Remembering McDonnell Aircraft, NASA Pioneer Robert “Bob” Schepp

    By Jacqui Poor

    Engineer/space exploration pioneer and inspiration to the world, Robert “Bob” Schepp, worked for McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing for 35 years in Guidance & Control Systems as a System Engineer on Mercury, Gemini, Manned Orbital Lab, and Skylab space vehicles and many missiles including the Tomahawk Cruise Missile.

    “Bob Schepp helped make history as part of the Checkout Trailer crew for America’s first manned space flight on May 5, 1961. The Project Mercury spacecraft renewed the faith of the entire world in the United States’ ability to successfully compete in the conquest of space. Boeing is still pursuing those dreams and is grateful to the contributions of people like Bob. While those who knew and loved Bob will miss him, they can reflect with pride on his remarkable contributions to manned space flight,” states Paul Segura, PLM Engineering Function Leader, The Boeing Company

    Bob was a member of the elite engineering brain-power of the NASA launch team in the Blockhouse at Cape Canaveral for all Mercury launches. “When we started to work on the Mercury Program, both of us were absolutely THRILLED, and a little scared because we were doing something that had never been done in the history of mankind! We could not believe that we were so lucky to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right education and technical capability,” reflects Bob’s colleague and best friend of 60 years, Jerry Roberts, McDonnell Aircraft GCS & ASCS Engineer / NASA’s Mercury/Gemini Projects.

    “Bob was indeed a Space Pioneer in every aspect of the definition,” said Jerry Roberts. “Being responsible for the Guidance System, one of the first questions we had to address was, ‘In outer space, which way is ‘UP?’ Bob pondered and discussed that question for such a long period it became a standard greeting between he and other Guidance System engineers. Space vehicle capabilities and maneuvers developed and proven on the Gemini Program were key to enabling a manned moon flight and landing. Without Gemini program success, there would not have been a manned moon mission in our generation or maybe longer.”

    Over the years, as part of the Mercury Six, a group of retired McDonnell engineers who worked in the Mercury and Gemini programs during the 1960s, Bob participated in several special events and festivals at the Saint Louis Science Center.

    “He sought to be an inspiration to youth, challenging them to be creative problem solvers and encouraging them to choose STEM careers,” states Christian Greer, Chief Officer for Science, Education, and Experience at the Saint Louis Science Center.

    HEC Media was fortunate to record two of those live interactive programs from the St Louis Science Center. The Mercury Six: Norman Beckle, Dean Purdy, Earl Robb, Jerry Roberts, Robert Schepp, and Ray Tucker, recap that iconic era of early space exploration on these programs. Robert Schepp explains the challenge of designing the Mercury capsule.

    “When we designed the spacecraft, we always planned that the astronauts had to go around backwards and the reason behind that was…” Find out the answer to this on History In the First Person: Building the Mercury Capsule and History in the First Person: The Gemini Project.

    “Bob, and other engineers like him, made an immeasurable impact on the field of engineering and our country’s capability to successfully send astronauts to space, into orbit, and ultimately to the moon,” said Greer.

    “It was the intellect, dedication, and resolve of these individual space pioneers, that got us to the moon in a single decade,” adds Earl Mullins, Owner/CEO of The Space Museum in Bonne Terre. The Grissom Center was made possible by MAC’s Old TEAM and the engineers who volunteered every Saturday for nearly four years working on the museum and is featured on Retired McDonnell Aircraft Engineers Make a Difference: Build Space Museum’s Grissom Center.

    “It was an honor to have known Robert “Bob” Schepp. I worked with him and his fellow MACAir teammates for a panel discussion that they presented to our Missouri Aviation Historical Society, marking the 50th Anniversary of Gordon Cooper’s final flight bringing Project Mercury to an end and laying the foundation for the Gemini and Apollo missions. If it were not the skill and tenacity of men such as Bob, the Space Program would never have left the ground,” recalls Dan O’Hara, President of the Missouri Aviation Historical Society.

    As a graduate of Washington University and Kirkwood High School, Bob was a strong believer in quality education.

    After retirement Schepp continued his passion for sharing his extensive knowledge inspiring the next generations. “I think it’s great because my endeavors in teaching is to always encourage folks to be the best they can be. I tell them, “What you need to do when you’re studying about what you want to be, is make sure it’s something that will make you happy… One of the things about those kind of careers, usually you’re happy with what you do. And you can’t ask for anything better than that,” said Bob during an interview with us at the Space Museum.

    The Mercury Six and Earl Mullins hosted a surprise congratulatory celebration for the Festus high school 2017 World Rocketry Champions. “This is just a great feeling! I told them, “You guys are the generation that are going to get us to Mars. Some of you may be on the ship that goes there,” said Bob to the Festus High School Rocketry Club students on https://hecmedia.org/posts/a-suprise-out-of-this-world-for-the-festus-high-school-rocketry-club-champions.

    Bob Schepp was a popular and beloved substitute teacher for the Parkway and Ladue school districts for twenty-years where he taught Math, Physics, Music and Science. His students affectionately called him “Rocketman” which he loved and often shared this with a chuckle to his many friends.

    “Mr. Schepp was a man who left a memory on so many kids at the Ladue Middle School. Every time he came to sub, I was so excited just to see him and hear the stories of his time at NASA that he cherished so much,” posted Ladue Middle School student, Sam D.

    “I will never forget the countless times that I had Mr. Schepp as a substitute at Parkway North and thank him so much for the wonderful stories, advice, and contributions to things bigger than any singular individual. In his life he did more for people than most.   He sent people into space and then spent twenty years giving kids speeches and lectures not only on science or music but on how to be a gentleman or a lady and to pursue not what you are able to do but what you dream to do,” posted Parkway student, Nathan M.

    Your legacy lives on forever Robert “Bob” Schepp. HEC Media and Educate.Today thanks you for generously sharing your wisdom and experience with our viewers, teachers, students and life-long learners. May you be flying “UP” & high “Rocketman!”

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