Growing up in Golden, Mississippi, Jerry Bostick knew where he would attend college. His mother, Lois Ann Bostick, held two degrees from Mississippi State University, and his older sister had already enrolled.
Yes, Bostick was always going to be a Bulldog. The bigger question was what he wanted to study and where he hoped to land after graduation. What he did not know at the time was that one day he would be among the Bulldogs who helped man land on the moon.
“I took an aptitude test when I was in high school and it said I should either be a funeral director or an engineer,” Bostick said. “I wasn’t sure what an engineer was, so I checked out a book in the library titled, ’What engineers do.’ I wanted to work outside and build things, so I enrolled in civil engineering.”
Although he studied civil engineering when he came to Mississippi State in 1957, Bostick admits he was actually interested in the aerospace field. By his senior year, he was planning to take a job with Boeing, where he would be calculating the center of gravity for new airplanes. However, a chance encounter with a NASA recruiter completely changed his career path.
“I went by the placement office with a friend of mine,” Bostick said. “The placement director said ‘I know you’ve already accepted a job, but I’ve been trying to get NASA to come down here for months. They’re finally coming but now they don’t have anybody to talk to. Would you please sign up and just talk to this guy?’ I don’t remember the gentleman’s name, but he convinced me that if I was going to be a structural engineer, the only place to work was at the NASA Langley Research Center. So that’s where I went.”
Unfortunately, Bostick soon realized the work being done at the research center was more theoretical than he hoped. He wanted to work toward a clear goal. That chance came when he heard about a group on the other side of the Virginia-based center that was working on manned space flight. When he went there for an interview, they informed him they did not need any civil engineers. Thinking he would be stuck with his research group, Bostick started to leave, but on the way out, he happened to cross paths with the “Father of Mission Control” Christopher Kraft.
Once Kraft learned Bostick was a civil engineer, he made him a part of the manned space flight group because the unit “may need somebody to survey the moon.”
From that point on, Bostick was part of the team that would spend most of the 1960s working to put a man on the moon. He was relocated from Virginia to the Manned Spacecraft Center, now Johnson Space Center, in Texas, where his life became a blur of preparation and rocket launches. He served as a flight dynamics officer in mission control.
“We would fly missions about every two months,” Bostick said. “We would land a mission, take half a day or a whole day, then come back and start simulating the next flight. We didn’t really have any time to appreciate what was going on or what America had accomplished.”
The biggest success came with Apollo 11 in 1969. Bostick was in mission control when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. With the 50th anniversary of that landing coming next year, he still divides his life as before man landed on the moon and after.
“It was a feeling of great satisfaction,” Bostick said. “It was unbelievable, but also it brought back memories of an old Peggy Lee song, ‘Is that all there is?’ What do we do for an encore? That was really a question a lot of us had. We worked as hard as ever on the rest of the missions, but we did wonder how we could top this.”
In 1970, Bostick was again in the control room, this time for Apollo 13. When an oxygen tank exploded two days after the launch, the astronauts and flight officers on the ground worked to develop a way to bring the team safely back to Earth, which they did on April 17, 1970. The dramatic tale of Apollo 13 has been told many times, but the most prominent version was sparked by an idea from Bostick’s son, Mike.
In 1994, Mike was working for acclaimed director Ron Howard. When Mike heard author Jim Lovell was writing a book about the Apollo 13 mission, he gave Howard a synopsis of the book and suggested he turn it into a movie. That idea led to the 1995 film “Apollo 13,” which starred Tom Hanks and won two Oscars.
Although previous plans to dramatize the Apollo 13 mission made Bostick skeptical, he, along with flight director Gerry Griffin, served as a technical consultant for Ron Howard’s film after being assured the movie would properly portray the mission.
“I spent a lot of time with the actors,” Bostick said. “They were much more interested in what we had to say than I expected. They were like sponges, they wanted more and more. Ron was very good to his word. There were only three or four things in the movie that we objected to, but they weren’t major.”
Bostick stayed at NASA through the Apollo and Skylab programs. He left NASA in 1985 to become vice president for civil space at Grumman Aerospace Corp., where he worked for 11 years before retiring in 1996. In addition to Apollo 13, Bostick has worked as a technical adviser for the movie “Armageddon,” the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon,” and other space-based productions.
From the time Bostick met the NASA recruiter at Mississippi State to the time he left the organization in 1985, he said he thrived under the pressure of working toward historic feats while keeping those involved safe. He was one of 22 Mississippi State graduates involved in the Apollo missions.
“Space exploration is not an easy task. It takes the best and brightest,” Bostick said. “Something always comes up that you have to figure out in real time. I didn’t think of it as pressure, I thought of it as a responsibility. I for damn sure wasn’t going to let anybody down. It’s a great responsibility, great opportunity to be involved in something like that. I just made sure I didn’t let anybody down.”
When Jerry Bostick graduated from Mississippi State in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy had just announced his goal of putting man on the moon by the end of the decade. During his time with NASA, Bostick played a key role in helping America reach that goal as he served as a flight dynamics officer in mission control for the Apollo missions. When Ron Howard and Tom Hanks were filming Apollo 13, Bostick helped keep the movie scientifically accurate while working as a technical consultant.