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KC man reflects on contribution to Apollo 11 moon mission

Posted at 7:07 PM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-16 21:14:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Keeping the astronauts of the Apollo 11 spaceflight and moon landing safe in orbit was one local man's mission.

Growing up, Dr. Harold Finch fell in love with the idea of traveling to space.

"When Sputnik was put into orbit by the Russians, I realized that my fantasies could become reality, and that's when I was working on my masters thesis," Finch said.

At the time, the United States was in the midst of the space race with the former Soviet Union and Finch realized NASA needed help.

"The biggest problem was the temperatures — extreme hot, extreme cold," Finch said.

As a young engineer, he constantly mulled a possible solution, often devoting his free time on nights and weekends to the quest.

Finch told 41 Action News on Tuesday that his brain felt so fried at one point he took a break and went to eat on the Country Club Plaza, where an idea clicked in his mind as he watched a rotisserie chicken spin.

"I just had an aha moment and said, 'My golly, that's what we need to do in space,'" Finch said. "The mathematics and science behind it was extremely complex."

NASA saw the wisdom in Finch's so-called "barbecue roll," a technique to control the extreme conditions in outer space that later helped save the Apollo 13 astronauts as well.

Finch's revelation led to the first man setting foot on the moon 50 years ago this week.

"I had a little bit of worries, 'cause if something blew up because the temperature got out of control, it would have ruined the mission," Finch said.

Now, Finch is proud to reflect on his role in an iconic moment for humankind.

"I think it's really an obligation," he said. "It's something I did, and it needs to be shared. Young people need to know about it."

Finch also has advice for anyone seeking a future profession related to space exploration: "If you have passion and if you have goals to back up that passion, you will accomplish it," he said.