One small farm boy’s giant leap for mankind
By David Allred
July 20, 2022 will mark the 53rd anniversary of man’s first small step on the moon, and “one giant leap for mankind”, the now famous words Astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered as he stepped off the Lunar Lander to make the first human footsteps on any solar surface. Val Allred, a farm boy from Fairview, was one of thousands of people around the world who made up the Apollo Support Team that made that small step possible; and perhaps the first human on Earth to hear those words spoken.
The son of Ellen and Leola Allred, Val was born and reared in the Historic Landmark House on the corner of Hwy 236 and Route 142 in Fairview. A short man of stature, he was not even as tall as the bass fiddle he played in the high school orchestra. A shy man, he never dated during his high school years. Voted the “Least Likely to Succeed”, by his graduating class of 1948, he spent most of his Senior year working various work study jobs in the valley in hopes of finding one job that he could make a living with.
His first success in life was winning the heart of Genevieve Johns of Smoot, the Yearbook Queen of 1950. After their marriage in the Idaho Falls Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he took his bride to their first home, a canvas tent in the mountains near Dubois, Wyoming. Through the summer and fall, that tent transformed into a tent house – a canvas roof with wooden walls and floors. As Winter set in, wiser friends packed their belongings into their truck and used a Caterpillar to plow a path to the highway as the first storm of winter dropped 6-8 feet of snow on the logging camp.
After a harrowing escape from the mountains, they made their way to town, started college, detoured through a stint in the Army at the end of the Korean War, and finally graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Electrical Engineering in June 1958.
During those final months of school he, his classmates in his Advanced Physics Course, and all the world, watched in amazement and horror as Russia launched the first rockets and man-made satellites into Earth’s orbit in October 1957. Americans were afraid of the Soviet Union being able to watch them from space, or even worse, attacking with nuclear weapons from space.
His first Engineering job sent him to Massachusetts on a “one year” assignment to work with the Air Force developing the first land-based radar system that pilots use today to navigate across the country and around the world.
During a business trip to Washington D.C., he was persuaded to submit an application for employment to the five-year-old National Aeronautical and Space Administration, NASA, by his cousin Dale Call of Afton. In June 1964, he accepted a position and relocated his family to work at the Godard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Initially he worked on the ECHO satellite system, a large metallic ball that simply reflected radio waves off its surface back to Earth.
In 1967, Val was selected as the Site Engineer during the construction of the Goldstone Deep Space Satellite dish in the desert outside of Barstow, California, which was one of three similar stations with 120-meter diameter dishes that were strategically located around the globe to allow for continuous radio communication with deep space vehicles. (The other two centers are near Madrid, Spain and near Can- berra, Australia). This system remains a “critical “ piece of the space exploration communication system, just as it did during the 1960- 1970s Apollo Lunar Landings.
After successfully completing the building, testing and initial operations of the GoldstoneDeep Space Communications Complex, Val returned to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland to work with the Apollo Ground Support Team.
As Chief of Communications, it was his role to ensure that the two-way voice communication from Earth to Space and back was operating correctly. Each comment from the Control Center in Houston was transferred by telephone line through his console in Maryland, to one of the Deep Space Dishes and sent to space. The reverse process occurred for communications from space. Thus, Val was possibly the first person on Earth to hear those famous words uttered by Armstrong.
Val worked with the Apollo program from Apollo 8 through Apollo 12, leaving NASA in December 1970. His efforts were recognized as critical to the success of the entire program and he was the recipient of the highly coveted “Silver Snoopy “Award; an honor given to one in one thousand people on the team.
Speaking of his colleagues, Val once said, “ I have worked with people with 13 years of experience, and I’ve worked with people with one year of experience 13 times.” Not bad for graduating class “The Least Likely to Succeed” recipient.
When he first heard the claim that all of the Lunar Landings were faked, he paused and thought for a moment and replied, “There were thousands of people around the world involved with and monitoring every step of this program, both in NASA and in Russia. There is no possible way to keep a secret like that.”
Val died in November 2018, one month after his 90th birthday, leaving his bride of 67 years and five of their six children: Mark (Elaine Grubstad), LTC David (Christine Thompson), Sheldon, Alecia (Joseph Carpenter), Stephanie (Edward Wallace). His son, Captain Keith Allred (Joanna Higginson) preceded him in death.