Letter: The Eagle has landed

By Howard G. Sutton
Posted 7/28/21

Pondering this month’s coverage of billionaires, proving Sir Issac Newton’s law of gravity and motion, I reflected back on a momentous event 52 years ago.

At  3:17 p.m. EST on …

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Letter: The Eagle has landed


Pondering this month’s coverage of billionaires, proving Sir Issac Newton’s law of gravity and motion, I reflected back on a momentous event 52 years ago.

At  3:17 p.m. EST on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

There are threads of Rhode Island connections to that historic event.

After the deadly Apollo 1 launch pad fire, NASA commissioned Owens Corning to develop beta cloth. This material, which resists burning at temperatures up to 1,200 degrees, was used for all future NASA space suits. The fabric was manufactured in Asheville, Rhode Island.

Owens Corning subcontracted the printing of the patches on the beta cloth to Screen Print Corp. of Coventry. Using special pigments and traditional, non-machine, screen printing practices, the patches, flags and names of the astronauts were manufactured for the space suits.

Here is where I enter the story. For two summers I worked at Screen Print, producing what seemed like miles of fabrics used mainly for drapes and upholstery. Printing was done on long tables with two men manning a screened boxed form, dye and a squeeze. Colors were overlaid until the final process was completed and destined for Aunt Josie’s raised ranch in suburbia.

I was home on break from college, putting my liberal arts education to no good use and working at the plant. My sidekick on the other side of the table grasping the squeeze was Ray, 15 years my senior.

Ray had a double major in Narragansett. One was in beer and one was in the nags running at the track in Pawtucket. He was a master at hops consumption, but as for the ponies, he could lose money wagering on Seabiscuit.

Apparently, there was a great disturbance in the force because we were assigned the Apollo 11 job. We toiled under the watchful eyes of the suits from Corning and NASA, who ensured that the final products were pristine. We made more mistakes than the Nixon administration. NASA’s standards were clearly higher than those for Aunt Josie’s drapes.

Printing hundreds of iconic eagles with olive branches in its talons landing on the Moon, I often thought why they needed so many, since there were only three guys on the flight. But, the suits were happy, the bosses were happy, Ray still got to the track on time and I was pulling down a buck-forty an hour.

Life was good.

I did raise an underaged ’Gansett salute to myself and Ray when I heard Commander Armstrong say, “Houston. Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.” The Rhode Island-made patches were on the Moon.

Howard G. Sutton of Bristol is publisher emeritus of The Providence Journal.

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