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One small step … Anniversary of moon landing special to Greene County native
By ANNETTE HARVISON
Saturday, July 20, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing by American astronauts. The moon walk was talked about around the world.
The United States set the goal of being the first space program to put a person into orbit and to be the first on the moon. This feat was no small undertaking and took the skills and talents of thousands of people to make it possible. These people came from many different backgrounds and from all over the country.
A young lady from rural Mississippi got the chance to have a part in the race to space. Alpha Turner Stanford, a Greene County native, was a technical illustrator who worked with Project Mercury, and she drew the illustrations of the seismometers that were placed on the moon in 1969.
Stanford went to the Neely school until transferring to Leakesville High School where she graduated as Valedictorian in 1947. She continued her education at Mississippi Southern College (USM), earning a Bachelor’s degree in Business Education and Commercial Art in 1950. She began working in advertising at JC Penny’s before moving to Colorado to teach. She returned to Mississippi in the summer of 1952 to marry her love, Paul Stanford.
“He wanted to go to Mississippi State,” Stanford said, “so that’s where we went. We both worked and took classes.”
Stanford said she began working for Dr. August Raspet, a physicist and the head of the research department at MSU. She worked on many of the technical illustrations for the department. Her husband was working on a degree in industrial engineering. Both were graduating from MSU in May of 1957, and with that, a new chapter in their lives was beginning.
“They had just started working on Project Mercury the December before we graduated,” Stanford said. “We had a group from McDonnell Aircraft out of St. Louis come to the university looking for people.”
Stanford said that Dr. Raspet had recommended her to the head of the research department for McDonnell Aircraft and encouraged her to apply. Both she and her husband were employed with the company and moved to St. Louis shortly after their graduation.
Stanford was working with GeoTech and found herself making graphs, diagrams, brochures and other technical drawings. At the time, she did not know what her job would be, but she was still excited to go. The company had contracts for work under Project Mercury, and one project was to build seismometers to place on the moon.
“I really enjoyed working on Project Mercury in St. Louis,” Stanford said. “Dr. Raspet knew the head of research there, and there I was in this big place because of him.”
Many people at the time had doubts about people walking on the moon, including Stanford. She said people were always talking about it, and even though she was busy, she could still hear some of the talk about what they were doing.
“You know,” Stanford said, “I had security clearance, and I heard people talking about this stuff, though at the time it didn’t mean anything to me.”
Stanford said at the time, seismometers had been placed all over the world to measure the earth’s movements. Scientists wanted to study the moon in the same capacity. The seismometers that were designed to take to the moon were nearly the same as those measuring earthquakes on Earth. Stanford said she didn’t put much thought into it then, but as time went on she realized she was working on something important.
“I worked on the models of the seismometers they took to the moon,” Stanford said. “This picture is small compared to what the original was. This is shrunk down.”
“I was very fortunate to hear all the conversations going on about the moon,” Stanford added. “I did not believe it.”
It was a buzzing atmosphere, and Stanford said though she was busy doing her job, she enjoyed being in the midst of all the excitement. It was a great experience in her career, and she was proud to have been a part of it. While showing and explaining her illustrations, Stanford said if she still had a drafting table, she could really show how it’s done. One of the most exciting things she got to experience was meeting all the astronauts.
“I was excited to meet all the astronauts,” Stanford said. “They came to the cafeteria while we were eating and spoke to us. Then we got to listen to a little speech from them.”
The seismometer was indeed taken to the moon where it was placed on the surface much like seismometers are placed in the earth’s crust. Stanford said the seismometer was placed on the moon to detect lunar moonquakes and study the surface and internal structures of the moon. The seismometer sent information back to Earth through a radio signal. The equipment still remains on the moon, though it stopped working in 1977.
The couple transferred to Dallas for a time, but Stanford said both she and her husband had always wanted to return to their home state. When the opportunity to do so presented itself in the mid 60s, they came back to Mississippi. They moved to Gautier when her husband got a job at Ingall’s. She said GeoTech had been taken over by Teledyne by that time, and she transferred to Mobile.
“I didn’t like that job,” Stanford said. “I worked there about six months then went into education.”
She retired after 25 years of teaching and has enjoyed her retirement. She paints and said she took up watercolor painting as a hobby. She has been retired for over 25 years and spends her time between her home in Gautier and her home in Leakesville in the Unity community.
The couple raised their two sons, Duane and David, in Gautier. Stanford said she has gained a great daughter-in-law, Sheri, who wanted to share this piece of history. She has two grandchildren, Casey and Carrie Lynn, that have a big place in her life as well.
Stanford treasures her memories, and though she said her part in the big picture was small, it just goes to show all pieces of the puzzle count.