Wilson Kokalari, an Albanian engineer leading the Apollo program

Wilson Kokalari, an Albanian engineer leading the Apollo program
 Wilson Kokalari
 About the historic flights of the Apollo program the world knows a lot about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, a little less than the brave and passionate people who were able to allow the implementation of the project.

A small army of engineers, scientists and NASA employees. Among them, also an Albanian, the engineer Wilson Kokalari.

Born in 1936 in Gjirokaster, Albania, and died in New York in 2014, he was just two years old when his family moved to the US, while his father was a businessman.

Wilson Kokalari, an Albanian engineer leading the Apollo program
 Wilson Kokalari
Illyria, an Albanian magazine founded in New York, dedicated in 2007 an article by Ruben Avxhiu. Here we are showing an extract:

An Albanian engineer behind the first landing on the Moon

of Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, the spaceship that landed on the moon, made history while setting foot on the Moon in 1969, he said: "A small step for man, but a great leap for humanity."

Humanity had just shown that it was not only possible to travel in space, but also to probably land on other planets; technology had radically changed to the point of running with the imagination and it was easy to dream of other conquests.

However, until the time when the public was presented with everything on the silver plate, only a handful of people had the exact knowledge of how close America was to this gigantic leap.

One of those few who knew everything was an Albanian engineer, Wilson Kokalari, charged with planning the final test of the entire Apollo system, before his departure for this interplanetary adventure.

45 years after starting work for the world's most secret and largest technology program and 38 years after the historic Moon trip, Wilson Kokalari had agreed to issue an exclusive interview to the Illyria newspaper, at the invitation of the publisher Vehbi Bajrami.

Wilson Kokalari was less than 2 years old when his family emigrated to the United States, from Gjirokastra, southern Albania. While Musine Kokolari, a prominent member of his family and one of the first female intellectuals in Albania, had been executed by the communists.

From the beginning, unlike many other immigrants, his father Hilmi Kokalari practiced his business acumen, selling olives and cheeses brought from Albania.

His business trips were going to cost him dear and he had just time to return to the United States in 1939, a few days before the Italian invasion of Albania. The war and then the communist isolation put an end to his trade, so he has been concentrated on the real estate sector. By the 1950s he had already acquired a series of buildings in Manhattan. Could have been a very rich family, if the children had undertaken the same career as their father. But they had other plans and the buildings were sold.

Instead of trying to become a sort of Albanian Donald Trump, Wilson Kokalari started studying engineering. He joined Perdue University, the best for those who want to become astronauts. Even Neil Armstrong, the future commander of Apollo 11, had graduated from this university.

Reaching the moon: the hot race of the Cold War

The Apollo program took shape during the administration of President Eisenhower but struggled to go further due to the lack of the funds.

In April 1961, the Soviets sent the first man into space and, in the context of the Cold War, the impact of the propaganda of such an event was enormous. A month later, President Kennedy, in his historic congressional speech, promised that "before the current decade comes to an end, the man will go to the moon and return to earth safe and sound".

In the following years, NASA would have employed 400 thousand people and spent 24 billion dollars. In this context, thousands of companies set out to become NASA's main contractors.

Two private companies won the tender for the construction of the main parts of the spaceship that would make the trip to the Moon possible: the North American Aviation from California would build the Apollo Command Service Module - CSM, while the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation from Long Island, New York, assumed the task of creating the Lunar Module or Lunar Excursion Module - LEM.

Wilson Kokalari is one of the few people who have worked for both of these companies.

The engineer of Albanian origin played a key role in the project.

For two years in a row, his reports of engineering tests on electronically tested systems were detailed. Only once the tests had passed positively, the project would have been licensed to be applied to a full spaceship.

Wilson Kokalari, an Albanian engineer leading the Apollo program
Documentation of repots by Kokalari
A plaque with his name on the Moon

The first astronauts who set foot on the Moon, in gratitude for the extraordinary work of those who made this historic flight possible, brought with them a plaque, with the names and signatures of the members of the technical team. Among these names, is also that of Wilson Kokalari. The plaque is positioned on the lunar soil, where the American flag has been embedded.
Wilson Kokalari, an Albanian engineer leading the Apollo program Wilson Kokalari, an Albanian engineer leading the Apollo program Sunday, September 22, 2019 Rating: 5
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