Members of MAC’s Old Team under McDonnell Aircraft Company worked on the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft, which supported, developed and proved the methodology necessary for the Apollo Program to reach the Moon. The company was “ground zero” for America’s first human spaceflight program, flying six Mercury and ten Gemini manned missions for those programs. James S. McDonnell, company founder and CEO, had the foresight to use company funds to carry out original design studies for a manned satellite well before the launch of Sputnik 1 and well before being chosen as a prime contractor, which was announced on February 13, 1959. Beyond designing and building the spacecraft, much of the simulation and training for America’s first astronauts also happened in St. Louis, and those astronauts worked closely with the McDonnell employees.
MAC’s Old Team’s influence on the nation’s space programs did not end with Mercury and Gemini. Team members continued to work on several programs including: Skylab, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, the Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle), the International Space Station, Hexagon, and other NASA, military and company-funded programs.
Why are they called MAC’s Old Team? “THIS IS MAC CALLING THE TEAM. THIS IS OLD MAC CALLING ALL THE TEAM.” All employees would hear these words over the company PA system announcing special events and introducing visiting dignitaries which included the President of the United States. What could be more fitting to honor Mr. McDonnell’s memory than ‘MAC’s Old Team’?
- Norm Beckel was McDonnell’s communications engineer at Cape Canaveral for Alan Shepard and John Glenn’s historic trips to space, after serving on the Mercury communication and design team. He went on to work on Gemini, Gemini B, unmanned surveillance satellites and cruise missiles.
- Dean Purdy was McDonnell’s director of military and space electronics, a program manager for the International Space Station, NASA spacecraft, the space shuttle program and electrophoresis in space, a lead engineer on the electrical systems of Mercury and Gemini and a senior engineer on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.
- Earl Robb, a structural and mechanical design engineer for McDonnell Aircraft during the Mercury, Gemini and Skylab space programs, helped design the Gemini capsule and was assistant project engineer for Skylab.
- Jerry Roberts, who has a strong interest in space exploration, pursued a career with McDonnell Aircraft Company after college strictly because MAC had received the Mercury Program contract. His greatest thrill was meeting the first astronauts and being in the block house when the rocket engines ignited and lifted off!
- Bob Schepp worked for 42.5 years as an aerospace engineer, spanning Mercury, Gemini, Sky Lab, Flight Simulators, and Missile systems. He is now a substitute teacher in math and science and, though very proud of his efforts to put the first Americans into Space, is equally proud of his work with young people.
- Ray Tucker was a technician at McDonnell Aircraft Company for 30 years and worked on the wiring system for Project Mercury and Gemini. Ray has been instrumental in introducing young people to the historic missions thru public outreach events.