Joe Gavin, 88, now retired, was director of the lunar module program from 1962 to 1972 and president of Grumman Corp. from 1976 to 1985.

In the beginning, we didn't really know what we were getting into. We didn't know what the surface of the moon was like. . . . The thing that really worried us was the fact that there was no way we could flight-test these flying machines before they went on the mission. To somebody who had grown up in the aircraft business, this was a pretty big hurdle. I never saw a launch because I was always a guest in the room where the NASA people were monitoring electronically the health of the LM. That was at the Cape. After everybody was safely in orbit, we'd get in an airplane and fly to Houston. . . . They had an open line back to Bethpage, where another crew could provide a third level of support. Frankly, (Armstrong and Aldrin) getting out on the surface was an anticlimax. Once they were down, what they did on the surface seemed to be pretty straightforward. In my view, the takeoff [from the moon] was the most critical part. Even when you think you have done an absolutely perfect job, there is always a lingering concern that something escaped your attention, . . . It's impossible to make an absolute guarantee of success. You work hard, you have good talent involved, you do the best you can, and you hope it's close enough to perfect to succeed.