Saydean Zeldin

In Their Own Words: Saydean Zeldin on her Apollo Project Experience

Saydean Zeldin
Fred Martin
Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr.

Saydean Zeldin worked in software and computer engineering at Draper (formerly MIT Instrumentation Lab).

"When I think back to the Apollo days, my fondest memories are not the technology (which was extraordinary), not the scary notion that it might not work (which thankfully never came to be), but the wonderful spirit of the times, both within the lab and throughout the United States. Within the lab, everyone worked together, encouraged each other to succeed. For example, I began to work at the lab in 1966 at the ripe old age of 26 and had no experience in the world of space missions. I first reported to Fred Martin and when I announced my reservations to him, he told me neither did anyone else and he was sure I could do the job. It turned out he was a great mentor and I resolved not to let him down.

The lab was available 24 hours a day and it was not unusual to see others working away in the middle of the night. Especially if you got a call from one of the computer operators who knew the sounds of everyone’s program as the evening edition was being compiled. One evening, as I was driving home in the middle of the night after being called back to the lab because my program “sounded funny”, I was stopped by a policeman for driving too fast. When he heard what I was doing so late at night, he was so impressed he turned on his flashing lights and escorted me home.

Juggling family life and lab life was pretty tricky. It was not unusual to see kids around the lab, especially on weekends.  There was many a weekend when I took my 3 daughters into work with me. They especially enjoyed playing with the astronaut’s computer interface to help us debug the software. I wish I had saved some of their house-of-card sculptures they constructed from discarded punch cards.

Many of us traveled to Houston to report our progress to NASA’s flight director, Chris Kraft. On one such trip, I remember one of the new young members of our team, when asked the status of the software by Chris Kraft, responded “I hope it works”.  

When Apollo 11 was ready to launch, I was among the group of engineers invited to attend the launch at Cape Canaveral – husband, kids and all. I was among those close to the launch pad, while the rest of my family were relegated to an area further away. As the space ship lifted off, I raised my small Brownie camera to film the event and proceeded to point it directly in the sun, destroying the camera in the process. It was a memorable event for me and my family, although my youngest daughter, who was 3 at the time, only remembers her need to find a bathroom."