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Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

Space engineer visits Cosmosphere

April 28, 2002

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— For years, Guenter Wendt's face was the last thing astronauts saw as the hatch shut on their capsules before takeoff.

From the one-man Mercury capsules through the two-man Gemini program and the Apollo moon landings: Wendt saw them all.

"I was privileged to send them all off," said Wendt, 79.

He was the engineer in charge of the "White Room," the super-clean, suit-up area high atop the launch gantry.

Wendt, who earned the nickname "The Pad Fuhrer" from John Glenn because of his iron-handed rule of the White Room, was at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson this weekend.

"My job was to prepare the spacecraft and make it as safe as it could be," said Wendt, standing inside a section of the Apollo White Room, which now resides in the Cosmosphere.

"We didn't have much time for chit-chat, for emotions," he said.

He and his crew had 145 separate procedures to perform in the two-hour pre-launch window, and there was no room for any kind of mistake, he said.

"And that, that was always my enemy," said Wendt, pointing to the countdown clock on one wall of the White Room with his cane.

Wendt said he had taken his work very seriously and expected the astronauts and everyone else to do the same.

In what was his first visit to the Cosmosphere, Wendt was impressed with what he saw.

"This is fantastic," he said, walking through the displays of space artifacts, ranging from German military missiles to Soviet space capsules and the Apollo 13 command module.

Wendt said he would have enjoyed going into space himself, but he's too old for such dreams now.

Today, enjoying retirement, he and his wife live in Titusville, Fla., where he can stand on his boat dock and watch the Space Shuttle roar into the skies just across the bay from their home.

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