Growing up as a NASA kid gave Annette Smith a unique childhood experience.
Her father, Ken Langenberg, and mother moved to Texas in 1966, when Smith was 4, when her father went to work for Lockheed Engineering under the NASA umbrella. Her parents had moved there from California, where they had lived since she was born.
As people across the United States and the globe reflected on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Smith reflected back on the small town of Friendswood, Texas, recounting the years of her childhood that she spent there in a series of presentations around the area.
Friendswood went from a rural town, growing figs and oranges, with bike parades and horses riding down the street. It became a fully-developed city on the back of the space program. The families hung out together, bonded by the same profession. NASA organized events, like Christmas parties and a softball league, for the families to bond over.
“They knew the toll it was taking on families, that intense work,” Smith said, so they made sure to build in quality downtime with families.
If Saturdays had to be sacrificed, and the task at hand was not too important, they could turn into take your child to work day. While there, Smith said they got to try out the freeze-dried rations that the astronauts had to eat.
“We knew it was food, because the package said it was food, but it didn’t taste like anything my mom fixed,” she said. “There was a packet that was called ice cream and it would kind of get creamy in your mouth, but it wasn’t the ice cream that we would taste.”
Not all astronaut food was so terrible. Smith loved Tang growing up.
Smith also had opportunities to view space memorabilia, like moon rocks or capsules, or view one of only two centrifuges in the world. As she reflected on the old photos and memories, it’s a different part of the lab visits that stands out: the technology, or lack thereof when viewed through a modern lens
“My dad used a slide rule or a compass,” she said.
In addition to the space station, they were not far away from the local air force base, where the first astronauts came from, which afforded other unique opportunities.
“We saw the Blue Angels…we saw the Thunderbirds,” she said and planes flying over Friendswood were regular occurrence.
Given their surroundings, it’s no surprise that teachers and book fairs held at their school focused on the sciences.
You could tell when an important mission was coming up, because they all disappeared into their work. No event was that more noticeable than the preparation for the first moon landing. Whenever there was a space mission, their whole class was glued to the TV set, which was rolled into the classroom.
Smith left to return to Iowa in 1972, graduating from Anamosa High School, and her dad stayed behind to continue his work. Even 14-years after leaving, in 1986, when the Challenger disaster happened, she still felt that connection.
“When the Challenger blew apart, I called my dad, and he could barely talk. All you heard in the room were sobs. They were all devastated,” she said.
Her father had worked very closely with the astronauts on that particular mission, his last, in his role as a payload specialist.
When her family left to go back to Iowa, and her father stayed in Texas, readjusting from the life she’d known was hard.
“It was culture shock,” she said.
Where the space program was front-and-center back in Texas, that just wasn’t the case in Iowa.
Even all these years later, Smith still follows the program, though she misses the connection she used to have with the space program.
Looking back on it now, she wouldn’t change where she ended up, but Smith realizes how lucky she was.
“As an adult…I’m astounded of where he found himself in life,” Smith said of her father. “We just became part of the NASA family and, at the time, I didn’t consider myself a kid of NASA, but I really do now feel honored to have been a kid of NASA.”