Launching Legacies: Honoring a Father's Impact on America's Space Odyssey

Frank with his parents, Marilyn and Jay, in 1958 at Cape Canaveral

"Collections tell a story, and our family story is linked to a magical time in our nation’s history—one filled with adventure, courage, and unprecedented vision for a bright future."

In the article below, which originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Stroll Palisades Kent, Kent resident Frank Mermoud shares the amazing story of his father's impact on America's Space Odyssey.

My sister, Jean Pickett, and I inherited a large amount of space and aircraft material and memorabilia from our late father, Jules Frank “Jay” Mermoud.  Our Dad began his space-related career with Douglas Aircraft in the mid-1950's (later McDonnell Douglas) performing media work associated with the start of NASA in 1957 at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.  His professional journey would take our family to Cape Canaveral, Florida; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Cape Kennedy, Florida; and ultimately to St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked until his retirement in 1987.

Dad was an exceedingly talented film and television writer-producer and media graphic specialist for Douglas/McDonnell Douglas, culminating in his work as an assistant manager of photographic services with McDonnell Douglas.  His many photos were published in National Geographic, Popular Science and Aviation Week, to name a few.

Jay Mermoud (rt) with astronaut Deke Slayton - mid 1960's

At all the aforementioned locations and in his various positions, Dad collaborated and interacted with the Cape leadership, pilots, astronauts and even the renowned NASA program manager, Wehrner von Braun.  Though Dad was not a leading figure in the space program, he did play a significant and noteworthy role in documenting the space program and its early history by sharing his talent in film and photography.  Through the lens of the camera, he captured the evolution of the space program over a remarkable period of time.  In our eyes, he was as much a hero as the astronauts going into space.

In addition to the numerous launch and space photos, as well as his original reels of film of Thor, Saturn, Gemini, Mercury and Apollo launches, there is also quite a lot of memorabilia such as posters, photos and autographs of astronauts, and press brochures. Dad viewed his photo and film work as historical art, that would gain appreciation and value over time, and later become an important documentation of our nations' history during this exciting period of early space exploration.

At a young age, I was introduced to the wonder of rockets, missiles and aircraft through my Dad's work, gaining a lifelong appreciation for not only his craft, but the impact he would have on space exploration. I have fond memories from the 1960's when Dad would have Mom take my sister, late brother and me out of school to go view the space launches at the Cape, and on occasion, meet several of the astronauts.

Needless to say, it was a thrill to do so and an incredible memory to last my lifetime.

With fascination of space exploration, and knowing this was a significant snapshot in history, Dad would write wonderful notes to each of his three children on official launch stationary, cards or first day covers.  In those personalized notes, he would provide a brief description of his role and the launch.  In one such note from Apollo 9, Dad wrote, "My dear son Frank,  I have just participated in another spectacular Saturn countdown and launch, the Apollo 9.  Your future holds many exciting events in space feats and you may someday be traveling around in space.  Love, Daddy.”

In recognition of the historical value of Dad's work as a "Space Pioneer of the Cape," my sister and I decided to honor our Dad and perpetuate his legacy by having this vast collection housed in a museum type entity.  After discussions and a review of the material with NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum archivists, we agreed that the best institution to house our father’s collection and memorabilia would be the National Air and Space Museum where it resides now.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think this would happen, and yet it did.  The Smithsonian has deemed the provenance as impeccable, citing the collection as particularly rich in documenting the early space missions.  It is deeply gratifying to see Dad's life's work memorialized in such a dignified manner.

My sister and I are forever grateful to have had such a wonderful and loving father.  As the son of Jay Mermoud, I am proud of his accomplishments and contributions to our nations' success in space exploration.

Frank Mermoud