module for the cruise aback to Earth.
“We assurance got our astronauts home,” Zimmer said. “I’m appreciative of that.”
He has remained in the “safety” business anytime since.
“My Air Force supervisor, who had helped me get the job in New Mexico, went to assignment for TTI,” Zimmer said. “He capital me to be a allotment of his aggregation again, developing chart systems for agent crash-testing.”
Zimmer began alive for TTI in November 1969. He has yet to absolutely retire.
“I started out as an chart specialist,” Zimmer said from the attic of TTI’s celebrated aerodrome architecture that serves as a behemothic barn for the agency’s assignment in Roadside Assurance and Physical Security.
The area was originally complete as a athenaeum for brief aircraft aback it aboriginal opened at Bryan Army Air Field in bounce 1943.
“What we did,” Zimmer recalled of his antecedent canicule with TTI, “was mostly blast testing.”
A analytic new following in the adventure for greater artery safety.
“In adjustment to aggregate abstracts from those tests, we had to advance our own equipment,” he said. “That was afore chip circuits, afore accelerated computers. We acclimated resistors and capacitors and transistors. Real ‘low-tech’ stuff.”
Since 1965, added than 3,000 all-encompassing blast tests accept been conducted at TTI’s Proving Area Research Facility on the RELLIS Campus. Best of those tests accept been performed on the old runways of the above aggressive base.
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Those tests accept been analytical in the development and clarification of highway-safety accessories such as guardrails, breakaway signs and barrier systems-designed to accomplish America’s roadways safer for motorists.
Today, onboard accelerated agenda recorders bottle the abounding and analytical advice to be aggregate in a vehicular-crash scenario. A laptop computer affiliated to the “blue box” downloads the data.
Technology has appear a continued way beneath Zimmer’s watch.
“What we aboriginal had,” Zimmer said, amusement at his bond of aboriginal crash-testing instrumentation, “was a allotment of cable advancing out of the aback of the vehicle, strung out about a thousand anxiety to a baby bivouac that had a band recorder active on the added end.
“The analysis agent would get up to acceleration and blast into whatever we were testing and again the cable would follow, swishing aback and alternating until it accumulated up beneath the analysis car or truck.”
Although no quarter-million-mile cables were needed, it still boggles the apperception to accede that the aforementioned basal technology Zimmer acclimated in the aboriginal canicule of accession crash-test abstracts for TTI was additionally active in sending bodies to the moon.
And as historically cogent as those journeys were — highlighting America’s “Space Age” achievements — the studies that Zimmer and his TTI assembly abide to accomplish able-bodied into the “Information Age” accept been of far greater accent to mankind.
“We’re absolutely in the ‘survival’ business,” Zimmer said, “making biking on the nation’s roadways as safe as possible.”
As for what keeps Zimmer “hanging around” TTI afterwards all these years, he credits an atmosphere of artistic support.
“I’ve had abundant administering that gave me the abandon to try out crazy ideas,” Zimmer said. “They were OK if I fabricated a few mistakes and, if required, they would go to the administering for added funding.”
Zimmer aboriginal abstruse of his added affiliation to Aldrin alone aftermost year afterwards associates of the aggregation alive on the redevelopment of the RELLIS Campus began attractive for affairs of actual acceptation at the site.
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There is no catechism of Aldrin’s abode in history, both locally and internationally, but Zimmer and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute deserve recognition, too, accustomed the endless lives adored by allegation from the controlled blast tests performed on the RELLIS Campus site.
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