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Apollo's 50th Anniversary: Karen Malis-Clark

Karen Malis-Clark

This week we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, and its unique connection to Northern Arizona…. If you were born before 1969, chances are you remember exactly where you were when announcement came that “the Eagle has landed.” Flagstaff resident Karen Malis Clark does. She was thirteen years old at the time and her father was literally a rocket scientist. He built an escape rocket for the Apollo astronauts to use if something went wrong during launch. In the last segment of our series this week, Karen Malis-Clark shares a bittersweet memory about her father and that time in history.

My dad, Michael Malis, was a mechanical engineer. My dad was part of the Lockheed team that designed and built what was known as the lunar escape system. It was the small rocket that sat on top of the Apollo capsule. If there ever a problem during launch,  during the early stages of the launch, where the astronauts and their capsule had to be removed the rest of that humongous Saturn V rocket, this small rocket would have accomplished that task.

My family, you know, kids growing up in the sixties, gosh, we watched every single rocket launch on TV. That was just what you did then…. So I can remember watching these launches and the camera would pan from the base of this enormous rocket structure. And the camera would pan upwards and upwards and upwards to the very the top of the rocket, and there sat the capsule, and there on top of the capsule sat Dad’s rocket.

Credit NASA
Apollo 11 launch, with escape rocket on top

That whole Apollo rocket assembly was put together by contractors and sub-contractors. It was quite the accelerated timeline to put a man on the moon at the end of the 60s. We just made it. July of 1969. This might be a good time now, 1969 was both a triumphant yet a tragic year for my family. My dad got sick that summer. At first we weren’t sure what he was sick with, why he wasn’t doing well, why he was feeling so weak. He ended up being diagnosed with a form of cancer, and actually lived to see a man on the moon, but passed away in September of 1969.  

I can remember that July having our TV on at home practically 24 hours day. I think I even remember my mother crying over that…. But that seemed to be a time in history when so much of the country was united for that goal, and bought into that goal. It was almost like a mini-series that we were watching on TV. Every so often, every month, every couple months, we would be totally captivated by that whole story that was unfolding. And like I said, I watched it knowing that my dad had contributed to it.

This audio postcard was produced by KNAU's Melissa Sevigny. The Apollo 11 moon landing turns 50 years old tomorrow. Flagstaff is celebrating all weekend with special events.

Events This Weekend:

Friday, July 19 5pm-7pm: Lunar Legacy Celebration at Astrogeology Science Center

Friday, July 19 6pm-9pm Lunar Legacy Block Party at the Sawmill shopping center

Saturday, July 20 10am-10pm: 50th anniversary celebration at Lowell Observatory—including a panel discussion at 7pm and a video of the moon landing at 7:45pm

Saturday, July 20 1:30pm: Movie screening of Apollo 11 at the Orpheum Theater

Details here:

Thursday, July 25 Guided Hike: Where Astronauts Trained

Led by volunteer Ranger Karen Malis-Clark and Forest Service Archaeologist Dagmar Galvan

Meet at 8:30am at Flagstaff Ranger Station, 5075 N Hwy 89. After a short orientation, we’ll carpool to the trailhead in the Cinder Lakes area. About 3.5 miles hiking across uneven, cinder terrain. Return by 12:30pm. Wear sturdy shoes, bring water, hat, sunscreen and snacks. Not suitable for young kids and dogs. Group size limited and reservations required. RSVP to Dagmar 928-527-8238. 

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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