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Local man remembers working as a 'human engineering psychologist' for the Apollo program

Jul 18, 2019

Interior of the Apollo 11 lunar module.
Credit NASA

Before he retired, Mel Yessenow was chairman of the psychology department at SUNY Geneseo. But back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Brighton man was a human engineering psychologist.

After earning his doctorate at the University of Rochester, he worked for the Grumman Corporation for several years, part of the team that designed the lunar module.

Yessenow was working in the Apollo program for the missions that came just after Apollo 11. He says among the areas he dealt with was how to design a spacecraft that looked at issues involving livability for the astronauts, for instance, how they would maneuver inside the cramped quarters of the lunar module.

“They’re human beings and they’re not as tough as you think they are and had to deal with issues of living together in very, very tight quarters, so as a psychologist and a man-machine psychologist, these were areas of interest to me,” Yessenow explained.

Yessenow made his mark on lunar exploration in another way as well. He says his signature is on the moon.

Mel Yessenow
Credit Mel Yessenow/Facebook

“All of us who worked on (Apollo 12) at Grumman, signed a document that was eventually reduced to microfilm and they left it on the moon in the descent stage after they took off. So, I’m very proud, I have a copy of it, I’m very proud to have my signature on the moon,” Yessenow said.

And Yessenow likes the current discussion about the U.S. getting back to developing a manned space program again over the next several years, with potential missions to the moon, and maybe even one day to Mars, saying that humans are “natural explorers, we’re curious people.”