America’s Pioneering Astronauts Honored with new ‘Heroes and Legends’ Attraction at Kennedy Space Center

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. It includes the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, presented by Boeing. In addition to displays honoring the 93 Americans currently enshrined in the hall, the facility looks back to the pioneering efforts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It provides the background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered the nation's journey into space.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. It includes the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, presented by Boeing. In addition to displays honoring the 93 Americans currently enshrined in the hall, the facility looks back to the pioneering efforts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It provides the background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered the nation’s journey into space. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – America’s pioneering astronauts who braved the perils of the unknown and put their lives on the line at the dawn of the space age atop mighty rockets that propelled our hopes and dreams into the new frontier of outer space and culminated with NASA’s Apollo lunar landings, are being honored with the eye popping new ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Florida.

With fanfare and a fireworks display perfectly timed for Veterans Day, ‘Heroes and Legends’ opened its doors to the public on Friday, November 11, 2016, during a gala ceremony attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts, including revered Gemini and Apollo space program astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke, Tom Stafford, Dave Scott, Walt Cunningham and Al Worden – and throngs of thrilled members of the general public who traveled here as eyewitnesses from all across the globe.

Aldrin, Scott, and Duke walked on the Moon during the Apollo 11, 15 and 16 missions.

Also on hand were the adult children of the late-astronauts Alan Shepard (first American in space) and Neil Armstrong (first man to walk on the Moon), as well as representatives from NASA, The Boeing Company (sponsor) and park operator Delaware North – for the engaging program hosted by Master of Ceremonies John Zarrella, CNN’s well known and now retired space correspondent.

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The stunning new ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction is perfectly positioned just inside the entrance to the KSC Visitor Complex to greet visitors upon their arrival with an awe inspiring sense of what it was like to embark on the very first human journey’s into space by the pioneers who made it all possible ! And when every step along the way unveiled heretofore unknown treasures into the origin of us and our place in the Universe.

Upon entering the park visitors will immediately and surely be mesmerized by a gigantic bas relief sculpture recreating an iconic photo of America’s first astronauts – the Mercury 7 astronauts; Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

“With all the drama of an actual trip to space, guests of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida will be greeted with a dramatic sense of arrival with the new Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame® presented by Boeing. Positioned just inside the entrance, the attraction sets the stage for a richer park experience by providing the emotional background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered our journey into space,” according to a description from Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts, which operates the KSC visitor complex.

“Designed to be the first stop upon entering Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Heroes & Legends uses the early years of the space program to explore the concept of heroism, and the qualities that define the individuals who inspired their generation.”

Astronauts cut the ribbon during Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, led by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle astronaut and member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, during the ceremony. Credit: Julian Leek
Astronauts cut the ribbon during Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, led by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle astronaut and member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, during the ceremony. Credit: Julian Leek

“I hope that all of you, when you get to see Heroes and Legends, you’re inspired,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle astronaut and member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, during the ceremony.

“The children today can see that there is so much more they can reach for if they apply themselves and do well.”

“I think people a thousand years from now are going to be happy to see these artifacts and relics,” Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden told the crowd.

“We have so much on display here with a Saturn V, Space Shuttle Atlantis. People will think back and see the wonderful days we had here. And I guess in that same vein, that makes me a relic too.”

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts.  Credit: Julian Leek
Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. Credit: Julian Leek

Furthermore, ‘Heroes and Legends’ is now very conveniently housed inside the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF) – making for a unified space exploration experience for park visitors. AHOF previously was located at another off site park facility some seven miles outside and west of the Visitor Complex.

The bas relief measures 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide. It is made put of fiberglass and was digitally sculpted, carved by CNC machines and juts out from the side of the new into the new 37,000 square foot U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF) structure.

To date 93 astronauts have been inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame spanning the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

“I don’t consider myself a hero like say, Charles Lindbergh,” said Jim Lovell, a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame and Apollo 13 commander, when asked by Zarrella what it feels like to be considered an American space hero. “I just did what was proper and exciting — something for my country and my family. I guess I’m just a lucky guy.”

The astronauts are also quick to say that they were supported by hundreds of thousands of dedicated people working in the space program to make Apollo happen.

“It important to remember all the dedication and hard work that it took from those of us involved in the astronaut program, but also the support we received from Kennedy and all the contractors involved in Apollo,” said Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke.

“400,000 people made it possible for 24 of us to go to the Moon.”
“So dream big, aim high!” exclaimed Duke.

“Hopefully this is an inspiration to you and your kids and grandkids.”

Construction of the facility by Falcon’s Treehouse, an Orlando-based design firm began in the fall of 2015.

“We’re focusing on a story to create what we consider a ‘launch pad’ for our visitors,” said Therrin Protze, the Delaware North chief operating officer of the Visitor Complex. “This is an opportunity to learn about the amazing attributes of our heroes behind the historical events that have shaped the way we look at space, the world and the future.

“We are grateful to NASA for allowing us to tell the NASA story to millions of guests from all over the world,” Protze said.

Visitors walk up a sweeping ramp to enter the Heroes and Legends experience.

After visitors walk through the doors, they will be immersed by two successive video presentations and finally the Hall of Fame exhibit hall.

Here’s a detailed description:

• In the stunning 360-degree discovery bay, What is a Hero?, guests will explore how society defines heroism through diverse perspectives. Each examination of heroism starts with the following questions: What is a hero; Who are the heroes of our time; and What does it take to be a hero? During the seven-minute presentation, the historic beginning of the space race is acknowledged as the impetus for America’s push to the stars in NASA’s early years and the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

• Through the Eyes of a Hero is a custom-built theater featuring a multi-sensory experience during which guests will vicariously join NASA’s heroes and legends on the most perilous stages of their adventures. Artistically choreographed lighting and 3D imagery will be enhanced by intense, deeply resonant sound effects to create the sensation of being “in the moment.” The seven and one-half minute show takes guests on an intimate journey with four space-age heroes to fully immerse them in the awe, excitement and dangers of the first crewed space program missions.

• The third experience, A Hero Is…, offers interactive exhibits that highlight the nine different attributes of our history making astronauts: inspired, curious, passionate, tenacious, disciplined, confident, courageous, principled and selfless. A collection of nine exhibit modules will explore each aforementioned attribute, through the actual experiences of NASA’s astronauts. Their stories are enhanced with memorabilia from the astronaut or the space program.

A statue of astronaut Alan Shepard, America's first person in space, stands just inside the doors to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. The exhibit is housed in a rotunda and connects the visitor to each of the astronaut inductees through state-of-the-art interactive technology.  Credit:  Lane Hermann
A statue of astronaut Alan Shepard, America’s first person in space, stands just inside the doors to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. The exhibit is housed in a rotunda and connects the visitor to each of the astronaut inductees through state-of-the-art interactive technology. Credit: Lane Hermann

Priceless historic artifacts on display also include two flown capsules from Mercury and Gemini; the Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft piloted by Wally Schirra during his six-orbit mission in October 1962 and the Gemini IX capsule flown by Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan for three days in June 1966.

The Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft piloted by astronaut Wally Schirra during his nine-hour, 13-minute mission of six orbits on October 3, 1962 mated to a human rated Mercury Redstone rocket (MR-6) is on display  in the Heroes and Legends display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft piloted by astronaut Wally Schirra during his nine-hour, 13-minute mission of six orbits on October 3, 1962 mated to a human rated Mercury Redstone rocket (MR-6) is on display in the Heroes and Legends display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The human rated Mercury Redstone-6 (MR-6) is also on display and dramatically mated to the Schirra’s Sigma 7 Mercury capsule.

Another room houses the original consoles of the Mercury Mission Control room with the world map that was used to follow the path of John Glenn’s Mercury capsule Friendship 7 between tracking stations when he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962.

Interactive features in the KSCVC Heroes and Legends attraction include the original consoles of the Mercury Mission Control room with the world map that was used to follow the path of the John Glenn capsule Friendship 7 between tracking stations.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Interactive features in the KSCVC Heroes and Legends attraction include the original consoles of the Mercury Mission Control room with the world map that was used to follow the path of the John Glenn capsule Friendship 7 between tracking stations in 1962. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Further details about ‘Heroes and Legends, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and all other attractions are available at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, GOES-R weather satellite, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Nov 17-20: “GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-REx launch, SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13, part 9: Avoiding Gimbal Lock

It was an unlikely case, having an Apollo command ship disabled thousands of miles from Earth. But during the Apollo 9 mission, the crew had actually conducted a test of firing the Lunar Module’s engines while it was docked to the Command Module. It turned out to be fortuitous to have considered such a situation, but Apollo 9 didn’t have to perform the type of maneuvering under the myriad of conditions Apollo 13 faced.

Steering was among the crucial threats for Jim Lovell and his crew. Without the command ship’s thrusters to steer, only the lander’s were available, and flying the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft stack and keeping it on the right trajectory was a huge challenge.

During a normal mission, the ship’s computers allowed for much of the navigation, but the Apollo 13 crew had to fly “by hand.” The Command Module was shut down, and the LM’s limited battery power required the shutting down most of its systems, so even backup propulsion and navigation functions were unavailable. Lovell had to struggle to bring the unwieldy two-vehicle craft under control.

Apollo 13 commander Lovell with a model Lunar module. Image credit: NASA
Apollo 13 commander Lovell with a model Lunar module. Image credit: NASA
The lander’s steering was fashioned to handle only its mass and center of mass location. Now it had to steer the entire assemblage, which included the dead mass of the Command and Service Module as well as the lander. Then there was oxygen venting from the damaged tanks in the SM. This all contributed to putting the stack through contortions of pitch, roll, and yaw.

In his seminal book, “A Man on the Moon,” author Andrew Chaikin succinctly captured the scene:

Even now, oxygen spewed from Odyssey’s side like blood from a harpooned whale. The escaping gas acted like a small rocket, fighting Lovell’s efforts to stabilize the joined craft – which the astronauts called “the stack” – with Aquarius’s thrusters. Lovell soon found that trying to control the stack from the lander was strange and awkward, like steering a loaded wheelbarrow down the street with a long broom handle. When he nudged the hand controller the joined craft wobbled unpredictably. It was, Lovell would say later, like learning to fly all over again. And he had to learn fast, because if he let the spacecraft drift uncontrolled, there was a danger that one of Aquarius’s gyros would be immobilized – a condition called gimbal lock that would ruin the alignment of the navigation platform. With no way of sighting in the stars, there would be no hope of realigning it….

“I can’t take that doggone roll out, “Lovell said. Throughout the next 2 hours Lovell wrestled with his unwieldy craft, as the time for the free-return maneuver approached. He wondered if Aquarius would be able to point them toward home, and whether it would last long enough to get them there. Lovell and his crew had become the first astronauts to face the very real possibility of dying in space.

From “A Man on the Moon,” chapter 7, “The Crown of an Astronaut’s Career”
by Andrew Chaikin
Used by permission
.

One of the items discussed in the original “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13” was how well suited rookie Apollo crewman Jack Swigert was to the Apollo 13 mission, as he was said to have basically ‘wrote the book’ on Command Module malfunctions. Likewise, says NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, was Commander Jim Lovell’s ability as Apollo 13’s helmsman.

“Tales are often shared about Lovell’s skills as a naval aviator,” said Woodfill, “making aircraft carrier deck landings in the dark with a malfunctioning display, or in storm-tossed seas.”

Being able to judge aircraft descent rates and attitude with respect to a wave-tossed carrier deck was a challenge. Woodfill said this ideally trained Lovell for avoiding gimbal-lock on Apollo 13.

An annotated image of the Apollo Flight Director Attitude Indicator, commonly called the navigation 8-ball. Via Kerbal Space Program.
An annotated image of the Apollo Flight Director Attitude Indicator, commonly called the navigation 8-ball. Via Kerbal Space Program.

“Gimbal-lock meant the guidance system could no longer trust its computer,” explained Woodfill. “The guidance system’s orthogonal gyroscopes (gyros) judged the degree of pitch, roll, and yaw. Gimbal-lock exceeded the system’s ability to gauge position. Such an instance could be compared to an automobile’s tires slipping on an icy road. Steering becomes almost useless in such an event.”

Historian and journalist Amy Shira Teitel recently posted this video in regards to gimbal lock and Apollo 13:

Then, later came a second dire “steering” challenge to Lovell and his crew. Apollo ships required a rotating maneuver about their longest axis known as Passive Thermal Control (PTC), nicknamed the rotisserie, to protect one part of the spacecraft from continually being baked by the Sun. Normally, this was done by the CM’s computer, and the LM’s computer didn’t have the software to perform this operation. Lovell had to maneuver the unwieldy ship by hand nearly every hour to perform the “slow motion barbeque spin” as Chaikin called it. Without the CM’s orientation control thrusters and having the center of gravity extremely off-center with respect to the lander’s control system, it made the situation problematical.

“Lovell seemed to have the ability to quickly adapt to difficult situations,” said Woodfill, “and the knack of quickly coming up with solutions to problems.”

But that’s part of the makeup of being a test pilot and what distinguished the men who were chosen to be astronauts in the Apollo program.

“As great a pilot as Jim Lovell was, I think any of the Apollo commanders could have handled that situation from a piloting point of view,” Chaikin told Universe Today via phone. “One benefit that Lovell brought to the situation was his calm, composed personality—a real asset during that entire ordeal.”

As Chaikin quoted original Apollo 13 crew member Ken Mattingly in “A Man on the Moon,” if Apollo 13 had to happen to any spacecraft commander, there wasn’t anyone who could have handled it better than Jim Lovell.

Nancy Atkinson with Jim Lovell in 2010 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
Nancy Atkinson with Jim Lovell in 2010 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

Here’s an additional, more technical description of gimbal lock:

Previous articles in this series:

Introduction

Part 1: The Failed Oxygen Quantity Sensor

Part 2: Simultaneous Presence of Kranz and Lunney at the Onset of the Rescue

Part 3: Detuning the Saturn V’s 3rd Stage Radio

Part 4: Early Entry into the Lander

Part 5: The CO2 Partial Pressure Sensor

Part 6: The Mysterious Longer-Than-Expected Communications Blackout

Part 7: Isolating the Surge Tank

Part 8: The Indestructible S-Band/Hi-Gain Antenna

Find all the original “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13″ (published in 2010) at this link.

Apollo 13 images via NASA. Montage by Judy Schmidt.
Apollo 13 images via NASA. Montage by Judy Schmidt.

13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13, part 6: The Mysterious Longer-Than-Expected Communications Blackout

Join Universe Today in celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 13 with insights from NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill as we discuss various turning points in the mission.

The final scenes of the movie Apollo 13 depict the spacecraft’s dramatic reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. As the seconds count beyond the time radio blackout should have lifted, the Capcom calls for Apollo 13’s crew to answer, but there is no response.

Everyone’s thoughts run through the possibilities: Had the heat shield been compromised by shrapnel from the exploded oxygen tank? Had the previously finicky hatch failed at this critical time? Had the parachutes turned to blocks of ice? Had the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) gyros failed, having inadequate time to warm-up causing the capsule to skip off the atmosphere, or incinerate with the crew in a fiery death plunge to Earth?

Of course, the crew finally did answer, but confirmation that Lovell, Haise and Swigert had survived reentry came nearly a minute and a half later than expected.

Some might feel director Ron Howard may have over-sensationalized the re-entry scenes for dramatic effect. But in listening to the actual radio communications between Mission Control and the ARIA 4 aircraft that was searching for a signal from the Apollo 13 crew, the real drama is just as palpable – if not more — than in the movie.

For virtually every reentry from Mercury through Apollo 12, the time of radio blackout was predictable, almost to the second. So why did Apollo 13’s radio blackout period extend for 87 seconds longer than expected, longer than any other flight?

The view in Mission Control after Apollo 13 landed safely.  Credit: NASA.
The view in Mission Control after Apollo 13 landed safely. Credit: NASA.

During the Apollo era, the radio blackout was a normal part of reentry. It was caused by ionized air surrounding the command module during its superheated reentry through the atmosphere, which interfered with radio waves. The radio blackout period for the space shuttle program ended in 1988 when NASA launched the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRS), which allowed nearly constant communication between the spacecraft and Mission Control.

It is difficult to find official NASA documentation about the extended radio blackout time for Apollo 13. In the mission’s Accident Review Board Report, there’s no mention of this anomaly. The only discussion of any communication problem comes in a section about reentry preparations, after the Service Module was jettisoned. There was a half-hour period of very poor communications with the Command Module due to the spacecraft being in a poor attitude with the Lunar Module still attached. Some of the reentry preparations were unnecessarily prolonged by the poor communications, but was more of a nuisance than an additional hazard to the crew, the report said.

In numerous interviews that I’ve done and listened to in preparation for this series of articles, when those involved with the Apollo 13 mission are asked about why the blackout period was longer than normal, the answer normally comes as a hedged response, with the crew or a flight director indicating they don’t know exactly why it happened. It seems analysis of this has defied a reasonable and irrefutable scientific explanation.

Overall view showing some of the activity in the Mission Operations Control Room during the final 24 hours of the Apollo 13 mission. From left to right are Shift 4 Flight Director Glynn Lunney, Shift 2 Flight Director Gerald Griffin, Astronaut and Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager James McDivitt, Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton and Shift 1 Flight Surgeon Dr. Willard Hawkins. Credit: NASA.
Overall view showing some of the activity in the Mission Operations Control Room during the final 24 hours of the Apollo 13 mission. From left to right are Shift 4 Flight Director Glynn Lunney, Shift 2 Flight Director Gerald Griffin, Astronaut and Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager James McDivitt, Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton and Shift 1 Flight Surgeon Dr. Willard Hawkins. Credit: NASA.

At an event at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in 2010, Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz said he never heard an answer or explanation that he believed, and Fred Haise chuckled and said, “We just did Ron Howard a favor!”

Jim Lovell gave the most detailed response – which is the one most often given as a likely explanation — suggesting it perhaps had to do with a shallowing reentry angle problem, with a strange space-like breeze that seemed to be blowing the spacecraft off-course with respect to entry.

“I think the reason why it was longer was the fact we were coming in shallower than we had planned,” Lovell said at the 2010 event. “Normally we come in from a Moon landing and have to hit the atmosphere inside a very narrow pie-shaped wedge and I think we were continually being pushed off that wedge. The reason was, we found out about 2-3 months after from analysis, was the lander’s venting of cooling vapor. The way we cool the electronic systems in LM was to pass water through a heat exchanger, and that water evaporates into space. That evaporation — which would be insignificant during a normal lunar landing mission — was going on for the 4 days we were using the LM as a lifeboat, acting as a small force, forcing us off the initial trajectory.”

Coming in on a shallower trajectory would result in a longer period in the upper atmosphere where there was less deceleration of the spacecraft. In turn, the reduced pace of deceleration lengthened the time that the heat of reentry produced the ionized gasses that would block communications.

The Apollo 13 spacecraft heads toward a splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. Note the capsule and its parachutes just visible against a gap in the dark clouds. Credit: NASA.
The Apollo 13 spacecraft heads toward a splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. Note the capsule and its parachutes just visible against a gap in the dark clouds. Credit: NASA.

But NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill offers additional insight into the communication delays. He recently spoke with Jerry Bostick, the Flight Dynamics Officer (FIDO) for Apollo 13, who told him, “Many believe the added time resulted from the communication signal skipping, like a stone, over layers of the upper atmosphere because of the shallow entry angle.”

“Bostick likened the radio signals to a stone skipping on a pond, and finally, the signal found a location to sink Earthward,” Woodfill said.

However, this explanation too, leaves questions. Woodfill said he has studied the “signal skipping” phenomenon, and has found information to both support and refute the concept by virtue of when such an occurrence could be expected.

“The consensus was it is a night time phenomena,” Woodfill said. “Apollo 13 entered in daylight in the Pacific and in Houston. Nevertheless, the question to this day demonstrates just how near Apollo 13 came to disaster. If the radio signal almost skipped off the Earth’s atmosphere, one wonders, just how very close was Apollo 13’s capsule and crew near to a fatal skipping into the oblivion of space as well.”

Another “angle” on Apollo 13’s reentry was how it very nearly escaped another potential disaster: landing in a typhoon.

A group of flight controllers gather around the console of Shift 4 Flight Director Glynn Lunney (seated, nearest camera) in the Mission Operations Control Room. Their attention is drawn to a weather map of the proposed landing site in the South Pacific. Among those looking on is Christopher Kraft, Manned Spacecraft Center Deputy Director, (standing, in black suit, right). Credit: NASA.
A group of flight controllers gather around the console of Shift 4 Flight Director Glynn Lunney (seated, nearest camera) in the Mission Operations Control Room. Their attention is drawn to a weather map of the proposed landing site in the South Pacific. Among those looking on is Christopher Kraft, Manned Spacecraft Center Deputy Director, (standing, in black suit, right). Credit: NASA.

“A tropical storm is a retro’s (retrofire officer) worst nightmare,” said Woodfill. “Knowing how unpredictable the movement and intensity of such storms are makes selecting a landing site difficult. No NASA reentry had ever landed in a tropical storm, and Apollo 13 might be the first. Among NASA scientists are meteorologists, and by their best science, they predicted that Tropical Storm Helen would move into the designated Apollo 13 landing site the day of reentry and splashdown.”

If Apollo 13 had splashed down amidst the storm, the capsule may have drifted and been lost at sea. To conserve the entry battery power, the beacon light recovery system had been deactivated. The crew would have been invisible to those looking for the capsule bobbing up and down in the Pacific Ocean. They eventually would have had to blow the hatch, and the Apollo 13 capsule likely would have sunk, similar to Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell during the Mercury program. But the crew of Apollo 13 might not have been as fortunate as Grissom who had helicopter rescuers overhead quickly pulling him to safety.

However, the decision was made to ignore the weather forecasts, which ended up being fortuitous because Helen ultimately changed course. But then there was the uncertainty of the entry location due to the ‘shallowing’ the spacecraft was experiencing.

“Once more, the retro made the decision to ignore that shallowing at reentry in the same fashion as he had ignored the weathermen’s ominous prediction,” said Woodfill. “In both instances, the retro was correct. He rightly predicted that the drift would not be a problem in the final stages of reentry after the lander was jettisoned. Again, this was altogether fortuitous in that no one knew the lander’s cooling system was the source of the drift. Earlier, however, the retro had compensated for the shallowing drift by bringing Apollo 13 into the correct entry corridor angle via first having the crew fire the lander’s descent engine and later the lander’s thrusters.”

An approximate representation of Apollo 13’s re-entry groundtrack.  Click the image for access to a larger pdf version.
An approximate representation of Apollo 13’s re-entry groundtrack. Click the image for access to a larger pdf version.

As it turned out those mysterious extra seconds caused by coming in at a shallow angle were also fortuitous.

While the added time of communications blackout was nail-biting, the more shallow and longer angle “added to the downrange path of Apollo 13, dropping the capsule in calm water so near the waiting aircraft carrier Iwo Jima that the accuracy was among the finest of the program,” Woodfill said.

Revisiting the length of the communications blackout, there are some discrepancies in various sources about the length of the extra time Apollo 13’s blackout time lasted. Some websites lists 25-30 seconds, others a minute. Again, I was unable to find an ‘official’ NASA statement on the subject and the transcript of the technical air to ground voice communications does not include time stamps for the beginning and end of blackout. Additionally, two of the definitive books about Apollo 13 – Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin – don’t give exact numbers on the timing of the blackout.

But Air & Space Magazine quoted Gene Kranz as saying it was 87 seconds.

“Per my mission log it started at 142:39 and ended at 142:45— a total of six minutes,” Kranz told journalist Joe Pappalardo in 2007. “Blackout was 1:27 longer than predicted … Toughest minute and a half we ever had.”

87 seconds also is confirmed by a transmission recorded on one of the ARIA, the Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft, which provided tracking and telemetry information for the Apollo missions, especially at launch and reentry, when the Manned Spaceflight Network tracking could not.

ARIA 4 had the distinction of being the first to reacquire Apollo 13 after the longer-than-expected communication blackout, as it was near the predicted point of reentry. Captain David Dunn, who served as the Mission Coordinator onboard the ARIA 4 aircraft, provided a recording to historians at the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, who have put together a wonderful history of their role in the Apollo missions.

Captain David Dunn served as the Mission Co-ordinator onboard ARIA 4. Image via Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and David Dunn.
Captain David Dunn served as the Mission Co-ordinator onboard ARIA 4. Image via Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and David Dunn.

Space Historian Colin Mackellar from the Honeysuckle Creek website told Universe Today that until it was recently published on the Honeysuckle Creek website, the recording had not been heard by anyone other than Dunn’s family. Mackellar explained that it contains simultaneous audio of the NASA Public Affairs commentary, audio of the Flight Director’s loop, the ARIA transmissions and a portion of the Australian Broadcast Commission radio coverage.

Again, you can hear the palpable tension in the recording, which you can listen to at this link. At 7:21 in the audio, as communications blackout nears the predicted end, one of the ARIA communicators asks ARIA 4 if they can see the spacecraft. Negative is the reply.

At 7:55 you can hear Kranz asking if there is any acquisition of signal yet. Again at 8:43, Kranz asks, “Contact yet?” The answer is negative. Finally, at 8:53 in the audio, ARIA 4 reports AOS (acquisition of signal), which is relayed to Kranz. You can hear his relieved exhalation as he replies, “Rog (roger).”

Then comes Kranz saying, “Capcom, why don’t you try giving them a call.”

Capcom: “Odyssey, Houston standing by.”
Swigert: “OK, Joe.”

When the crew splashed down, the official duration time of the mission was 142 hours, 54 minutes and 41 seconds.

Dunn wrote about his experiences for the Honeysuckle Creek history website:

The ARIA 4 Prime Mission Electronic Equipment crew and the flight crew with the ARIA 4 specially equipped C-135 aircraft. Image via Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and Captain David Dunn.
The ARIA 4 Prime Mission Electronic Equipment crew and the flight crew with the ARIA 4 specially equipped C-135 aircraft. Image via Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and Captain David Dunn.

It required no great imagination to know that back in the US, and in fact all around the world, folks were glued to their TV sets in anticipation, and that Walter Cronkite was holding forth with Wally Schirra on CBS, and at the Houston Space Center breathing had ceased.

But we were there, ground zero, with front row seats and we would be the first to know and the first ones to tell the rest of the world if the Apollo 13 crew had survived…

On all the aircraft and all the airwaves there was complete silence as well as we all listened intently for any signal from Apollo 13.

ARIA 2 had no report of contact; ARIA 3 also had no report.

Then I observed a signal and Jack Homan, the voice radio operator advised me we had contact.

From Apollo 13 came the reply “OK, Joe……” relayed again from our radios to Houston and the rest of the world. Not much, but even such a terse reply was enough to let the world know the spacecraft and its crew had survived. In an age before satellite TV, teleconferencing, and the Internet, it was easy for us in the clouds at 30,000 feet above the splashdown zone to visualize breathing resuming in Houston and around the world.

Dunn concluded, “Now, exactly why would Ron Howard leave such a dramatic moment out of his film? There’s a real mystery!”

Apollo 13 images via NASA. Montage by Judy Schmidt.
Apollo 13 images via NASA. Montage by Judy Schmidt.

Tomorrow: Isolating the Surge Tanks

Previous articles in this series:

Introduction

Part 1: The Failed Oxygen Quantity Sensor

Part 2: Simultaneous Presence of Kranz and Lunney at the Onset of the Rescue

Part 3: Detuning the Saturn V’s 3rd Stage Radio

Part 4: Early Entry into the Lander

Part 5: The CO2 Partial Pressure Sensor

Find all the original “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13″ (published in 2010) at this link.

13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13, part 5: The CO2 Partial Pressure Sensor

The Apollo 13 accident crippled the spacecraft, taking out the two main oxygen tanks in the Service Module. While the lack of oxygen caused a lack of power from the fuel cells in the Command Module, having enough oxygen to breathe in the lander rescue craft really wasn’t an issue for the crew. But having too much carbon dioxide (CO2) quickly did become a problem.

The Lunar Module, which was being used as a lifeboat for the crew, had lithium hydroxide canisters to remove the CO2 for two men for two days, but on board were three men trying to survive in the LM lifeboat for four days. After a day and a half in the LM, CO2 levels began to threaten the astronauts’ lives, ringing alarms. The CO2 came from the astronauts’ own exhalations.

Jerry Woodfill working in the Apollo Mission Evaluation Room.  Credit:  Jerry Woodfill.
Jerry Woodfill working in the Apollo Mission Evaluation Room. Credit: Jerry Woodfill.

NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill helped design and monitor the Apollo caution and warning systems. One of the systems which the lander’s warning system monitored was environmental control.

Like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide can be a ‘silent killer’ – it can’t be detected by the human senses, and it can overcome a person quickly. Early on in their work in assessing the warning system for the environmental control system, Woodfill and his co-workers realized the importance of a CO2 sensor.

“The presence of that potentially lethal gas can only be detected by one thing – an instrumentation transducer,” Woodfill told Universe Today. “I had an unsettling thought, ‘If it doesn’t work, no one would be aware that the crew is suffocating on their own breath.’”

The sensor’s job was simply to convert the content of carbon dioxide into an electrical voltage, a signal transmitted to all, both the ground controllers, and the cabin gauge.

Location of Caution And Warning System lights in the Command Module. Credit: Project Apollo - NASSP.
Location of Caution And Warning System lights in the Command Module. Credit: Project Apollo – NASSP.

“My system had two categories of alarms, one, a yellow light for caution when the astronaut could invoke a backup plan to avoid a catastrophic event, and the other, an amber warning indication of imminent life-threatening failure,” Woodfill explained. “Because onboard CO2 content rises slowly, the alarm system simply served to advise and caution the crew to change filters. We’d set the threshold or “trip-level” of the alarm system electronics to do so.”

And soon after the explosion of Apollo 13’s oxygen tank, the assessment of life-support systems determined the system for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lunar module was not doing so. Systems in both the Command and Lunar Modules used canisters filled with lithium hydroxide to absorb CO2. Unfortunately the plentiful canisters in the crippled Command Module could not be used in the LM, which had been designed for two men for two days, but on board were three men trying to survive in the LM lifeboat for four days: the CM had square canisters while the LM had round ones.

The fix for the lithium hydroxide canister is discussed at NASA Mission Control prior to having the astronauts implement the procedure in space. Credit: NASA
The fix for the lithium hydroxide canister is discussed at NASA Mission Control prior to having the astronauts implement the procedure in space. Credit: NASA

As was detailed so well by Jim Lovell in his book “Lost Moon,” and subsequently portrayed in detail in the movie “Apollo 13,” a group of engineers led by Ed Smylie, who developed and tested life support systems for NASA, constructed a duct-taped-jury-rigged CO2 filter, using only what was aboard the spacecraft to convert the plentiful square filters to work in the round LM system. (You can read the details of the system and its development in our previous “13 Things” series.)

Needless to say, the story had a happy ending. The Apollo 13 accident review board reported that Mission Control gave the crew further instructions for attaching additional cartridges when needed, and the carbon dioxide partial pressure remained below 2mm Hg for the remainder of the Earth-return trip.

But the story of Jerry Woodfill and the CO2 sensor can also serve as an inspiration to anyone who feels disappointed in their career, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, feeling that perhaps what you are doing doesn’t really matter.

“I think almost everyone who came to NASA wanted to be an astronaut or a flight director, and I always felt my career was diminished by the fact that I wasn’t a flight controller or astronaut or even a guidance and navigation engineer,” Woodfill said. “I was what was called an instrumentation engineer. Others had said this is the kind of job that was superfluous.”

Woodfill worked on the spacecraft metal panels which housed the switches and gauges. “Likely, a mechanical engineer might not find such a job exciting,” he said, “and to think, I had once studied field theory, quantum electronics and other heady disciplines as a Rice electrical engineering candidate.”

NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill with Chris Kraft, former NASA flight director and manager, in early 2015. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.
NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill with Chris Kraft, former NASA flight director and manager, in early 2015. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

Later, to add to the discouragement was a conversation with another engineer. “His comment was, ‘No one wants to be an instrumentation engineer,” Woodfill recalled, “thinking it is a dead-end assignment, best avoided if one wants to be promoted. It seemed that instrumentation was looked upon as a sort of ‘menial servant’ whose lowly job was servicing end users such as radar, communications, electrical power even guidance computers. In fact, the users could just as readily incorporate instrumentation in their devices. Then, there would be no need for an autonomous group of instrumentation guys.”

But after some changes in management and workforce, Woodfill became the lead Command Module Caution and Warning Project Engineer, as well as the Lunar Lander Caution and Warning lead – a job he thought no one else really wanted.

But he took on the job with gusto.

“I visited with a dozen or more managers of items which the warning system monitored for failure,” Woodfill said. He convened a NASA-Grumman team to consider how best to warn of CO2 and other threats. “We needed to determine at what threshold level should the warning system ring an alarm. All the components must work, starting with the CO2 sensor. The signal must pass from there through the transmitting electronics, wiring, ultimately reaching my warning system “brain” known as the Caution and Warning Electronics Assembly (CWEA).”

And so, just hours after the explosion on Apollo 13, the Mission Engineering Manager summoned Woodfill to his office.

“He wanted to discuss my warning system ringing carbon dioxide alarms,” Woodfill said. “I explained the story, placing before him the calibration curves of the CO2 Partial Pressure Transducer, showing him what this instrumentation device is telling us about the threat to the crew.”

Now, what Woodfill had once had deemed trivial was altogether essential for saving the lives of an Apollo 13 astronaut crew. Yes, instrumentation was just as important as any advanced system aboard the command ship or the lunar lander.

“And, I thought, without it, likely, no one would have known the crew was in grave danger,” said Woodfill, “let alone how to save them. Instrumentation engineering wasn’t a bad career choice after all!”

The Apollo 13 fix -- complete with duct tape -- of making a square canister fit into a round hole.  Credit: NASA
The Apollo 13 fix — complete with duct tape — of making a square canister fit into a round hole. Credit: NASA
This is an example of the team effort that saved Apollo 13: that the person who was working on the transducer years prior was just as significant as the person who came up with the ingenious duct tape solution.

And it was one of the additional things that saved Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 images via NASA. Montage by Judy Schmidt.
Apollo 13 images via NASA. Montage by Judy Schmidt.

Additional articles in this series:

Introduction

Part 1: The Failed Oxygen Quantity Sensor

Part 2: Simultaneous Presence of Kranz and Lunney at the Onset of the Rescue

Part 3: Detuning the Saturn V’s 3rd Stage Radio

Part 4: Early Entry into the Lander

Part 5: The CO2 Partial Pressure Sensor

Part 6: The Mysterious Longer-Than-Expected Communications Blackout

Part 7: Isolating the Surge Tank

Part 8: The Indestructible S-Band/Hi-Gain Antenna

Part 9: Avoiding Gimbal Lock

Part 10: ‘MacGyvering’ with Everyday Items

Part 11: The Caution and Warning System

Part 12: The Trench Band of Brothers

Find all the original “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13″ (published in 2010) at this link.

13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13

“Things had gone real well up to at that point of 55 hours, 54 minutes and 53 seconds (mission elapsed time),” said Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise as he recounted the evening of April 13, 1970, the night the Apollo 13’s command module’s oxygen tank exploded, crippling the spacecraft and endangering the three astronauts on board.

“Mission Control had asked for a cryo-stir in the oxygen tank …and Jack threw the switches,” Haise continued. “There was a very loud bang that echoed through the metal hull, and I could hear and see metal popping in the tunnel [between the command module and the lunar lander]… There was a lot of confusion initially because the array of warning lights that were on didn’t resemble anything we have ever thought would represent a credible failure. It wasn’t like anything we were exposed to in the simulations.”

What followed was a four-day ordeal as Haise, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert struggled to get back to Earth, as thousands of people back on Earth worked around the clock to ensure the astronauts’ safe return.

Jerry Woodfill and Fred Haise at the 40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 13 at JSC.  Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.
Jerry Woodfill and Fred Haise at the 40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 13 at JSC. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

Haise described the moment of the explosion during an event in 2010 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum commemorating the 40th anniversary of the mission that’s been called a successful failure.

In 2010, Universe Today also commemorated the Apollo 13 anniversary with a series of articles titled “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13.” We looked at 13 different items and events that helped turn the failure into success, overcoming the odds to get the crew back home. We interviewed NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, who helped design the alarm and warning light system for the Apollo program, which Haise described above.

Now, five years later on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 13, Woodfill returns with “13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at 13 additional things that helped bring the crew home safely.

Jerry Woodfill working in the Apollo Mission Evaluation Room.  Credit:  Jerry Woodfill.
Jerry Woodfill working in the Apollo Mission Evaluation Room. Credit: Jerry Woodfill.

Woodfill has worked for NASA for almost 50 years as an engineer, and is one of 27 people still remaining at Johnson Space Center who were also there for the Apollo program. In the early days of Apollo, Woodfill was the project engineer for the spacecraft switches, gauges, and display and control panels, including the command ship’s warning system.

On that night in April 1970 when the oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s command module exploded, 27-year-old Woodfill sat at his console in the Mission Evaluation Room (MER) at Johnson Space Center, monitoring the caution and warning system.

“It was 9:08 pm, and I looked at the console because it flickered a few times and then I saw a master alarm come on,” Woodfill said. “Initially I thought something was wrong with the alarm system or the instrumentation, but then I heard Jack Swigert in my headset: “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” and then a few moments later, Jim Lovell said the same thing.”

Listen to the audio of communications between the crew and Mission Control at the time of the explosion:

Located in an auxiliary building, the MER housed the engineers who were experts in the spacecrafts’ systems. Should an inexplicable glitch occur, the MER team could be consulted. And when alarms starting ringing, the MER team WAS consulted.

Woodfill has written a webpage detailing the difference between the MER and Misson Control (Mission Operations Control Room, or MOCR).

The Mission Evaluation Room.  Credit: Jerry Woodfill.
The Mission Evaluation Room. Credit: Jerry Woodfill.

The ebullient and endearing Woodfill brings a wealth of knowledge — as well as his love for public outreach for NASA — to everything he does. But also, for the past 45 years he has studied the Apollo 13 mission in intricate detail, examining all the various facets of the rescue by going through flight transcripts, debriefs, and other documents, plus he’s talked to many other people who worked during the mission. Fascinated by the turn of events and individuals involved who turned failure into success, Woodfill has come up with 13 MORE things that saved Apollo 13, in addition to the original 13 he shared with us in 2010.

Woodfill tends to downplay both his role in Apollo 13 and the significance of the MER.

“In the MER, I was never involved or central to the main events which rescued Apollo 13,” Woodfill told Universe Today. “Our group was available for mission support. We weren’t flight controllers, but we were experts. For other missions that were routine we didn’t play that big of a role, but for the Apollo 13 mission, we did play a role.”

But Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz, also speaking at the 2010 event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, has never forgotten the important role the MER team played.

“The thing that was almost miraculous here [for the rescue], was I think to a great extent, the young controllers, particularly the systems guys who basically invented the discipline of what we now call systems engineering,” Kranz said. “The way these guys all learned their business, … got to know the designs, the people and the spacecraft … and they had to translate all that into useful materials that they could use on console in real time.”

Apollo 13 astronauts Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert after they splashed down safely. Credit: NASA.
Apollo 13 astronauts Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert after they splashed down safely. Credit: NASA.

Join Universe Today in celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 13 with Woodfill’s insights as we discuss each of the 13 additional turning points in the mission. And here’s a look back at the original “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13:

Part 1: Timing

Part 2: The Hatch That Wouldn’t Close

Part 3: Charlie Duke’s Measles

Part 4: Using the LM for Propulsion

Part 5: Unexplained Shutdown of the Saturn V Center Engine

Part 6: Navigating by Earth’s Terminator

Part 7: The Apollo 1 Fire

Part 8: The Command Module Wasn’t Severed

Part 9: Position of the Tanks

Part 10: Duct Tape

Part 11: A Hollywood Movie

Part 12: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous

Part 13: The Mission Operations Team

Also:

Your Questions about Apollo 13 Answered by Jerry Woodfill (Part 1)

More Reader Questions about Apollo 13 Answered by Jerry Woodfill (part 2)

Final Round of Apollo 13 Questions Answered by Jerry Woodfill (part 3)

Never Before Published Images of Apollo 13’s Recovery

Historic Human Spaceflight Facility at Kennedy Renamed in Honor of Neil Armstrong – 1st Man on the Moon

45 years ago on July 20, 1969, NASA astronaut and Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another celestial body when he stepped off the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle and onto our Moon’s utterly alien surface.

Today, July 21, 2014, NASA officially renamed a historic facility at the Kennedy Space Center vital to human spaceflight in honor of Neil Armstrong during a a 45th anniversary ceremony at what until today was known as the ‘Operations and Checkout Building’ or O & C.

On that first moonwalk, Armstrong was accompanied by fellow NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin on a two and a half hour excursion that lasted into the early morning hours of July 21. They came in peace representing all mankind.

Today’s ceremony was broadcast on NASA TV and brought together numerous dignitaries including Armstrong’s surviving crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Command Module pilot Mike Collins, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell who was also Apollo 11’s backup commander, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, and Armstrong’s family members including his sons Rick and Mark Armstrong who all spoke movingly at the dedication.

Dignitaries at the July 21, 2014 renaming ceremony included Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Dignitaries at the July 21, 2014 renaming ceremony included Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

They were joined via a live feed from space by two NASA astronauts currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) – Expedition 40 crew member Rick Wiseman and Commander Steve Swanson.

The backdrop for the ceremony was the Orion crew capsule, NASA’s next generation human rated spaceflight vehicle which is currently being assembled in the facility and is set to launch on its maiden unmanned test flight in December 2014. Orion will eventually carry US astronauts on journey’s to deep space destinations to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

Many of Armstrong’s colleagues and other officials working on Orion and NASA’s human spaceflight missions also attended.

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong inside the Lunar Module

The high bay of what is now officially the ‘Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building’ was built in 1964 and previously was known as the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building.

It has a storied history in human spaceflight. It was used to process the Gemini spacecraft including Armstrong’s Gemini 8 capsule. Later it was used during the Apollo program to process and test the command, service and lunar modules including the Apollo 11 crew vehicles that were launched atop the Saturn V moon rocket. During the shuttle era it housed the crew quarters for astronauts KSC training and for preparations in the final days leading to launch.

“45 years ago, NASA’s journey to land the first human on the Moon began right here,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the ceremony. “It is altogether fitting that today we rename this facility the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Throughout his life he served his country as an astronaut, an aerospace engineer, a naval aviator, a test pilot and a university professor, and he constantly challenged all of us to expand the boundaries of the possible.”

“He along with his crewmates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, are a bridge from NASA’s historic journey to the moon 45 years ago to our path to Mars today.”

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts view the Orion crew module inside the Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Viewing Orion from left, are Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts view the Orion crew module inside the Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Viewing Orion from left, are Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Apollo 11 trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969 to fulfill the lunar landing quest set by President John F. Kennedy early in the decade.

Armstrong and Aldrin safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed !,” Armstrong called out and emotional applause erupted at Mission Control – “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Armstrong’s immortal first words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hours moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Michael Collins concluded the ceremony with this tribute:

“He would not have sought this honor, that was not his style. But I think he would be proud to have his name so closely associated with the heart and the soul of the space business.”

“On Neil’s behalf, thank you for what you do every day.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center - now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center – now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Shrimp with a Side of Space History: Visiting Lovell’s of Lake Forest

It’s safe to say the Apollo 13 mission has defined my space reporting life. Watching the movie in 1996 as a teenager first got me interested in space. I subsequently devoured astronaut Jim Lovell’s and journalist Jeffrey Kluger’s account of the mission in just one day, which set off hours of reading into the Apollo missions and NASA. Apollo 13 is a topic that I frequently return to and read about even two decades later.

So imagine my delight when last week, I walked into Lovell’s of Lake Forest — a Chicago-area restaurant owned by Lovell’s son, Jay — and discovered several floors of Apollo 13-themed memorabilia.

In the “special requests” section of my reservation, I had alerted staff ahead of time of my interest in the mission. They kindly sat me right in front of a large display case in the basement dining room (dubbed “Captain’s Quarters”) that contained several shelves of priceless memorabilia.

While I munched on french onion soup and shrimp creole, my eyes wandered among the shelves. Awards, models of spacecraft and aircraft, a moon rock … even the Apollo 13 lunar lander plaque that was supposed to be left behind on the moon were in full view inside the glass.

 

After dining in this virtual museum, I asked the staff about the building. Constructed in 1999 by R.M. Swanson and Associates and Kauer Inc., the restaurant features several rooms for different kinds of crowds, ranging from receptions to wine afficionados. One room is called the “Odyssey” room, after the command module part of the spacecraft in the Apollo 13 mission.

Since I was dining early, the rest of the restaurant was fairly empty and the staff invited me to stroll up the stairs. It’s clear from the pictures on the walls that Jim Lovell is very proud of the movie and his role in it, both as an adviser and as an appearing actor in the end, when he greets the crew dressed as a naval captain. Memorabilia ranging from laser discs to pictures to articles about the movie graced the stairwell. Additionally, Lovell had a nod or two to his Gemini VII mission.

All around it was a great experience; this entry just touches on the number of artifacts available in the restaurant for viewing. Quite the space history gem hidden just north of Chicago.

All pictures by Elizabeth Howell.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

A Conversation with Jim Lovell, part 2: Looking Back

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Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell was awarded the Lincoln Leadership Prize by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum foundation last week, and while humbled to receive the award, Lovell said he really is just an ordinary person. “I was just at the right place at the right time with the right credentials; there was nothing so extra special about me that got me where I am.”

But those in attendance at a reception to unveil a portrait of Lovell which will hang at the presidential library in Springfield, Illinois said Lovell embodies the intersection of heroism and legacy.


Lovell speaking at a reception in his honor at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“NASA had a leader at the exact moment they needed it,” said Richard K. Davis, Chair, President and CEO of US Bancorp, who introduced the former Apollo astronaut at the reception. “With the help of many, Lovell and his crew created the outrageous but amazing solution to plot Apollo 13 back home. NASA found they had a cool, calm, competent leader, a hero who took this crew and a nation from ‘Houston we have a problem’ to America, we have a miracle.

Davis said one of his all-time favorite quotes comes from Lovell: “There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful you need to be a person who makes things happen.”

Earlier in the week, Lovell talked with members of the media about his life and his thoughts on NASA’s current budget situation. You can read part one of the interview here, and following is the continuation of the conversation with Jim Lovell, where he talks about some of his memories of his flights to space, and what it took for him to realize that Apollo 13 was more than just a failure:

We’re coming up to almost the 40th anniversary of the last person who landed on the Moon—what are your thoughts about that?

Lovell: It is a rather sad remembrance. I think it is an end of an era. I think the anniversaries will end—we probably won’t get together much anymore. We should look ahead to have a space program that everyone can be proud of, regardless of what it ends up to be. Sometimes we live too much in the past. But the future is here.

Why did you decide to become an astronaut?

Lovell: When I was in high school I was interested in both astronomy and rockets. There was a fellow I admired, the father of modern rocketry named Robert Goddard. I really wanted to be a rocket engineer. So I wrote to the secretary of the American Rocket Society, and asked how I could become one. He told me there was no school at that time that offered that type of study specifically, but I should take mechanics and mathematics, thermodynamics and either go to MIT or CalTech.

But my father had died earlier that year and I didn’t have the money to go to either of those places, so I gave that up. But I did apply to get an ROTC scholarship and was accepted. I went to the University of Wisconsin for two years and won an appointment to the Naval Academy. I went there for four years and got into the Navy and became a naval aviator – which was a second goal for me, as my uncle had been a naval aviator and had regaled me with all his stories. Then I went to test pilot school for the Navy. And when NASA was asking for astronauts, it seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity: here was a marrying of flight and rockets all coming together for me as if I had planned it all this time.

You couldn’t have seen a more disappointed person when I wasn’t selected for the first original seven astronauts. I made it to the final 32 candidates. But then, for round two, I was selected.

Universe Today: What are your favorite memories from your four flights to space?

Lovell: Apollo 8 was the most inspirational flight to me, and I hope it brought a message back to the Earth of what we have.

The most impressive sight I saw was not the moon, not the far side that we never see, or the craters. It was Earth. The Earth was the most impressive sight. As we came around the far side of the Moon and saw the Earth come up above the horizon, we could see the only color in our part of the Universe. The blues of the oceans, the white clouds, the tans, the pinks. I could put my thumb up and hide the Earth completely. Then it dawned on me how completely insignificant we are. Everything I had ever known – my family, my country, my world – was behind my thumb.

So there in the distance was this small body orbiting a rather normal sun, — nothing so particular about it — tucked away on the outer edge of the galaxy we call the Milky Way.

I thought how fortunate we are to live on this small body, with everyone – all those ‘astronauts’ — living together like on a starship, with limited resources. So, in a way that was just like Apollo 13, and we have to learn to live and work together. And I hope we could bring that message back to the people of Earth.

But I also have to say one of my other favorite memories was from Apollo 13: the splashdown! Seeing the parachutes, feeling the capsule swaying in the ocean, and having one of the divers come to knock on the window was a great feeling. It was pretty impressive, too.

Jim Lovell speaking at the museum, in front of a replica of the White House. Image: Nancy Atkinson

What was scarier, the explosion of Apollo 13 or seeing the service module after it was jettisoned and wondering if the heat shield was still intact?

Lovell: The low point was the explosion – which we didn’t realize was an explosion until I saw the oxygen leaking outside the spacecraft, and saw from our instruments that we would be completely out of oxygen. This also meant we would be out of electrical power, and because we used the electrical power to control the rocket engine, we also lost the propulsion system. We knew we were losing the command module, but that was the only thing that had the heat shield to get us back to Earth.

As we were going through and solving all the problems one by one, when we came back towards Earth and jettisoned the Service Module and saw the explosion had blown out the entire side panel, we wondered about that heat shield which was right behind us, if the explosion had cracked it. But there was nothing we could do at that point. There was no solution. You just crossed your fingers. Once we entered the atmosphere we just had to hope the heat shield was intact. And it was.

Lovell and museum officials at the unveiling of a portrait of Lovell that will hang in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Image: Nancy Atkinson


You went from the space program to the tugboat business. What was that like?

After I retired from NASA and the Navy, and I was looking for something to do. I went to the advanced management program at Harvard and learned enough about business to be dangerous. Some friends of ours had a tugboat company and he offered me a job leading the company. Since I was a Navy officer — which has something to do with ships and water – I thought I could handle that. I was in that about five years. Then I got into the telecommunications business, which was fortunate timing because the deregulation of AT&T was just around the corner. We sold digital systems, where AT&T had analog systems, and we could sell the systems instead of how it was done the past where customers leased equipment from the phone company.

As you sit in this museum and library, what are your thoughts about studying the past?

This library and museum is not just something to look back on the era of Lincoln, it is an education for all ages coming through here of how we can keep the country together in the future. At the various museums around the country, like at the Air and Space museum, we show what people have done in the past in spaceflight. Here, and there, we show how people are committed to do things. Lincoln was committed to preserve the country. This type of an institution gives young people the chance to learn about those who were committed to make our country strong, and it should give everyone hope about our future.

You didn’t write the book “Lost Moon” for over 20 years after the Apollo 13 mission. What took so long?

Lovell: When we first got back from Apollo 13, the three of us astronauts said, this was a pretty unusual flight, so we should write a book about this. So, we said, we’re going to get together and write something. Well, as it often happens, as time went on, we all had jobs to do and life got busy for all of us. Jack Swigert went into politics in Colorado, and then, of course, he passed away. Fred Haise went into the aerospace business with Grumman, and I went into the telephone business. But just after I retired I got a call from a young man (Jeffrey Kluger) who said he had never written a book before, but he was a science writer for the Discover Magazine.

To make a long story short, I liked the way he wrote and we got together and wrote the book about 22 years after Apollo 13. But you have to remember that Apollo 13 was a failure. I mean, the only experiment that was completed was really done by the mission control team when they maneuvered the third stage of our booster to hit the Moon so that the Apollo 12 seismometers could pick up the results of the hit to learn something about the lunar surface. So there were no other successful experiments. The only thing we were doing was trying to figure out how to get home.

So, for years after we got back, I was frustrated. I wanted to land on the Moon like the other crews had, but I didn’t. But as we started to write the book, I realized that in its initial mission, yes, the flight was a failure. But as we wrote and I found out more about how hard the mission control team worked to get us back, I realized it really was a triumph in the way people handled a crisis: good leadership at all levels at NASA, teamwork that was generated because of that leadership, the use of imagination and initiative to figure out how to get us home by using just what we had on board, the perseverance of people who kept on going when it looked like initially that we didn’t have a chance. Jules Bergman (ABC science reporter) only gave us a 10 per cent chance, and my wife never forgave him for that!

But this is why Apollo 13 went from being a failure to a triumph.

The movie is very accurate, by the way. Ron Howard followed the real story very well. All the incidents were true except for the argument between Haise and Swigert, but Ron Howard had to figure out a way to portray the tension we all felt, and decided to do it in that way.

Previous winners of the Lincoln Leadership Prize are archbishop Desmond Tutu and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. For more information about the Lincoln Prize and the Presidential Museum and Library, see the ALPLM website.

A Conversation with Apollo’s Jim Lovell, part 1: NASA’s Future

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Springfield, Illinois is a quiet, historic town that clings fervently to its association with Abraham Lincoln. If you want Civil War era history and desire to know anything about Lincoln, you can find it in Springfield, especially at the outstanding new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Musuem.

So, it’s not often that an astronaut shows up, especially a former astronaut with his own unique kind of history such as Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell. But Lovell is in town this week, as he was awarded the Lincoln Leadership Prize, an honor given by the museum’s foundation to “exceptional men and women for a lifetime of service in the Lincoln tradition.” Still a commanding figure at age 82, Lovell chatted eloquently and easily with members of the press yesterday, and since I live in Springfield and am a member of the press, you can bet I was there. It was an honor to be able to talk with him.

Lovell toured the museum earlier in the day, and said, “It is a magnificent museum and library dedicated to one of our greatest presidents, and every American should have the chance to come here in order to get a good idea of what our country stands for and what the people in the past, like Abraham Lincoln, have done to make it a great country.”

Lovell said he was very honored and humbled to be the recipient of the Lincoln Prize and said what he has learned from Lincoln over the years is commitment. “Commitment is necessary if you are going to do anything great, like Lincoln, who committed himself to stand fast,” he said. “I enjoy the aspects of what the Lincoln Prize recognizes, and to be a recipient, well, it has a very special place in my heart.”

Of course, readers of Universe Today are familiar with Lovell’s history: a test pilot in the Navy who applied to become one of the original seven Mercury astronauts (“back when boosters were blowing up every other day at Cape Canaveral,” Lovell said). He didn’t make initial selection, but two years later when NASA needed more astronauts, Lovell was chosen. He flew two missions for Gemini, then Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.

Lovell called Apollo 8 the pinnacle of his career. “I am really proud to be one of three people that flew and circled the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968,” he said, “and we were able to relay back — not to just the people of the United States, but the whole world — something positive after a rather dismal year.”

At the museum Lovell found out that the person who portrayed him in the movie “Apollo 13” – Tom Hanks – is a distance relative of Abraham Lincoln, “so I guess he had a bit of Lincoln in him too, and he was a great character to work with.”

Nancy Atkinson with Jim Lovell.

Following is part of the conversation with Lovell:

On the topic of commitment, do you think the United States is committed to human spaceflight?

Lovell: My personal opinion is that I believe the US has a very strong committment to continue our space exploration. Unfortunately, our present administration doesn’t believe that. The proposed NASA budget for 2011 eliminates the forward efforts of manned spaceflight. It goes for general research and other things. I don’t think they actually remember that NASA was formed to explore space. Consequently there is a possibility that we might be number three or four in space exploration in the future. As you know there about 2 or 3 shuttle flights left. After that the US has no access to the International Space Station, which all our taxpayers have put a lot of money into. If this plan goes forward, the only access in the future will be the Russians and they have indicated that the cost per astronaut per flight is about 60 million dollars, which is a pretty high ticket price to get there.

I think Congress sees the danger of the present proposal of NASA’s 2011 budget and based on that they are now in session both in the House and Senate to try and modify the President’s proposal to continue in some aspect manned space efforts to design vehicles to get up to the International Space Station, sometime in the near future. Hopefully Congress will get together and come up with a compromise. I personally feel the President has so many things weighing on his mind right now that he will go along with Congress’ proposal and it will be better than the initial budget that he proposed to the American people some months ago.

Universe Today: Do you have confidence in the commercial space companies that could bring people to space?

That’s a good question, because part of the new proposal is putting efforts and money into developing commercial spaceflight. Now, you have to look at what the definition of commercial is. In my mind, commercial is when an entrepreneur sees an enterprise to develop a launch system and spacecraft to get into space. He gets his own resources, does the development to build and test his system, makes it man- rated and then proposes his vehicle and system to NASA, or to the FAA if he wants to use it for tourism to space. This is what I consider commercial.

Now, a government program is where the government puts all the money into it and develops and builds it. Within the government, we have the free enterprise system, the private sector where we have contractors to do that. Boeing, Lockheed, General Dyamics, and so on. These people have 40 or 50 years in the development of space artifacts, launch systems, spacecraft. To put government money into a new system for unproven vehicles is today, a waste of money.

Jim Lovell. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

Boeing is now thinking of going into commercial work. They have the expertise to do that. But not some of the newer people like SpaceX, although they did build a nice booster that made one flight. But if they could build it on their own and make it man-rated and have a suitable launch to system to go the ISS, more power to them. I’m sure NASA would contract with them. But we have limited amount of money to spend for space activities, and it seems to me the best place to put it would be with the people who have the knowledge and expertise and the history of what it takes to build a launch system.

There are a few companies that are looking at suborbital flights, such as Richard Branson’s company (Virgin Galactic) who wants to expand what Burt Rutan has done to give people 5 or 6 minutes of weightlessness. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com is another (Blue Origin). They are really entrepreneurs. If they can build their vehicles and systems and they think there is a market for tourism, then that is the way to go.

I’m all for commercialization. A lot of times people compare this to the work that the NACA did to help the airline industry – to develop wing designs and things like that—but the aviation industry in the early days saw a good market, because they knew either commercial flights or military vehicles would provide a market, so there was an opening there.

If you look at commercial space companies, as far as orbital, you have to ask what can people do there? There’s only one place to go in orbit, that’s the ISS. The Russians are already there. The Chinese are talking about building a space station, but there is no other manned market for commercial orbital spaceflight. Now there are a lot of unmanned commercial operations: satellites for the military, GPS, communications, weather – there’s a lot that can happen there and can happen in the future. I think the Boeing vehicles have made over 80 commercial flights putting satellites in orbit.

But low Earth orbit for people – where do you want to go? Unless you have tourists that want to go around the Earth or go to the ISS, there really is not a market, except for the market of the government to put astronauts up in the ISS.

What is the benefit to be gained from manned spaceflight that would outweigh the costs in these tough economic times?

Lovell: That answer is the same as it was back in the days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
One, is the technologies developed. It used to be the only way there was technology development was if there was a war. When NASA came along the technology it developed spilled over in the public sector and you can see what has happened today, especially in the information industry.

The second thing you have to remember is that there was a spur of education. When Russia put up Sputnik, everyone asked how they did it and why we didn’t. And this spilled over into education. I can’t tell you how many people who have told me that when they were young they followed the space program and that affected their choice to go into engineering or science.

Then, there is idea of what we can do as the human race. The world is getting smaller. We can’t do things in space much on our own anymore, and so we have to work together. We now have an International Space Station, 16 countries working together in a program that is not controversial at all. It works. We’re getting to know other countries. We have a common bond.

As of now China is working on their own, but if they accomplish what they want to do, they might join the consortium of the other countries working together.

Now, the idea of manned spaceflight, even though if you pin me to wall, and ask, “OK, we want to go to Mars—why? What will we do there?” Honestly, I can’t tell you. I don’t know.

But I have to tell you one thing. Somebody is going to go to Mars. The technology is here. It is just the time effort and money to make that a possibilty. The original Constellation program that we had carefully devised and developed over years to build a vehicle to get us up to the space station because the shuttle would be retired, and then build the Ares boosters to work our way eventually get us back to the Moon, using that infrastructure to fully explore it – we’ve only touched a small part of the Moon so far – and then after years of developing that to eventually get the architecture and infrastructure. That was the whole plan. It wasn’t a plan to get to Mars in 10 years or 15 years, it was plan to get to one spot, and work your way to the next spot. And there would probably be a consortium of countries working with us. And that was the whole plan that the President shot down. He mentioned something about someday we’d get a big booster. When? You have to have a program to develop the technology. He wants to develop technology and then figure out what kind of program to have. That’s the wrong approach. That’s putting the cart before the horse.

If money was no object and the President said we could go either to the Moon or Mars, what would you recommend?

Lovell: I would tell him to go back to the program we had developed for Constellation. Now, there has been some controversy, even among my own compatriots. Some say we’ve been to the Moon- we’ve done that, so let’s go on to Mars, or let’s go on to an asteroid. That’s all well said and done.

We were extremely fortunate in the 1960’s to develop Apollo and to have the accomplishments we did. I was amazed when I heard President Kennedy announce in 1961 that we were going to go to the Moon by the end of the decade. I said, that’s impossible. So if I say that I don’t know what we’d do if we go to Mars, I might be sadly mistaken and someone might get there before we ever thought it was possible.
But I think you have to do it step by step, to develop it and then go.

Part 2: More with Lovell about Apollo 8 and 13, what it took for Lovell to realize that Apollo 13 wasn’t a complete failure.

13 Things That Saved Apollo 13, Part 13: The Mission Operations Team

The phrase “last but not least” was likely never more appropriate. Though this is the last article of our “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13” series, it might be the most important. “Each time I’ve heard Jim Lovell or Fred Haise speak of the rescue,” said NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, “they have always expressed their gratitude to the folks on the ground who contributed to saving their lives.”

And it wasn’t just the astronauts who were grateful. As a testament to the appreciation the rest of the country felt, the Mission Operations Team for Apollo 13 — those who worked in the Mission Operation Control Room (MOCR – more commonly called Mission Control) and the Mission Evaluation Room (MER) — were awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“We fulfilled the latter part of President Kennedy’s mandate,” said Woodfill, “by returning them safely to Earth.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to the Mission Operations Team of Apollo 13. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

In previous articles in this series, we’ve highlighted just a few people who made significant – and some unsung – contributions to the Apollo 13 rescue. But likely every person who was part of the mission operations team made a contribution.

The words of President Richard Nixon as he presented the medal on April 18, 1970, perhaps say it best:

“We often speak of scientific ‘miracles’ – forgetting that these are not miraculous happenings at all, but rather the product of hard work, long hours and disciplined intelligence.

The men and Women of the Apollo XIII mission operations team performed such a miracle, transforming potential tragedy into one of the most dramatic rescues of all time. Years of intense preparation made this rescue possible. The skill coordination and performance under pressure of the mission operations team made it happen. Three brave astronauts are alive and on Earth because of their dedication and because at the critical moments the people of that team were wise enough and self-possessed enough to make the right decisions. Their extraordinary feat is a tribute to man’s ingenuity, to his resourcefulness and to his courage.”

Certificate given to Woodfill for the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

But, says Woodfill, it wasn’t just those whose names are listed on the initial award.

“There were a thousand more who never were named though their contribution was huge. I could write another hundred accounts of specific acts which, had they not been done, could have resulted in disaster. There was an unseen “cloud of helpers” whom I now know helped just as much as I did though they were never recognized. These folks weren’t even NASA employees or affiliated with the supporting contractors, Grumman (GAEC) or North American Aviation (NAA). Universe Today could go on for months, on a daily basis if I could add all these accounts. Studying something for 40 years brings forth this kind of thing.”

Employees at Johnson Space Center witnessing the President presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team (April 1970). Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

But since Apollo 13 happened 40 years ago, many of those involved are no longer alive. Woodfill said astronaut Jack Swigert is an example. A 40th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 13 mission at Johnson Space Center in April included a panel discussion with Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, Gene Kranz, Glenn Lunney, John Aaron, and was moderated by Jeffrey Kluger, co-author with Lovell of the book Lost Moon.

Read Woodfill’s account of the celebration on his website.

40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 13 at Johnson Space Center. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

“During that two hour exchange, I added a half dozen more insights of unique things that saved Apollo 13,” said Woodfill. “But when the Q&A launched, I all but ran to the microphone to ask the first question: ‘Jim and Fred, could you comment on Jack Swigert’s contribution?’ Their remarks were gracious and appreciative, remembering their friend and crewmate. Neither they nor the country has forgotten Jack. He is the only astronaut to be honored by a statue in Congress, as he became an elected representative in Congress from the State of Colorado. Sadly, cancer took Jack’s life before he could serve. But I think if Jack could speak to us about his experience on Apollo 13, he might select the Mission Operations Team as well. In a sense, he represents all those no longer with us. They helped make it possible for Jim and Fred to have blessed us for the past 40 years with the altogether inspirational story of the rescue of Apollo 13.”

A plaque from the three Apollo 13 astronauts thanking the mission support teams. Note the panels of the caution and warning system above the signatures. 'That was my system,' said Woodfill. 'The alarm system personified what the team’s role was providing caution, warning, and assistance for the crew’s safety.' Image Courtesy Jerry Woodfill

So, while we have only scratched the surface among the many stories of Apollo 13’s rescue, surely there are thousands more tales of people being in the right place at the right time, decisions made years earlier that led to working at NASA, and chance meetings or discussions that opened up opportunities or jogged ideas for the rescue.

Jerry Woodfill and Fred Haise at the 40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 13 at JSC. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.

Jerry Woodfill is an example of such a story. He was attending Rice University on a basketball scholarship, a dream that inexplicably came true.

“However, my career as a college basketball player was as dismal as America’s early endeavors in space,” Woodfill admitted. “Sadly, I hold the record of the lowest shooting percentage in Rice University history…one out of eighteen shots! And the one shot I made at Baylor University with seconds left in the first half was a desperate 35 foot pass to our center under the basket. It sailed too high and went through the hoop. My only basket was actually a bad pass! In truth, I was zero for eighteen.”

He wasn’t doing very well in his classes, either. But then President John Kennedy came to Rice University to give a speech, a speech which helped launch the US to the Moon:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
John F. Kennedy, in his speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962

Inspired by Kennedy’s speech, Woodfill turned in his basketball shoes and focused on his studies of electrical engineering, hoping to become part of the space program to send people to the Moon – and return them safely to the Earth.

Yes, Woodfill become one of the half million Americans teaming up together to put the first men on the Moon.

And the rest is history.

Our extreme thanks to Jerry Woodfill for sharing his story, insights, and expertise as well as his warmth, humor and passion for NASA’s mission. “Godspeed to all you Apollo 13 rescuers, past and present, known and unknown!”

The “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13” series:

Introduction

Part 1: Timing

Part 2: The Hatch That Wouldn’t Close

Part 3: Charlie Duke’s Measles

Part 4: Using the LM for Propulsion

Part 5: Unexplained Shutdown of the Saturn V Center Engine

Part 6: Navigating by Earth’s Terminator

Part 7: The Apollo 1 Fire

Part 8: The Command Module Wasn’t Severed

Part 9: Position of the Tanks

Part 10: Duct Tape

Part 11: A Hollywood Movie

Part 12: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous

Part 13: The Mission Operations Team

Also:

Your Questions about Apollo 13 Answered by Jerry Woodfill (Part 1)

More Reader Questions about Apollo 13 Answered by Jerry Woodfill (part 2)

Final Round of Apollo 13 Questions Answered by Jerry Woodfill (part 3)

Never Before Published Images of Apollo 13’s Recovery

Listen to an interview of Jerry Woodfill on the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.