FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21)-
3, 2, 1..liftoff! It was America’s greatest technological achievement, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions that landed a man on the moon. It took ten years of research, experiment, danger..even death to accomplish, and at every step a man with ties to 21 Country was part of the effort.
“It was awesome for me to say ‘Yeh, my grandpa worked with astronauts,’ says Austin Know, “and that’s, I think, when I was younger it’s all I really cared about.”
On the wall of Austin Knox’s Wayne Township office is a tribute to his grandfather, Pat Gaines, an army nurse who was part of NASA’s rescue team charged with saving astronauts in danger on the launch pad and at splashdown.
“So if anything should happen on the launch pad if there was a fire, any malfunction, he would put his life on the line and try to go in there and save them,” says Knox. “I mean it’s a lot of rocket fuel so chances of anything coming out good were pretty slim.”
For most missions rescue wasn’t needed except on January 27th, 1967 when three Apollo astronauts burned to death during a test in their capsule.
“My grandpa was one of the first ones there and tried to get the hatch open but unfortunately they couldn’t,” recalls Knox.
Pat Gaines was one of the few African Americans hired for NASA’s space mission, serving on the rescue team for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, Skylab One and Two, and on the aircraft carriers that plucked astronauts from the sea after touchdown. A quiet man with a story to tell, one he mostly kept to himself. To Austin Knox, though, he was a loving grandfather and mentor, proud of his family. A family in mourning since Gaines’ death two months ago.
“I had to pull over, just to kind of collect myself but it was tough,” says Knox. ‘Seems like it still is.’ Yeh, it is. Called him on Fridays and miss calling him.”
Pat Gaines ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery with the rest of America’s heroes.