DI’s Bob Uhler part of launch operation team that put first astronauts on the moon
Isn’t it amazing when you think about how each of our neighbors has a story? In the digital age, it’s easy to forgo connecting with people in-person, but this week, keep it in the back of your mind to make connections face-to-face. You never know what you might learn about someone. For instance, did you know that there is a Daniel Island resident named Bob Uhler who worked on U.S. space expeditions like Mercury, Gemini and Apollo 13? Although he hasn’t walked on the moon, his work made it possible for others to do so.
Uhler was born in Maryland in 1936 and developed an interest in math and engineering early on.
“I can’t tell you how many times I took apart and reassembled my bicycle,” he said.
Uhler went on to graduate from Georgia Tech in 1959 with a degree in electrical engineering and a commission in the U.S. Army Reserves. He ended up being in the right place at the right time for a career in aerospace.
“I made myself available,” he said.
Initially, Uhler worked in Baltimore, but “after two years of winters of ice and snow, I jumped at the opportunity which presented for me to transfer to Cape Canaveral, Florida to work on the Gemini program. This was intended to be a three-month temporary duty assignment, but I got sand in my shoes - so to speak - and ended up staying for 10 years,” said Uhler.
In 1965, the activation team finished the building of Complex 19 for the Gemini program, which sent two men into space. Now that he’d been bitten by the space bug, Uhler wanted in on the Apollo Man on the Moon program.
“That was the start of my 32 years with Rockwell,” he said. (Note: You may now know Rockwell as the predecessor to Boeing.)
“I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of the launch operation team that helped put the first astronauts on the moon. I was an instrumentation system test engineer throughout most of the program. We put in many long hours and were on-call 24 hours a day, but it was very rewarding,” said Uhler.
Tragically, as many readers will remember, Apollo 1 took the lives of three astronauts: Gus Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
“Gus might have been selected to go on to become one of the men who walked on the moon,” Uhler recalled. “That was a terrible loss and sad experience for all of us, especially those who were closest to the operation. The Apollo modules, systems and procedures became more safety-conscious as a result of those unfortunate deaths.”
“It took a year to regroup and resume the race to the moon,” said Uhler. “One of the most interesting phases of the program was the approach and landing tests of the first Orbitor, the Enterprise. The Enterprise was actually built as a test vehicle and was not planned to travel into space…My wife, Kay, was with me at Edward’s for that first free flight and it was truly a very suspenseful and exciting moment when the 747 released the Enterprise…Coincidentally, years later, Kay and I just happened to be in Washington, D.C. when the 747 carrying the Enterprise flew over our heads in its final flight. It was being deployed to Washington for display at the Smithsonian.”
Uhler’s wife, Kay, is from Charleston, which brought the couple back to Daniel Island. They were a real-life Brady Bunch, each having three children when they married in 1976, and ironically ended up on Brady Street on Daniel Island. Their home is the 70th built in the island community. Now, Uhler spends much of his time crafting paintings instead of lunar missions and is a member of the Daniel Island Artists Guild.