Joseph W. Schmitt had an amazing job; he was one of NASA’s “suit techs.” During the 60s, as the U.S. raced to beat the USSR to space, he was often the last person to see an astronaut before they left for space.
Schmitt played a part in history. On September 25th, he passed away in Friedswood, Texas. He had reached the ripe old age of 101.
His granddaughter, Susan Alexander, confirmed the death to the New York Times.
“Mr. Schmitt put Alan Shepard into his Freedom 7 capsule for America’s first spaceflight in May 1961, and he was still suiting up astronauts more than 20 years later, making sure everything was sealed and connected properly,” wrote the Times.
Schmitt also spent hours in the testing laboratory, making sure the astronauts were comfortable in their suits and troubleshooting the problems. That also meant he spent hours with the astronauts.
Schmitt’s career had longevity. He helped astronauts suit up through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs and into the space shuttle era.
“Joe suited up Orville and Wilbur,” joked Alan M. Rochford, a suit tech who worked with him beginning in 1960, referring to the Wright brothers.
Schmitt was born in 1916 in O’Fallon, Illinois. Mere weeks after his birth, his father, a city marshal, was killed int he line of duty. His mother, Apollonia, raised him and his siblings on her own—with the help of extended family.
In the 1930s, he joined the Army Air Corps. He studied aircraft, but he found it boring.
“It was kind of a slow period,” Mr. Schmitt said in an oral history. “I asked if I could go back to take a parachute riggers course and also an aircraft clothing repair course.”
After leaving the Army Air Corps in 1939, Schmitt ended up at the found National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a forerunner of NASA. He started out as an airplane mechanic—working on the 1947 flight in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Later, he was put into the Space Task Group.
“As an equipment specialist or a suit tech, Mr. Schmitt would accompany astronauts to the spacecraft and hook up the various connections that would keep them alive, monitor their health, and enable them to communicate during flight. It was a job that above all required a high level of attentiveness,” wrote the Times.
“Joe was a perfectionist in many respects,” James W. McBarron II, his supervisor, recalled in a telephone interview.
When John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, Schmitt was the one who suited him up. He also worked on Apollo 11.
Schmitt also married in 1939. His wife, Elizabeth Ann Schmitt nee Rayfield passed away in 2008. Schmitt is survived by his son, Joseph, a daughter, Norma Jean, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
What an amazing life! Pray for his family as they deal with their loss.
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