He trained astronauts and tested spacesuits, how one Pike County man helped get us to space

Published: May. 29, 2020 at 5:55 PM EDT
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Wednesday afternoon, people across the country watched as NASA and SpaceX were about to do something that had not been done in the United States since 2011: send humans into space.

Unfortunately, poor weather postponed the launch until Saturday. The launch itself was a reminder for one woman of her father - and his part in helping the Americans get to space.

Amy Perkins now lives in Indiana, but she's originally from Kentucky, the state her father grew up in.

"My dad was born and raised up a little holler in the middle of nowhere Eastern Kentucky called Elkfoot," said Perkins.

Elkfoot is a part of Pike County. Perkin's father is Alfred Fields, who has a deeply ingrained history in the United State's race to space. Before we jump to that part of Alfred's history, we have to go back to 1946, when Alfred was born.

Growing up in the small Pike County town, Alfred attended a one-room schoolhouse until about 8th grade. He became sick with rheumatic fever and was unable to attend classes that year. During his early years in Pike County, Alfred found a love for aviation.

"And there were planes that used to refuel above where he lived and he would climb up into the tallest tree he could find to watch them refuel," Amy said.

One day when Alfred was 16, he attended a tent revival and met a young woman named Judy. They soon married, and in 1965 they moved to Florida.

The Vietnam war changed their plans.

Alfred's mother found out that he was on the 6th list to be drafted - that's when Alfred and Judy went back to Kentucky.

Still wanting to work with planes and serve his county, Alfred decided to enlist in the airforce. But when he got there, they told him he would not be allowed in because he did not have a high school diploma.

"And he scored so high on it that they immediately insulted him with the condition that he would get his GED after basic training," Amy mentioned.

In a way, this is the point where Alfred's story takes off - kind of.

"Of course he couldn't be a pilot because of his eyesight when he was in the airforce so he decided to do the next best thing and become a jet engine mechanic."

While in the airforce, Alfred started working for ILC Dover: the company that made spacesuits for the Apollo missions.

"They are the exact suits actually. Uhm, not even replicas, they are the exact suits the astronauts wore," Amy added.

While Alfred did not design the suits, he would be the one who tested them. He would spend hours in the suits leaning them in and out. It, at times, was a dangerous job. Amy says the suits were pressurized and Alfred would be bolted into them.

During that time he had "top-secret clearance" and was able to meet the astronauts. Amy goes on to say that Alfred always told her he fit "perfecting into the spacesuit that ended up belonging to Wally Schirra.

After Alfred's time at ILC Dover and in the airforce, he went back home to Kentucky where he spent some time driving a coal truck. He then found another job he considered to be "not even work" - he was a photographer and videographer for Kentucky Afield.

In his later years, he kept his love for aviation and would play flight simulators on his computer. Alfred was a father and grandfather, and as his family says, he lived a very fulfilling and rewarding life.

At 62-years-old, Alfred died from health issues.

To his daughter Amy, days like Wednesday, and this upcoming launch are reminders of her father and his role in putting men into space.

"It reminds me of my dad. And reminds me of how proud I am of him and everything he accomplished."

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