Apollo 11 sparks Temple professor's space dreams and a NASA connection

Mark Abrams
July 18, 2019 - 9:26 pm
John Helferty says the Apollo 11 mission sparked his interest in space exploration and rocketed him to a connection with NASA.

Mark Abrams/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Temple University engineering professor says the Apollo 11 mission sparked his interest in space exploration and rocketed him to a connection with NASA. 

"I wouldn't be sitting here in an engineering building as a professor of engineering without the Apollo 11," said Delaware County native John Helferty.

"I was a 10-year-old boy sitting in the rec room of our house with seven brothers and sisters, mom and dad with a 12-inch black and white TV watching Neil and Buzz walk on the moon. And at that point, I turned to my dad and said, 'How do we get to do that?'" Helferty said. 

His dad's answer: A good education.

Helferty chose Temple's electrical engineering program.

His goal was to eventually get to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena.

Related: Apollo 11 mission timeline: To the moon and back again

In 1990, he did just that and got assigned to work on the unmanned Cassini mission to explore Saturn's rings.

"I mean, the Cassini mission was phenomenal. And just to really do the guidance and navigation on that system was tremendous. To have yourself part of that mission, going out to the outer planets was a dream come true," he said. 

But a strong earthquake rattled the Helferty family in 1991 and back east they came. The professor eventually picked up a job at his alma mater.

Helferty says he still maintains a solid relationship with NASA's Space Grant Consortium.

"We just finished a sub-orbital launch at Wallops Island back on June 20. We went 110 miles up. Here I am with Temple students now chasing their dream to get into space. Really, if it wasn't for NASA this wouldn't happen," Helferty added. 

And, he also supervises Temple students in competition with universities across the country to develop a robot rover vehicle capable of collecting minerals and materials for use by a future moon colony.