Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Lewis Iuliucci, the grandson of Italian immigrants that were processed through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, was taught that with hard work he could achieve the American dream — the prosperous life his family braved dangerous seas to seek.
“We were very, very poor and living in a melting-pot Brooklyn neighborhood with other immigrants from around the world. My father worked hard to provide for us, and he instilled in me that hard work is required in life to succeed,” said Iuliucci. “Because of my parent’s poverty, I had to work my way through college with odd jobs, and I didn’t mind because I knew that was what had to be done and I did it.”
As a young college student in the early 1960s, Iuliucci was studying mechanical engineering at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn when he heard Pres. John F. Kennedy’s call to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Like most Americans at the time, he reacted to the president’s appeal with excitement and anticipation, knowing the country’s ingenuity was up to the challenge.
Iuliucci, now retired and living in Baldwin County, said he believes that Kennedy’s proposal came at the right time after years of Americans witnessing the Soviet Union’s advances in aircraft technology, including the launch of the first artificial satellite into orbit Earth.
“We were in the Cold War with the Soviets, and it was the nuclear age, and as Americans, everyone was behind the president in wanting to beat the Russians to space. The whole country was excited about putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s,” he said.
Two short years after Kennedy’s 1961 space race speeches were given, a friend suggested to Iuliucci that he apply to work at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation located on Long Island, N.Y. The company had been awarded the contract to design and build the Lunar Module for the Apollo Space Program in 1963. He had barely got himself in the facility’s door when a month after starting his new job, he was drafted into the military.
“I just knew my time was up and I had to answer a different call for my country,” he said. “But, my Grumman supervisor said that he would handle the situation, and I was needed to work in the space program as an engineer instead of joining the military. So, I stayed home and continued to work on the Lunar Module program and met my wife Kathleen who also worked at Grumman.”
Iuliucci was tasked with designing spacecraft storyboard classroom trainers for astronauts’ moon landing mission training. He also converted system engineering designs into equations to enable computer programmers to build the Lunar Mission Simulator.
At the program’s pinnacle, Iuliucci was one of 9,000 Grumman employees working on the Lunar Module; nationwide more than 400,000 people were contracted through various companies working toward the goal of putting a man on the moon.
After six years of 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week of intense labor, Iuliucci woke his 5-month-old son Daniel up to watch alongside him, images of the successful televised landing of the Lunar Module 5 on the moon on July 20, 1969. As he looks fondly back 50 years, he ponders the enormity of the task and the advancements in technology and medicine the space program produced.
“When you reflect on all the average Americans working together, yet on separate tasks, to make this program a success, it’s truly astounding. Because of the program, we now have Velcro, Styrofoam, Teflon and aluminum foil and many advances in medicine that have helped people to live longer,” said Iuliucci. “I’m an average American, from a poor upbringing and son of immigrants, who, by being blessed to have been born in this country and working hard, participated in an extraordinary historic event.”