Guenter Wendt (1923-2010): John Glenn gave this German-American the nickname, ‘der Fuehrer of der Launch Pad.’ Guenter Wendt, an engineer for McDonnell Aircraft, oversaw launch pad activities in both the Mercury and Gemini manned space programs. He later worked for North American Rockwell as Pad Leader for many missions, including Apollo 7, Skylab, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program. He also worked on Space Shuttle launches, prior to his retirement in 1989. Guenter F. Wendt was born on August 28, 1923, in Berlin, Germany. He studied engineering in school then served in the Luftwaffe in World War II. He immigrated to the United States in 1949 and became a citizen in 1955. He worked as an engineer, first for McDonnell Aircraft, and then (what is now) North American Rockwell, from then until his retirement, 34 years later.
Wendt first worked on launchpad operations at Cape Canaveral, Florida on the MR-3 mission, in January 1961. This was the suborbital flight of HAM, the first chimpanzee in space; it was soon followed by Alan Shepard’s suborbital mission, Mercury-Redstone 3. From then until 1966, he oversaw launch pad operations on all Mercury and Gemini flights. In those years, he became an indispensable part of the space program. The astronauts were particularly impressed by Wendt’s dedication to their safety. They relied on him to such a degree that Wally Schirra and ‘Deke’ Slayton were able to bring Wendt back to the manned space program after the Apollo 1 tragedy.
Guenter Wendt worked for what was then North American Aviation as Pad Leader for Wally Schirra’s Apollo 7 mission in October 1968. He continued in that role through the Apollo program until 1972, then the manned Skylab missions in 1973 and 1974, and in the following year, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program. Wendt next worked on many of the Space Shuttle flights, from STS-1 in 1981 until his retirement in 1989.
He remained active in his later years and was a consultant for television programs and motion pictures. In 1999, he helped to recover Liberty Bell capsule from Gus Grissom’s ill-fated Mercury-Redstone 4 flight. In 2001, he published his autobiography, The Unbroken Chain. Guenter Wendt died from heart failure and a stroke at his home in Merritt Island, Florida on May 3, 2010.