Rocket Man: Welsh hero of NASA’s moon landings

Tecwyn Roberts
Southampton graduate Tecwyn Roberts created NASA’s Deep Space Communications Network.

When Neil Armstrong made his giant step, the billions watching it on TV had a University of Southampton graduate to thank for seeing him do it – a Welsh engineer who played a major part in the space mission story.

Tecwyn Roberts’ story is told for the first time in a new documentary presented by comedian and BBC Radio Cymru presenter Tudur Owen.

The film Rocket Man: NASA’s Welsh Hero is part of the BBC’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landings and sees Tudur reveal all about the shy boy from Anglesey who helped astronauts walk on the moon. The documentary features remastered NASA archive footage from the time to showcase mankind’s finest achievement and celebrate the little known engineer from Llanddaniel Fab, Anglesey, and his part in making history.

After receiving his degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1948 from the University of Southampton (then known as Hartley University College), Tecwyn later became a spaceflight engineer at NASA. During the 1960s and 1970s, he played important roles in designing the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and creating NASA’s worldwide tracking and communications network.

For the Apollo missions, he was tasked by NASA with solving the problem of how to communicate with the spacecraft over the vast distance between the Earth and the Moon. His answer was to position a chain of enormous satellite dishes around the world so that contact could be maintained as the Earth rotated. Within just two years, Tecwyn created the Deep Space Communications Network which finally made moon missions possible.

He is also credited with coining the phrase ‘A-OK’ making those three letters the universal symbol meaning ‘in perfect working order’. Apparently NASA engineers used A-OK it during radio transmission tests because “the sharper sound of A cut through the static better than O”.

Tudur Owen said, “Tec Roberts’ story is incredible and I feel so privileged to be finally able to tell it to the people of Wales.

“This humble and gifted man from Anglesey is regarded by NASA as one of the pioneers of manned space flight,” Tudur continued. “My mission is to make sure that his work and legacy is recognised here in Wales. I am so excited to be able to tell Tec Roberts’ story. The whole world knows about the moon landing, but only a select few know about the crucial role this unassuming and gifted Welshman played in mankind’s greatest achievement.”