John Keating '68, '72
Jack Keating sat on his couch and stared at the television set as he began his story. The screen was black, but he watched it closely, leaning forward with anticipation, just as he did in that very same spot, 40 years ago.
“I kept turning to John and asking him if they’re gonna do it,” he said. “He was playing with his stop watches and all he could say was that it was iffy.”
On July 20, 1969, Jack sat in his livingroom with his wife and two sons, Jim and John, watching the Apollo 11 as it hovered in space. Like so many families across the country that night, they were tuned in, anxiously waiting to see if the spacecraft would be the first ever manned mission to land on the moon.
At just about 95 years old, Jack remembers it like it was yesterday.
His son John, a 1968 and 1972 Drexel graduate, had invested the year leading up to the launch working on a special assignment from NASA – one that, according to Jack, was a deciding factor in whether or not the Apollo 11 spacecraft, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins, would land on the moon.
“I’m positive that they would not have gotten to the moon without John’s help,” said Jack.
In the late 1960’s, John was working as an engineer with Litton Industries in Clifton Heights, PA, when his company was contracted by NASA to create tiny motors allowing the Apollo 11 to hover in space, waiting for the perfect moment to land on the moon. John worked tirelessly to build the motors which Jack says were no larger than the inside of a wrist watch.
Jack said that his son spent night after night working on this ‘secret assignment,’ going outside to look at the stars, tinkering with tiny gears and motors and, as he put it, ‘scribbling down all kinds of crazy numbers.’
“He was always going to our beach house in Stone Harbor so that he could go outside and look at the stars at night,” said Jack. “He was just always working on this secret project.”
Jack remembers that the night of the launch, right down to the last minute, his son was watching closely, still not sure if they would land.
“Then all of a sudden John looked at me and he yelled, ‘they’re gonna do it!’” Jack recalled.
And sure enough, they did.
“Of course I was proud of him!” said Jack. “And if it didn’t work that first time, I’m not sure he would have been able to keep trying; it took a lot out of him.”
Upon its successful completion, John received an official certificate from NASA which read:
This is to certify that John Keating was a member of the Clifton division of Litton Industries which by outstanding and dedicated service contributed to the success of the historic Apollo 11 Columbia-Eagle moon flight, thereby helping our country lead in the exploration of space and our company maintain its long record of service and quality control.
Shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, John left Litton Industries for a job with General Electric which took him all over the world. But in 1983 he passed away after a short battle with cancer.
“He died on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Jack. “I’m a World War II veteran and I spent a month wounded in a hospital, surrounded by the dead and dying. But this was much harder to take. The hardest thing to take was to watch him go.”
But rather than dwell on John’s death, Jack changed the subject quickly back to his son’s crowning achievement and glanced over at the television once more.
“The brightness that came over him when he watched them land,” he began, “that was the best moment of his life.”