HAVERHILL — As the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, one Haverhill man is being remembered for his engineering contributions to that successful mission.
Arthur Michitson worked as a mechanical engineer for RCA Aerospace Systems in Burlington for 20 years, including in the 1960s when he was part of a design team that made it possible for the Apollo lunar module to find its way to the surface of the moon, then find its way back to the Apollo command module.
"They also needed to be able to control the lunar module for a helicopter-type of landing, which is where the gimbal was also critical," said his son John Michitson, president of the Haverhill City Council and an engineer at MITRE.
In navigational systems, gimbals are useful for determining and changing the orientation of a spacecraft in relation to something else, such as the moon, John Michitson said.
"A simple series of interconnected rings made it possible for NASA to send a manned spacecraft to the moon," he said. "Without gimbals, we couldn't navigate or travel in space with any precision."
The senior Michitson helped design an early prototype gimbal and also helped test the final version used in the lunar module.
"The whole world was watching and holding its breath on July 21, 1969, when the first astronaut set foot on the moon," John Michitson said.
Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins safely returned to earth that July 24.
Arthur Michitson, 84, of Haverhill, passed away peacefully on Aug. 9, 2006, at his home with his family by his side.
"What I remember most as kid, is my father working an incredible amount of hours to meet RCA's deadlines, as they had to provide the system to NASA in a certain time frame," John Michitson said. "My dad was working seven days a week for months, and the reason was, the U.S. wanted to make a moon landing happen in the 1960s, to meet the challenge by President John F. Kennedy. So they did everything they could to ensure it would happen in that decade."
The kind of technology-driven, advanced manufacturing that made the Apollo mission happen is still being done in America, John Michitson said.
"The design work for components such as the gimbal had to be done with very sophisticated test equipment, and I suspect very secret as to the details, so it could not be developed out of the country," he said. "All I knew was that it was exciting to know my father was involved in putting the first astronauts on the moon."
He noted that RCA developed several different prototypes of the three gimbal mechanism, and there were teams of engineers working on this.
Coincidentally, Arthur Michitson's parents were born in Greece and Arthur was a first generation American.
"Years ago, during my first stint on the City Council, councilors often said that when something is easy you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. My father was a pretty serious-minded person, and when one of the councilors used that term in regards to a topic my father was at the council meeting for, my father walked up to the microphone and said, 'I am a rocket scientist,' and the whole room burst out in laughter.'"
After serving his country during World War II in the Philippines and other places until 1945, Arthur Michitson graduated from Northeastern University with a mechanical engineering degree in 1950. He went on to work at RCA and later was an educator.