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Minnesotan recounts his role in designing Apollo spacecraft

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The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off on July 16, 1969.
The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off on July 16, 1969, with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin aboard. During the eight-day mission, Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the the moon for 22 hours, including 2 1/2 hours outside the lunar module, while Collins orbited overhead in the command module.
NASA | Getty Images

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, when Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the on the Sea of Tranquility.

One of the people who played a role in that mission is Minnesota resident Earle Kyle, a Twin Cities native who now lives in Rochester.

Kyle said his interest in space was sparked in the eighth grade in Minneapolis, when he read an article about the potential of humans traveling to Mars.

At that time, nothing — human or otherwise — had been launched into space.

"I was laughed at as being crazy (and told) it would never happen in my lifetime," he recalled, when he expressed interest in space exploration, and in particular sending humans to Mars.

But Kyle persevered, and while at the University of Minnesota he was able to connect with like-minded classmates. The experience he gained there drew the attention of people involved in the fledgling Apollo space program.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.
Neil A. Armstrong | NASA

Kyle worked for Honeywell, and helped design some of the electrical and mechanical equipment on the spacecraft. He watched the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969, and recalls it being "spectacular" to see.

Kyle was one of the few African-American aerospace engineers involved in the Apollo program, and for years he has worked to get more minority students and women involved in the aerospace field.

Kyle said the Apollo program was meant to be a springboard for further space exploration.

"Apollo really wasn't just about going to the moon," he said. "It was about testing out the hardware and the methods to make something much more important happen, and that's the thing that today's kids should live to see happen -- and that is actually setting human beings on the planet Mars.

"There's a kid out there — a black kid or a Hispanic kid or a woman — who's going to have the right moxie and the right smarts to make it happen. My goal is to try to live long enough to see it happen, and my boyhood dream come true."

Kyle recently spoke about his experience with MPR's Mike Moen; click on the audio player to listen to their conversation.