From Long Island to the moon: My grandfather's role in Apollo 11
Fifty years ago, NASA changed the world with the Apollo 11 moon landing. This is the story of Edmund Brierton, who helped play a role in NASA's iconic mission.
From Long Island to the moon: My grandfather's role in Apollo 11
Photo: Courtesy The Brierton Family
Author: James Brierton
Published: 10:58 PM EDT July 20, 2019
Updated: 12:59 AM EDT July 21, 2019
APOLLO-11 4 Articles

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This is a personal reflection written by WCNC Digital Executive Producer James Brierton.

I wasn't born when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon in 1969. I wasn't even born when my grandfather passed away some years later.

My grandfather, Edmund Brierton, of whom provided the inspiration for both my father's middle name and my own, worked at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in the 1960s. He played one of countless roles in the project of getting man to the moon and back.

Grumman was a really big deal on Long Island in that era -- or so I've been told. Ask anyone who lived there in that time period, and I think they'll agree.

"When your dad worked for Grumman, it was a really big deal," my Aunt Laura explained to me.

Grumman's Bethpage facility was huge. During the company's tenure, they built many legendary pieces of machinery. Some were military, like the F-14 Tomcat. And some were civilian, like the postal truck you still see at your mailbox today. 

However in my eyes - and I venture to say the eyes of many - Grumman may be best known for the Apollo Lunar Module (LEM), the vehicle that carried every American astronaut on moon missions.

Lunar Module of Apollo 11 landing site

From Long Island to the moon: My grandfather's role in Apollo 11

Chapter 1

My Grandpa Ed

Working in the '60s

In 2009, as the world was celebrating Apollo 11's 40th anniversary, I had a revelation. I knew Grandpa Ed had worked for Grumman. I knew he worked on the Apollo contract -- but what did he do?

"He was a ‘tester’ of electronic equipment - making sure it worked and had power as it was supposed to," Aunt Laura again explained to me. "He was really proud to be a part of it.  He had a career at a time when a little skill could enable you to buy a house and raise eight kids.” 

He did just that. He raised Laura, my father, and their six other siblings, alongside my grandmother, Patrica, in Kings Park, New York. The town, like so many other Long Island towns, sprung to life after World War II. Census data shows it was still growing when man walked on the moon: 5,000 residents in 1970 ballooned to 16,000 by the time the shuttle program launched in 1981.

A year later, my grandpa Ed would die before I ever had a chance to meet him.

Chapter 2

A family organization

Looking out for each other

If my grandfather had a large family at home, then he had an even larger family at work.

"Grumman was a family organization," Laura explained.

“I worked in Grumman's ‘Summer Employee’ program the summer he died,” Laura said recalling her time participating in a 1982 program for college-aged children with parents working at Grumman.

“Technically I was no longer eligible for the program, but I did my 10 weeks," Laura recalled. "I was the only summer employee with a dead parent. That took some getting used to because I got more condolences than work the first week.  But it showed how Grumman took care of their own.”

Laura said even getting to work was a unique challenge.

"Instead of riding to work with my dad, I had to carpool with four other men," she explained.

Chapter 3

The shoebox

Ed's things

Every relative seems to have 'that shoebox.' The place they keep important mementos to either share or be found.  My Grandpa Ed's box is something special.

When I got my first look at the box 10 years ago, I was immediately struck. Inside the box, I found an Apollo 11 patch, a piece of the LEM's iconic protective foil, and other keepsakes, including a LEM-shaped tie clip I am ashamed to admit I have since lost. (The latter of which, my family may be just learning about here for the first time.)

What was too big for the shoebox is an important piece of history that still hangs on my grandmother's wall: A signed painting of the LEM. It contains the signatures of many who worked on the LM-6 project alongside my Grandpa Ed. LM-6 would go on to land on the moon four months later in Apollo 12.

"He loved that lunar module picture that is signed by everyone who worked on it. I used to take it in for show and tell every year,” said Laura.

The picture is, without a doubt, a cherished piece of family history (which my family will likely now never entrust to me).

Chapter 4

Where were you when?

July 20, 1969
Astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. salutes the US flag on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 lunar mission on July 20, 1969.
(NASA/AFP/Getty Images)

So where was Grandpa Ed the day his work helped put man on the moon? Well... that's an entirely different family story.

You see, July 20, 1969, carries two family memories. One, of course, is the landing on the moon. The other is a tad more infamous.

"My mother had gone into the bedroom," my Aunt Laura recalled. At the time, Laura was downstairs watching the landing on television with her dad and some neighborhood kids.

Suddenly she heard her mother yell.

"Ed! There's a peeping tom in my window!"

What happened next may only help paint the significance of the day's other big news. Laura said her father barely moved.

"I'll be right there in a minute," he replied.

Be there in a minute! Probably not the response he wants to be most remembered for. However, let's try to look at this through the lens of 1969: The entire world was watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. Everyone was unified into this single event. Some, like my grandfather, knew they played at least some small part in it. They did not want to see it fail and most definitely were waiting with bated breath.

As for the peeping tom, Laura and her friends caught a glimpse of his feet in the basement window. They went running as soon as my grandmother yelled. 

I can't help but wonder though: What does he say when he gets asked, "Where were you when we landed on the moon?"

MORE APOLLO 11 COVERAGE: Meet the Lancaster-native who helped put Apollo 11 on the moon and would go on to walk the lunar surface himself