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KC barbecue helped NASA land on the moon – sort of – and we can thank a Missouri man

50 years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Union Station remembers Apollo 11

Union Station remembers Apollo Landing this week, the 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 mission, which made Neil Armstrong the first man to set foot on the moon.
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Union Station remembers Apollo Landing this week, the 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 mission, which made Neil Armstrong the first man to set foot on the moon.

Kansas City barbecue played a part in NASA landing on the moon 50 years ago — even if it had only a small “roll.”

Lee’s Summit, Missouri, resident Harold Finch was a project director for the Apollo mission tasked with controlling the temperature of lunar craft in space, according to his alumni biography for the University of Kansas. He developed a way for the spacecraft to slowly rotate, like a rotisserie, to evenly distribute heat from the sun with the coldness from space, the biography said.

Officially, NASA uses the term “passive thermal control” to describe the important technology. Informally, it’s called the “barbecue roll,” and Finch says the invention is rooted in Kansas City’s signature cuisine, WDAF reported.

Frustrated he couldn’t figure out a way to keep the rockets from burning up or freezing, Finch said he finally took a day off work in the 1960s and went to a barbecue restaurant, the Kansas City TV station reported.

“I saw this chicken on the rotisserie, and I immediately had that ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Finch told WDAF.

Even Tom Hanks gave a nod to the barbecue roll in the 1995 film “Apollo 13,” when he played astronaut Jim Lovell.

“Uh, Houston, we are ready for the beginning of PTC, and I think once we’re in that barbecue roll, Jack and I will eat,” Hanks said, according to IMDB.

“Hey, I’m hungry,” Bill Paxton’s character, astronaut Fred Haise, responded.

From the Carolinas to KC, The Star's food editor Jill Silva talks America's various styles of barbecue.

Of course, the barbecue roll involved enough complicated calculations and mathematical equations to give a headache. But Finch said the simple concept of meat cooking over a barbecue pit helped the United States overcome one of its biggest hurdles in putting a man on the moon, according to KCTV.

“To me, it just seemed like a practical solution would be to do what we do in BBQ restaurants — put it in a rotisserie and rotate,” Finch told KCTV. “That’s exactly what we did, but instead of rotating a pig, we rotated the whole Apollo.”

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Chacour Koop is a Real-Time reporter based in Kansas City. Previously, he reported for the Associated Press, Galveston County Daily News and Daily Herald in Chicago.
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