Duglas X Roeder
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My father at 18 in his high school graduation photo. Douglas X Roeder went on to become one of the 400,000 heroes who sent astronauts to the moon.

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Everybody’s hero this weekend is Neil Armstrong, who took that one small step 50 years ago when Apollo 11 carried America to its first moon landing.

My Apollo hero is someone you have never heard of. But while Neil Armstrong left footprints on the moon, Douglas X Roeder one-upped him. Dad left fingerprints.

My father was one of the more than 400,000 people who helped send astronauts to the moon. He was one of those anonymous white shirt and black tie guys who worked at Boeing. But he, and all the others responsible for the science, engineering and construction behind that moon mission, were the heroes in neighborhoods and towns large and small.

I was king of the playground in school when I talked about my dad the rocket scientist. In the 1970s, it was nearly cooler than having a father who played for the Seattle Seahawks. Among us kids, and the adults for that matter, there was a fascination with the wizardry that allowed our nation to fly higher than its peers.

I remember a poll in kindergarten. The top dream job was astronaut in Tacoma. Engineering came in second.

It was a time unlike the present, when nonentities with big social media followings amass admiration and fame. Our heroes had actually accomplished something. They were geeks. And geeks briefly ruled.

Our nation is on the verge of a return trip to the moon and a venture that could carry our flag to Mars. The fascination with space is rising again, thanks in large part to the hipsters at cool companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

The new space crowd is a lot like the old one. They work endless days focused on a common goal. They won’t let physics or naysayers defeat them. And like the old crowd, they are rebels.

I’m proud to say my father was one of those slide-rule rebels.

As a kid, when Apollo was allowed to quickly fade into history, Dad went to work on classified projects.

He would come home every day with the same gruff response to how work went. “Fine.”

But he could talk about that wonderfully unclassified adventure to the moon. So I did get a tale that has outlived my father in family lore.

He helped design and build the moon buggy, a four-wheeled companion that went to the moon with astronauts on later Apollo missions.

One day, right before the vehicle dubbed “Lunar Rover” by NASA was readied for space, Dad sneaked in and removed one of its access panels.

With his trusty stamp pad, he coated his fingers in ink, and left his fingerprints inside the panel.

Everyone else who dealt with the Rover, from the workers in the clean room to the astronauts on the moon, wore gloves.

So, Douglas X Roeder, who died in 1996 at the too-young age of 62, might be the only Earthling with his fingerprints on the moon.

Sure, someone else probably had the idea. There were 400,000 of them, after all.

And they each were our heroes. And our nation needs that kind of hero again.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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