NASA announced the death of legendary Launch Pad Leader Guenter Wendt on Monday, May 3. He died at his home Monday morning in Merritt Island, Fla., within a few miles of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Wendt had been hospitalized with congestive heart failure and suffered a stroke. He was 85.
As a young man, Wendt was a member of the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Sponsored by his father, he became a U.S. citizen in 1955 and worked as a structural engineer at McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis. He joined the Mercury program in 1958, and a year later became capsule pad leader. After an absence during the early portion of the Apollo Program, Wendt returned to the program when manned Apollo missions resumed following the disastrous Apollo fire.
Wendt saw all the Apollo astronauts off on their way to the moon before working as the head of flight crew safety for the Space Shuttle Program. He later served on the investigation board that reviewed the Challenger accident.
He retired in 1989, but still didn't leave the space program far behind. He worked as a consultant on Hanks' production "From the Earth to the Moon," and also worked with the team that recovered the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. That was the Mercury capsule Gus Grissom flew into space, but the spacecraft filled with water after splashdown and sunk.
He also returned to Kennedy on occasion and spoke with today's spaceflight engineers, technicians and specialists. In May 2009, Wendt told them to establish credibility, learn from mistakes and "think outside the box." He also told them, "Don't fake it. Always have the facts to back up your statements," and "never take things for granted."
(NASA Press Release)