GERMANTOWN HILLS — Andrew Barth grew up hearing stories from his father about the Apollo 13 mission. His father would tell him and his siblings how he drove down to Florida to watch it lift off. That experience became a part of who Barth’s father was and in part inspired Barth’s interest in aerospace.
Now going into his senior year as a mechanical engineering major at Bradley University, Barth will have Apollo stories of his own to share as he is in the midst of what he referred to as the coolest thing he has done in his life this far.
With some help from connections made through social media, the 21-year-old from Germantown Hills got in touch with project artist Ryan Nagata, who made props for Apollo 11 tribute film “First Man.” Nagata happened to know Adam Savage, former “MythBusters” cohost, who was working in partnership with the National Air and Space Museum to create a full-scale replica of the Apollo 11 Command Module Hatch in celebration of 50 years since the 1969 mission.
Throughout Barth’s time at Bradley, he has become a design expert and was working on a separate project with Nagata when Savage recruited Nagata for the Apollo 11 recreation. Barth was later invited to consult on the Smithsonian project.
As summer drew near, he took a chance and asked about internship opportunities with the museum. He ended up landing the opportunity to work directly with Savage and his team on what is known as “Project Egress” as the computer-aided design or CAD Modeler.
Now living in Washington D.C. for the summer, Barth spends his days consulting with Smithsonian personnel and well-known YouTubers, drawing, modeling, searching through Smithsonian archives, and — his favorite — working in the shop.
In his role Barth was responsible for digitally modeling each of the hatch’s components. He referenced Smithsonian historical documents and copies of technical drawings from the 1960s to create models of all 767 pieces of the hatch. These were then sent to 44 artists and fabrication shops to make the different components that will eventually come together to make up the full-scale replica.
“Being able to work with caretakers of artifacts that went to the moon is pretty cool,” said Barth.
The part he is working on now is the gearbox, which is one of the most complex pieces of the build because it has nearly 200 parts. He utilized reverse engineering to model new parts to make them function as the original hatch did.
Not only was it complex for the build, but it is the most complex project Barth said he has ever worked on. What he has learned from it is something he will carry with him as he works toward a career in the aerospace industry.
“Keep at it,” Barth said. “I ask myself, ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ and the answer is one bite at a time.”
Breaking the project into smaller pieces, dividing and conquering has helped Barth to stay on track.
Back at home, Barth is a member of the Peoria chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and spends hours of his time in the Bradley University engineering shops working on design and equipment. Besides this current project, building a small-scale jet is one of his greatest accomplishments.
“But this time it is not just for me,” said Barth. “It’s on a national stage.”
Barth has been working directly with artist Jen Schachter and said she has been incredibly kind and patient and really helped navigate him through the project.
On July 18, just two days before the anniversary of the moon landing, Barth, Schachter and Savage will take to the stage at the National Air and Space Museum to physically build the replica that has been in the works since September as part of the Smithsonian’s Apollo 50 celebration.
The Smithsonian has made the project documents available for anyone who would like to build their own hatch at home. Barth’s hand in bringing American history to life will be on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Moving Beyond Earth gallery.