Submit Your Questions about Apollo, Apollo 13 to NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill

Our series “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13″ has raised a few questions for some of our readers about spacecraft design, decisions made during the Apollo program, and general questions about spaceflight. Some of you have already left questions as comments on the articles or sent in emails. NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, who has been featured in this series, has graciously agreed to answer reader questions, and we’ll publish the questions and Jerry’s answers in a Q&A format. Now’s your chance to ask away! Submit your questions in the comment section here, or on any of the “13 Things” articles. Or, you can email your questions to Nancy

8 Replies to “Submit Your Questions about Apollo, Apollo 13 to NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill”

  1. Yes please!

    With regard to the time constraints placed on the required engineering developments for the Apollo project, what was the greatest of the many engineering breakthroughs that kept the Apollo project on track?

    With regard to Apollo’s legacy, which if any of the methods developed for Apollo’s space flight the Lunar landings could we expect to see reused during the human space flight and landings on an Asteroid and Mars?

    Many thanks

  2. Wow, what a fantastic opportunity!! Thanks, in advance, to Mr. Woodfill for any and all questions that he addresses!

    I am 31 years old, and as such, was never able to experience news of the moon landing or previous flights… really, any of our space “roots,” if you will. I always say that I was born a generation or so too late, because the space program, past and present, is very dear to me. I have anxiously read and watched the news as NASA planned (I wish they still were) to return to the moon under the Constellation Program. To be able to watch a human walk on another celestial body in relative real-time would be, no pun intended, out of this world.

    Over the years, I have read many accounts of the Apollo era, including “Lost Moon” by Jeffrey Kluger and James Lovell, “Carrying the Fire” by Mike Collins and, most recently, Gene Krantz’s “Failure Is Not An Option.”

    All of these books carry a certain tone of absoluteness… When the men of Apollo 13 became stranded, everyone involved seems to recall an attitude of “We Must!” My question is this: Looking back, was that at attitude that was held true at heart, or only projected outwardly. Obviously everyone involved on the ground was going to to EVERYTHING humanly possible to bring those men home safely, but to put it bluntly, failure was most DEFINATELY one of the possibilities. How did that weigh on your mind and heart? Did it help you (the plural you) work harder at the problem, or was a hindrance… Kind of a needle in your brain that jabbed at you constantly?

    Something I think a lot of people forget is that those men weren’t just Astronauts doing their job, and mission control, engineering, etc. were not just others doing their jobs. Many, if not most were friends, even their families… we’re talking about a community. I can’t imagine the thought of three of my friends stranded in space, and the many, many possible ways that they could perish… none of which are very pleasant.

    And Mr. Woodfill, thank you for your service to the space program and to our country. Nothing defines America like the determination, bravery, and perseverance of our early space program. It must feel wonderful to have been a part of it!

    Chad Stratton
    Martins Ferry, OH

  3. For me it was the first year in school when Aldrin and Armstrong made their names immortal in July 1969. I grew up in a very small rural village in rural Bavaria. Our little village had its own teacher and he himself was also a citizen of our small community. In July of 69, the household of my parents had only radio but no TV.

    So our school house was the “center of information”. We, the little once, saw IT ALL on TV while my father either missed the advancing of the Immortal Three toward the Moon while he was at work or he was informed on the events through our radio when he was back from work in the evening.

    Me, only seven years old, was so goddamned much more favored with high quality and also up-to-date information than my father or my mother because or teacher provided us with TV-information in the class room. Yes, I SAW it nearly in real time while my parents only HEARD after the event.

    Under those circumstances became the Landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon a part of my consciousness.

    And I must confess that Apollo 13 never did in such a way.

  4. First a comment. After reading this fasciinating series of articles I am flabbergasted that this brave crew survived. It seems that everything had to go right and they defied all odds to make it home alive. It is almost as if it was meant to be.
    I was thinking the other day about stranded spacecraft and how it would be important to have redundant materials aboard so that if a system failed it could be repaired or replaced at the site. I would think that as an engineer in charge of lives in an inacessible location that every possible disaster would have been anticipated and solutions placed aboard in advance, but sadly this appears not to have been the case. In the Apollo 13 incident only the fortuitously unused lunar module provided the materials needed to save the crew. I have seen in subsequent NASA missions this same mistake continue to occur. The loss of the Challenger and Columbia crew could have been prevented, arguably, by a pre-planned means of escape/ejection in the former and a tile recogntion/repair system in the latter. Thus my question:

    Should NASA be spending more time reviewing the Apollo 13 mission and other mishaps in order to better anticipate and respond more effectively to new and unexpected mishaps in future missions?

  5. Hi Nancy,

    Something that seemed a little unrealistic about the Apollo 13 movie was the astronauts having several emotional outbursts/tantrums. I think that behaviour would be very alien to seasoned test pilots who know they are in serious trouble and depend on each other’s professionalism and on mission control to get them out of trouble.

    So to test my theory – does Jerry know if the scene where the actors all rip their medical telemetry off, in defiance of mission rules, really happened?

    (If it happened at all I imagine it’s more likely that Houston sanctioned the action beforehand)

    Many thanks

  6. Hi Jerry,

    In your opinion, as you have built the equipment to get man into space, do you think we as a species are being too cautious in our approach to exploring space?

    Or are we afraid of incidents like Apollo 13 happening again or worse like the shuttle Columbia, or do you think we should just get out there like the explorers of Earth in middle ages, take on space, take on the risk of being in space not just leaving robots and probes doing the work but to get some real people out there?

    Thanks Jerry and thanks Nancy.

  7. Do avoid repeating, I hope Mr. Woodfill will answer questions asked in the preceding “13 things…” articles.

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