Like so many others who had access to television that day 50 years ago – July 20, 1969 – Bob Brackenbury can remember following the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“I was just tickled with the whole thing,” Brackenbury, 91, said. “I stayed up watching the whole thing. I remember we watched a lot of it beforehand, the takeoff.”
By that time, Brackenbury and his family had resettled to his native Independence. A few years earlier, though, Brackenbury had been in the Los Angeles area, working as a graphic designer with Rocketdyne, the rocket engine operations division of North American Aviation, which contracted with NASA. Among Rocketdyne's works – the gigantic Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo crews into space.
At the time, lunar orbit and landing was still very much in the planning stages for NASA. Blueprint designs for the various spacecraft were one thing, but it could be difficult to imagine how the full craft would look in space.
Enter Brackenbury, who as part of post-World War II schooling courtesy of the GI Bill took art classes in Paris Academie Julian while his father did some banking work in Europe, so his artist's eye worked well beyond industrial and graphic design pages.
“An engineer who worked with me was trying to explain the process but didn't have a picture,” Brackenbury explained. “He had a few blueprints for the lunar lander and command module.”
So he drew a scene that remains in his office room today. It's a partially lit moon, with the lunar and command modules floating around it. Even a few years before Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made their successful moon-landing mission, it's a close representation of what their trek looked like.
Brackenbury said he believes copies of the drawing made their way into in-house publications as the Apollo project continued, but “I never saw it.” Still, watching the moon landing, he assuredly felt a little pride having worked for a company that helped make it possible.
In 1968, Brackenbury moved back to Independence with his family. He had been laid off from Rocketdyne, and when he emerged from a field of a couple hundred candidates to win an artist job for the Los Angeles school district, Community of Christ's Herald House Publishing simultaneously asked him to apply for open art director position. He held that position for 10 years and later did freelance work – many book jacket illustrations, he said – did design work at Silver Dollar City for a year and also worked for a sign company in Kansas City before retirement.
Brackenbury and his wife Mary still reside in their east Independence home, their family has grown to include great-grandchildren and he's stayed busy over the years with some paintings and piecing together an autobiography.
“I have lived a real exciting life,” he told The Examiner's Frank Haight. “I always considered myself not an artist, but a design illustrator. I’ve always got to have something in front of me. I can’t do it out of my head.”