Famous Friday

This week I would like to discuss Joseph W. Schmitt. He was born and raised in O’Fallon, Illinois. Before discovering his career with NASA, he worked at a barber shop in downtown O’Fallon while furthering his high school education and then joined the Army Air Corps. Schmitt’s father, Benjamin B. Schmitt of O’Fallon, had been instantly killed during a shooting in 1916. The shooting took place outside the office of the station agent of the B. & O. S. W. Railroad Company and ended in the capture of two men who were strangers of the O’Fallon area. His father was a well-known Marshall in the O’Fallon area and was known for arresting a deserter from the United States army. Joseph Schmitt was only a few months old at the time of his father’s death.

Schmitt later became a spacesuit technician for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). During the height of the space race, he worked on numerous space exploration programs.  On October 14, 1947, he helped install and monitor the instruments of the Bell X-1 rocket plane, famously known for Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. In addition, Schmitt helped develop the spacesuits worn by the nation’s first astronauts. He had the extraordinary task of securing the straps, boots, and helmets of John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and many others.While the astronauts sped full throttle up towards space, Schmitt returned home knowing he might be one of the last humans these astronauts would see on Earth. Ordinary people are enthralled by Schmitt’s contribution to the space race, but he simply saw it as a normal job.

Although there are no books/movies yet dedicated solely in acknowledgement of Schmitt’s contribution to NASA and the space race, here are some books and films that you may enjoy that showcase humanity’s endeavors to reach space:

First Man-The riveting story behind the first manned mission to the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the decade leading to the historic Apollo 11 flight. A visceral and intimate account told from Armstrong’s perspective, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the film explores the triumphs and the cost, on Armstrong, his family, his colleagues and the nation itself; of one of the most dangerous missions in history.

Hidden Figures– NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. They crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true heroes.

One Giant Leap by Charles Fishman- Introduces readers to the men and women who had to solve 10,000 problems before astronauts could reach the Moon. From the research labs of MIT, where the eccentric and legendary pioneer Charles Draper created the tools to fly the Apollo spaceships, to the factories where dozens of women sewed spacesuits, parachutes, and even computer hardware by hand, Fishman captures the exceptional feats of these ordinary Americans.

Apollo 11– Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, the film takes viewers straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission, the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names.

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