We’ve all heard the stereotype of Filipinos having parents that are engineers and nurses or that all Asians are good at math and science. I’m sure we all know that this isn’t always the case, but when you think about it how many Filipino-American engineers or scientists do we know of that are recognized for anything significant. Did you know that a Filipino-American invented the first successful moon buggy used by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission. Most people wouldn’t because this man is not even listed as the inventor in any books or scientific journals. Eduardo San Juan may not have been recognized officially, but we will recognize him right now for his achievements.
Eduardo San Juan (aka The Space Junkman) was born in the Philippines and graduated from the Mapua Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer. He later studied Nuclear Engineering at the University of Washington which was one of the first programs of its kind in the 1950s. In 1966 he was hired by Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporations where he was able to produce many concepts for the new field of space technology. His greatest achievement was being the main inventor of the moon buggy. Although the Apollo 11 mission was a success, many critics debunk Eduardo San Juan’s contributions. Even today his family has to answer to these false accusations, but the Filipino community has made efforts to recognize him for his achievements. He did however receive one of the Ten Outstanding Men (TOM) awards in science and technology in 1978. A special print issue of a Philippine postage stamp commemorated San Juan’s invention and honored him during a celebration of the golden foundation anniversary of the Filipino Inventors Society in 1993.
Elisabeth San Juan, the proud daughter of Eduardo San Juan, had the following to say about her father.
“When my Father submitted the conceptual design for the Lunar Rover he submitted it via Brown Engineering, a company owned by Lady Bird Johnson.
During the final test demonstration to select one design from various submissions, his was the only one that worked. Thus, his design won the NASA Contract.
His overall concept and design of the Articulated Wheel System was considered brilliant. Each wheel appendage was mounted not underneath the vehicle, but were placed outside the body of the vehicle and each was motorized. Wheels could work independently of the others. It was designed to negotiate crater ingress and egress. The other vehicles did not make it into or out of the test crater.
In addition to his passion for his work and his love for his family, he was a huge mentor to local students. He spoke at school science fairs and to children in challenged economic areas to encourage them to follow their dreams and not be deterred by anything. He ‘reached for the stars’ and encourage them to do as well.”
Although Eduardo San Juan was not given recognition he deserved for the moon buggy, he continued to work hard and encouraged others to work hard as well. The very creative San Juan also conceptualized other designs for NASA like space shelters as well as jet propulsion and missile trajectory control systems. Although he had a good life abroad, he decided to go back to the Philippines in the late 1970’s to become a university professor and speak at school fairs. He overcame a stereotype that he was consequently also a minority in, but that did not stop him from being an influential engineer.