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  Presidential Medal of Freedom: Steve Bales?

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Author Topic:   Presidential Medal of Freedom: Steve Bales?
Naraht
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Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-12-2006 10:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've been trying to figure out whether or not Steve Bales was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on the Apollo 11 mission, and if not, where the idea came from. It's stated in various places on the internet, but as far as I can tell it isn't actually true.

There is what looks to be a comprehensive list here, but although it includes the Apollo 11 astronauts, Apollo 13 astronauts, and Apollo 13 mission operations team, there's no mention of Bales.

I believe that Gene Kranz said something in his autobiography about the awarding of Presidential Medals, but I don't have a copy of the book to hand. Can anyone help out?

413 is in
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Posts: 421
From: Alexandria, VA USA
Registered: May 2006

posted 07-12-2006 10:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 413 is in   Click Here to Email 413 is in     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Steve Bales, my twenty-six-year-old, bespectacled quidance officer, accepted the Medal of Freedom on behalf of the entire team for flight operations
— Gene Kranz ("Failure is Not an Option" page 294)

Naraht
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Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-12-2006 10:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks, that was quick!

There has to have been some mix-up, though, because I've found an alphabetical list of recipients, and neither Steve Bales nor the Apollo 11 team is on it (although the Apollo 13 team is).

Could Bales perhaps have accepted the award on behalf of the Apollo 13 team?

413 is in
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Posts: 421
From: Alexandria, VA USA
Registered: May 2006

posted 07-12-2006 11:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 413 is in   Click Here to Email 413 is in     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Kranz statement above was in reference to Apollo 11. Presidential awards dinner was held on August 13, 1969 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, CA.

Naraht
Member

Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-12-2006 11:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's undoubtedly the right date for the award of the Medal of Freedom to the three Apollo 11 astronauts. However, according to this website I've been looking at, the only time the Medal of Freedom was awarded to a group was when it was given to the Apollo 13 Mission Operations team.

Now, the website could be wrong, but my feeling is that Steve Bales must have accepted some other kind of award on behalf of the Apollo 11 team. Either that or there is a giant historical conspiracy going on...

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 28164
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-12-2006 11:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In Apollo Moon Missions: The Unsung Heroes Bales' chapter ends with discussion of the Medal of Freedom:
His fifteen minutes of fame occurred in California, shortly after Apollo 11's triumphant return. When President Nixon presented Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins the Medal of Freedom, Bales received one, too.

"He certainly deserved it," Aldrin was quoted in "Apollo Expeditions to the Moon," edited by Edgar M. Cortright for NASA, "because without Steve, we might not have landed."

"I accepted that award for all the thousands of people who worked on the Apollo program," Bales says. "And yes, all the young guys who came in and helped make our nation's dream a reality."

Referencing Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, which is available in its entirety online, there is this:
ALDRIN: Back in Houston, not to mention on board the Eagle, hearts shot up into throats while we waited to learn what would happen. We had received two of the caution lights when Steve Bales the flight controller responsible for LM computer activity, told us to proceed, through Charlie Duke, the capsule communicator. We received three or four more warnings but kept on going. When Mike, Neil, and I were presented with Medals of Freedom by President Nixon, Steve also received one. He certainly deserved it, because without him we might not have landed.

Naraht
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Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-12-2006 11:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the citations, Robert, I've actually already taken a look at those two sources. It might sound a bit like I'm beating a dead horse, but I still don't think that things add up. Putting all of them together leaves a mishmash.
  • Multiple sources on the internet say that Bales got a Medal of Freedom.

  • So does Buzz Aldrin. (And I could be wrong but I think this is the source for many of the statements on the internet.)

  • Bales himself says he accepted an award on behalf of the people who worked on the Apollo program.

  • Gene Kranz says that Bales accepted the award on behalf of the Apollo 11 flight operations team.

  • Yet a rather comprehensive-looking website makes no mention of an award to either Bales or the Apollo 11 team, and states that the only group award ever given was to the Apollo 13 mission operations team.

  • All the biographical summaries of Gene Kranz on the internet do say that he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom... but all of them mention Apollo 13, and none of them mention Apollo 11. If he had received two, wouldn't there be some mention of that?
Do you see why I'm still a little confused?

Naraht
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Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-12-2006 05:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Finally, an authoritative source! I have found a transcript of Richard Nixon's remarks at the dinner on August 13th, 1969, honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts. It is clear that the three astronauts received the Medal of Freedom, while Steve Bales accepted a Group Achievement Award (awarded by NASA) on behalf of the Apollo 11 mission operations team. It's also clear that a lot of websites have gotten this wrong.

I blame Buzz Aldrin.

When we think of the achievements of our astronauts, we also are aware of what we have often been told by those who have been on flights before.

And I recall that over and over again, the same theme runs through what they say. The theme is that it wouldn't have been possible except for all of those who worked on the ground.

Four hundred thousand, perhaps over 400,000, men and women made possible the success of the space flights.

So, tonight, we not only want to honor the men who made this great achievement, but we also want to honor those who helped them make it possible.

And we are honoring them through a citation, a Group Achievement Award, which will now be read, a citation by Dr. Paine.

[Dr. Paine read the following citation:]

THE NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PRESENTS THE
GROUP ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
TO APOLLO 11 MISSION OPERATIONS TEAM

For exceptional service in planning and exemplary execution of mission operational responsibilities for Apollo 11--the first manned lunar landing mission. The distinguished performance of this team was decisive in the success of this first extraterrestrial exploration mission, a major milestone in the advancement of mankind.

Signed and sealed at Washington, D.C. this eleventh day of August Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Nine

T. O. PAINE

Administrator, NASA

[The President then resumed speaking.]

Anyone who has visited Houston or who has had an opportunity to visit some of the other installations of our space program is enormously impressed by the men and women who work in it. We are impressed by their intelligence, by their dedication, and when I was in Houston I was greatly impressed by their youth.

The man that has been selected tonight to receive this Group Achievement Award for the whole 400,000, who. in one way or another, have contributed to the success of this program, is a young man, 26 years of age. But Steve Bales, who was the Flight Control Engineer on this project, made a critical decision just before Eagle 1 landed on the Sea of Tranquility that could have made the difference between success or failure. And if he would step forward to receive this Group Achievement Award, representing all of those on the ground who made the venture to the moon possible.

This is the young man, when the computers seemed to be confused and when he could have said "Stop," or when he could have said "Wait," said, "Go."

Sy Liebergot
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Posts: 468
From: Pearland, Texas USA
Registered: May 2003

posted 07-12-2006 06:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Sy Liebergot   Click Here to Email Sy Liebergot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Naraht:
...while Steve Bales accepted a Group Achievement Award (awarded by NASA) on behalf of the Apollo 11 mission operations team.
Yep, that's correct. Unfortunately, Steve mistakenly thought that was his award and it hung on his home wall for twenty years without any of us flight controllers knowing. It was discovered when we were preparing for our 20th anniversary celebration that he had the one and only certificate. Copies were made in time and given to all the Apollo 11 flight controllers that could be located and a copy included in the commemorative book that was produced.

Naraht
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Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-13-2006 07:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the info, Sy; it's really good to get confirmation, and an interesting story to boot!

I wonder why so many people have gotten this wrong?

Sy Liebergot
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Posts: 468
From: Pearland, Texas USA
Registered: May 2003

posted 07-13-2006 08:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Sy Liebergot   Click Here to Email Sy Liebergot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In my opinion, it's laziness. This is among the reasons that I wrote my book and am out giving lectures.

Sadly, I have added eight more names to Appendix E of my book "In Memorium," a list of my Apollo operations colleagues that have passed from the scene — the number is now 48. Lost three in the past three weeks. Soon we will all be gone along with the intimate, anecdotal knowledge.

Naraht
Member

Posts: 232
From: Oxford, UK
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 07-13-2006 10:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Naraht   Click Here to Email Naraht     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Sy Liebergot:
Sadly, I have added eight more names to Appendix E
I'm very sorry to hear that. Could I ask who they were?
quote:
Soon we will all be gone along with the intimate, anecdotal knowledge.
Sometimes I wish that I hadn't decided to do my thesis on Victorian history. There are so many stories about the space program that should be told, so many oral histories that could be done, so many collections of papers and recordings still in private hands that need preserving.

Murray and Cox (for example) did a good job of getting across some of the human drama of the Apollo program, but I can't help feeling that they only scratched the surface. I'm sure that you feel that even more strongly than I do, since you know all the things that they had to leave out. It's a shame that other flight controllers haven't gotten around to telling their stories in the detail that you have done.

Sy Liebergot
Member

Posts: 468
From: Pearland, Texas USA
Registered: May 2003

posted 07-13-2006 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Sy Liebergot   Click Here to Email Sy Liebergot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was wrong — I've added ten names:
  • Frank Degenova - CSM G&N
  • Jim Nelson - LM ECS
  • Chuck Stough - FAO
  • Jon Harpold - MPAD
  • Don Bourque - LM Systems
  • Don Puddy - Flight Director
  • Pete Frank - Flight Director
  • Chuck Filley - Recovery Ops
  • Bob Myers - Training
  • Merril Lowe - Requirements

All times are CT (US)

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