SLATER, S.C. (WSPA) – As Americans mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, it’s important to remember the Upstate played a significant role in the historic mission to the moon.
It happened in what’s known as “the mill that went to the moon.”
During the 19-60’s as the space race between the U.S. and Russia heated up, tucked away in a tiny village in northern Greenville County sat a textile mill.
Little did the folks at Slater Mill know, they were working on a top secret project straight from NASA.
Before the historic countdown, the remarkable television coverage, and the landing of the Apollo 11 on the moon, NASA had a predicament. Astronaut suits were nylon-based and leading to disaster like the tragedy with Apollo 1.
“Three astronauts basically burned alive,” said Zachary Deuerling, a member of the Slater Hall Citizens Committee.
He and Ann Diamond have done their research on the mill that’s been in their town for generations.
NASA needed a fix for the problematic suits and they found a solution in Slater, South Carolina, a tiny mill town with some of the best workers in the industry.
“People in our little ‘podunk’ town, as they used to call it, were very smart and very creative,” said Diamond.
They were creative and completely in the dark as to what they were working on when Slater was contracted by NASA to develop a specialized fiberglass fabric.
“It’s called beta-fabric,” said Deuerling.
They were developing and manufacturing the fabric for space suits that were more durable and could withstand the extreme heat.
“It’s not regular textile cloth. It’s cloth but it’s made out of glass,” he explained.
When the mill folks got to work at Slater, only a select few knew about the project, a handful of supervisors who were sworn to secrecy.
“They didn’t even tell their spouses let alone their children or anybody else. It was very hush hush until it was over with,” said Diamond.
“The people weaving…they didn’t even know why they were doing it,” added Deuerling.
They were working on the suits to be worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the first moon landing and walk.
As they like to say here in Slater: “A giant step for textiles…a giant step for the Slater plant.”
“Without the fiberglass that we developed and made, the space suit would not have been durable So if it weren’t for us they probably wouldn’t have gotten there,” said Diamond.
Deuerling added, “that’s our little claim to fame.”
On Saturday, July 20th Slater Hall will host a special event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the role the town played.
They’ll show the movie “First Man” beginning at 7:30 p.m.