His eyes twinkled and a wide grin spread across his face as Richard Temple reflected on the amazing trajectory of his life.
“Who would have thought that a kid growing up in the small town of Norway, Michigan, would help take a man to the moon? It just goes to show how education can open doors in life,” said Mr. Temple, 82.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the United States moon landing, the retired mechanical engineer and manager of General Motors Delco Division will speak about his 41-year career in the Apollo and Titan programs at a luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime, Monday at the Frog Bar & Grill at the Glen Annie Golf Club in Goleta.
During an interview at his home in Goleta, where he has lived since 1972, Mr. Temple explained that he helped build and test the Apollo Inertial Guidance Units that were used to fly to the moon and return to Earth.
“A lot of things had to operate exactly right, and they certainly did when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and returned to Earth safely. Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong, came to a reunion luncheon and thanked us for saving his skin. He knew how important the IMUs were to the success of the mission,” said Mr. Temple.
After graduating from Norway High School in 1954, he earned his mechanical engineering degree in 1958 from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan.
“I enrolled at Michigan Tech because it offered an engineering degree, and it was close to home,” he said.
His career began at AC Spark Plugs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee.
“I was working on the MACE missile guidance systems when Russia launched Sputnik and scared the hell out of everyone. After President Kennedy announced in 1960 that we were going to the moon by the end of the decade, I was transferred to the Apollo program to write test requirements for the IMUs,” said Mr. Temple. “I trained technicians to assemble and test the units.”
He was one of about 800 employees who worked in a giant plant near the airport on the south side of Milwaukee, a convenient drive from the city of Racine, Wisconsin, where he lived with his wife, Bernadette, and growing family of what would become six children.
“While I was in Oak Creek, there was a problem with a gyroscope, and I had to go to Cape Canaveral in Florida to fix it. I was asked to replace a gyroscope on one of the early Apollo systems, something that had never been attempted before. I was the only one who knew what to do. That was fun,” said Mr. Temple.
Because Apollo 11 and 12 were so successful, things began to be taken for granted.
“Our work became routine,” he said.
Until Apollo 13, when the service module that carried the power supply blew up half way to the moon with astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigart aboard.
“I was called from Houston on a Sunday evening in Milwaukee. ‘Dick, we have a problem,’ I was told. The lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch. The crew faced great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of water and the need to make repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system,” said Mr. Temple.
“We needed to determine when the astronauts had to turn the power back on so they could return to Earth safely. When I asked how low the temperature could go, I was told, ’30 degrees.’ I set up an exact simulation of the module. When we got to 32 degrees, I called Houston to turn on the power. It worked perfectly. The astronauts landed safely within a mile of the recovery ship in the Pacific Ocean. If the temperature had gone below 30 degrees, they would have skipped back to outer space or burned up on entry,” recalled Mr. Temple.
“My work on Apollo 13 was part of a much larger team effort across the country for sure, but I realized then how important it was to the overall rescue effort. Working on the Apollo program was an amazing experience. We were doing something that had never been done before.”
In 1968, AC Spark Plugs became Delco Electronics, and in 1972, the plant, now part of General Motors, was moved to Santa Barbara to occupy the former site of Aerophysics on Hollister Avenue.
“My first reaction was ‘Where is Santa Barbara?’ ” said Mr. Temple with a laugh. “I came here by myself to buy a house, and it was quite a shock. Because there were so many of us being transferred here, I was outbid on several homes and finally bought this one for $43,000. We sold our house in Racine for $28,000, and it was much bigger on a larger lot.”
After working on Apollo, Mr. Temple was transferred to the Titan programs where he was promoted to supervisor of the mechanical engineering group and later to department manager. He retired in 1999 after working at General Motors for 41 years.
The grandfather of six and great-grandfather of three may be retired from the space programs, but he remains active in the community as a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Goleta, Delco Retiree Group, two Toastmaster groups and as a career day speaker at local junior high schools. He also likes to hike and bowl.
Mr. Temple was instrumental in publication of the book, “From the Ocean Depths to Outer Space … Nothing Left to Chance: The History of Delco Systems/AC Electronics, 1948-2004.”
“The Delco History Project started shortly after the 35th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing Reunion in 2004 in Santa Barbara,” he said. “A sense of pride and amazement enveloped the employee community after that event. We thought what a shame our grandchildren might never learn of these accomplishments. Several phone conversations later, we agreed that Delco History was significant and should be told.
“The Delco story spans 50 years, numerous geographic locations and many corporate name changes. The company names and locations are secondary. The important story is about the people; how they worked and the astonishing products they produced.”
IF YOU GO
Richard Temple will speak about his work on the Apollo programs at a luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday at the Frog Bar & Grill at Glen Annie Golf Club, 405 Glen Annie Road, Goleta. The cost is $20. For more information, call Connie Burns at 698-1089 or firstname.lastname@example.org.