Notes on Comments by a Panel of Apollo Astronauts with U.S. Navy Backgrounds
11th Annual Naval Aviation Symposium
The National Museum of Naval Aviation
May 18, 1997
C-SPAN tape #81045, length 2:28.
Transcribed by John B. Charles, Houston, Texas, 2 Nov. 2002.
Panel of Apollo Astronauts:
Armstrong, Neil A. (Mr.)
Cernan, Eugene A., Captain, USN (ret.)
Lovell, James A., Captain, USN (ret.)
Schirra, Walter M., Captain, USN (ret.)
Shepard, Alan B., Rear Admiral, USN (ret.)
Roy Neal, aerospace correspondent, NBC News (ret.)
Jack Fetterman, Vice Admiral, USN (ret), President and CEO, Naval Aviation Museum Foundation
Patricia Tracey, Vice Admiral, Director, Naval Training, and Chief, Naval Education and Training, U.S. Navy
Fetterman introduced Roy Neal, who moderated a symposium at NMNA in 1993, entitled “Navy to the Moon,” with the same panel as today except for Schirra, who was unable to attend because he had fallen off of his horse, breaking his collarbone.
Neal introduced the panel of astronauts: Armstrong, first man to walk on the Moon; Cernan, last man to walk on the Moon; Shepard, first man to play golf on the Moon; Lovell, who went to the Moon twice and never landed; and Schirra, the only man to fly in Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. All share common bonds: naval aviators; test pilots [not Cernan]. He elaborated on history of space age, NASA, first three astronaut selection groups, etc.
Shepard thanked Neal for finally letting the panel talk, and offered to “interpret” some of Neal’s comments. Reminded all that NACA, an admirable government agency, was renamed NASA. After decision to launch astronauts on military rockets, NASA agreed to manage the program but said that (with one exception) all of its test pilots were old with long gray beards. Eisenhower opted to select astronauts from among military test pilots. An equitable distribution among the services provided three from the Air Force, three from the Navy, and one Marine: “I didn’t know if that meant one Marine was worth three Navy…” They were surprised by the hero-worship from the press and public because they thought they were just continuing as test pilots. Deferred to Schirra (whom he addressed as “Skyray”) for further interpretation.
Schirra recalled that he was ordered to Washington for briefing on project. Didn’t think it was a great idea to sit in a capsule on top of a rocket. Was told not to worry, they would send some monkeys and chimpanzees first. “I knew I wanted out of there then.” Had been happy at Patuxent testing the F-4, expected shortly to be a squadron skipper, and then later maybe get a carrier; not about to get into this can on top of a rocket. Some of his friends, including Bob Elder [present in audience] advised him that if he wanted to go higher, farther, faster, then this was the way to do it. Original seven had fun, formed a brotherhood. His favorite memory was of a photograph of the second nine pilots selected as astronauts, watching Schirra’s first launch, and in particular “Tweety” Conrad with his fingers crossed. He also joked that the term was “lift-off,” not “blast-off”—“took a blast before lift-off.”
Shepard mentioned two groups with whom the astronauts had to deal: the medical community, who introduced them to primates; and the engineers within NASA who had been involved with the early design of the Mercury “nose cone” (his term). “Medics” believed that high altitudes and speeds would change physiology and personalities. The engineers believed that the flights could be done automatically, with no need to have a pilot aboard, experienced or otherwise. Didn’t make out too well with the medics, who flew a couple of primates before one of the astronauts had a chance to go. Made out better with the engineers. Astronauts wanted the nosecone to fly like an airplane, with some control over the vehicle in case of malfunctions. Engineers begrudgingly conceded a few points. Original Mercury nosecone had two portholes instead of a window. Astronauts wanted window for orientation, instead of needles and periscope. On the very last Mercury mission, the instruments failed and the pilot, Gordon Cooper, used the window to line up very precisely for landing. So the astronauts came out ahead of the engineers, but lost to the medics.
Neal introduced events leading up to Gemini 7 and 6 rendezvous.
Lovell said that, after the “problems” with Gemini 6 Agena target vehicle, NASA leadership decided to launch Gemini 7 on its two-week mission. Aside, he noted, “two weeks with Frank Borman anyplace was a challenge.” In orbit, Lovell immediately started slipping his new lightweight spacesuit [G5C] “lower and lower” to get out of it, while it took three days for the ground and the medics to approve Borman removing his suit. Years later, after they both retired and shortly before the demise of Eastern Airlines, he joked with Borman that the food on Eastern was left over from Gemini 7. Asked Schirra to discuss the rendezvous.
Schirra reiterated that Gemini was a stepping-stone, including precision landing. He compared Russian joint Vostok flights to a man and a woman walking down opposite sides of the street, while rendezvous was analogous to the man crossing the street and nibbling on the woman’s ear. During rendezvous—mindful of the fact that he, Lovell and Stafford (although he had made the mistake of going into the Air Force) were all graduates of the Naval Academy, while Borman went to West Point—he took advantage of their proximity to hold up a sign that said, “Beat Army,” which Borman said looked like, “Beat Navy.” Gemini 6 landed four miles from the carrier (he said the carrier was out of position by four miles), and, after he and Stafford briefed Borman and Lovell, they landed even closer.
Neal, in connection with precision landings, said that Armstrong tested the Gemini controllers on the X-15. On Gemini 8, Armstrong came close to buying the farm.
Armstrong said that the astronauts took great pride in landing close to the carrier, and could usually land within a mile. But his carrier was located in the Caribbean, and he landed near Okinawa, a record that will never be broken. “Little short circuits can cause lots of big problems.”
Noted that Gemini flew before Apollo, but was developed after Apollo was committed. Described Gemini as “an advanced Mercury, a two-place Mercury,” intended to give them experience essential for Apollo. It had a couple of important characteristics. The previous spacecraft, Mercury and Vostok, had no ability to navigate. Mercury did have the window, so they could look out and say, “Oy, we’re over Florida!” (sic) That was the best they could do for navigation.
For navigation, they used an inertial navigation system, the so-called “stable table” and computer, already in use on ships and in airplanes, a two-dimensional system. Inertial navigation had the advantage that errors do not propagate; they tend to be oscillatory or sinusoidal. The airplane puts its altimeter input into the system to cover the third dimension. The X-15 could fly outside the atmosphere and thus have no altitude reference. The altitude component is an unstable calculation, because a small error in altitude changes the magnitude of “g” and makes the calculation unstable. Thus, the X-15 altitude calculation at landing would still show it at 100,000 feet. This would not be a satisfactory system for flying to the Moon.
The Gemini solved this problem in two ways: first, the inertial part of the system was only used when it was under power or flying back through the atmosphere. Second, it used a digital computer. On the X-15, an analog computer was used because digital computers were far too slow, while analog computers lightning fast, but very poor in accuracy. By the time of Gemini, the digital computer was more accurate, but still primitive by today’s standards. It could add in 140 microseconds, subtract in 240 microseconds, and divide in 480 microseconds. Today’s average laptop, “that you could buy in the mall,” is somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 times faster than the Gemini computer. It had no screen, no graphics, no letters, and a keyboard with 13 keys: zero to nine, clear, and enter. For output, it had one little register with seven numbers. “That was the complete way we computed space navigation in those days. Remarkable what changes have occurred in the next thirty years.”
Neal next joked that Gemini 9 was “a piece of cake” as they began finding out that walking in space wasn’t all that easy.
Cernan joked that it is getting old being introduced as the last man to walk on the Moon, among all the firsts on the panel. He described Shepard as the first man to wet his pants on the pad, Schirra as the first guy to get a cold in space, and the first, last and always the guy to tell a bad joke, Lovell as the first guy to almost get lost in space, and who sometimes answers to the name “Tom” (e.g., Hanks), and Armstrong as the first guy to almost run out of gas trying to land on the Moon.
He acknowledged his good fortune in flying early on Gemini, after the loss of the Gemini 9 prime crew in February 1966. He and Stafford had been told that they might fly Gemini 12, and only had two months to prepare for Gemini 9.
After Ed White’s space walk on Gemini 4, it did look like a piece of cake. “Neil’s pilot…co-pilot on Gemini 8, Dave Scott,” didn’t get to walk in space; if he had, we would have learned a lot more about space walks. He described the Gemini 9 EVA, mentioned the rocket backpack as firing hot rocket engine gases, “I should have suspected something when someone fitted me for those Chromel steel pants to keep from burning through my space suit.” But as a rookie, he was eager to fly. They were ambitious and didn’t fully appreciate the mechanics of weightlessness, and during assembly of the backpack he overpowered the space suits environmental control system and fogged up his visor. He was disappointed that the activity was cancelled, agreed that the activity was perhaps premature, but didn’t want to let anyone down, especially in that fast-paced program. In retrospect, the Apollo suits’ cooling system was redesigned, the foot restraints were developed, and underwater training became the standard.
His side notes to Gemini 9 included the following. First, the last thing they did before they suited up involved an acknowledgement (unclear from his comments) that if he had not been able to return from his space walk, then “Tom would have had to pull the umbilical out, close the hatch and come on home alone.” He also indicated that Stafford told him at the time that, if the Gemini 9 accident not occurred, and if the Russians had orbited the Moon, it was possible that Gemini 12 might have used an Agena with extra power to go around the Moon in 1966! He was not sure they could have pulled that one off, and suggested that Shepard and Schirra might have more information.
Neal asked Shepard, as head of the astronaut office, if he had a comment.
Shepard said, “Actually, I would have no comment on that. If you think it is hard to say no comment, it is difficult.”
Lovell said that Gemini 12 finally did all the basic work for EVA. They had leased a swimming pool in a boys’ school in Boston, and made Aldrin neutrally buoyant, and resolved the problems of EVA.
Neal observed that a great deal of improvisation was going on during the space program, even during flight.
Schirra clarified that attitude control used the right hand on a stick analogous to that in an airplane, but that the left hand controlled translation. He and Lovell had the advantage, and the others had to learn to fly left-handed.
Neal referred to the Apollo 1 fire and the 21 months required to rebuild Apollo, the Soyuz crash of Komarov, and von Braun’s work on the Saturn V.
Schirra said he wanted to call Apollo 7 “Phoenix.” He recalled a joke that he and von Braun apparently enjoyed telling, about how a spacecraft with “CCCP” (USSR) on it and one with USA on it landed on the Moon simultaneously. A hatch opened on each, and out came a cosmonaut and an astronaut. They approached each other, touched their bubble helmets together, and said, “Hello, Hans. Hello, Fritz. Now ve speak German!”
Had to change the Apollo hatch, the spacecraft atmosphere at launch. Fire concerns were such that the suggestion was made to shave all of the hair off of the crewmen, until they noted that it would start to grow back in 11 days. But they could take nothing to read, no toys to play with. “As a fighter pilot, an hour and a half was a long day. Here we were logging eleven days in that beauty.”
Noted that the goal of Apollo 7 was to do all the tests in Earth orbit “to prove it could go to the ‘Moonandback’… one word, no hyphens, no commas...” His biggest experiment was to scratch off the date on the metal calendar of October that he had on his watchband. Recounted Eisele’s quip, before launch, on the disappearance of the white room crew led by Günter Wendt: “I vunder vere Günter vent?”
Shepard said that, regarding the Apollo 1 fire and Challenger, pressure and competition may have been involved, but there was a sense of success leading up to the accidents, on top of a sense of complacency and over-confidence from the earlier successes. Regardless of how smart and successful one is, there is always the chance of over-confidence and complacency.
Neal mentioned the official concern about a Soviet Zond flight around the Moon prompted the Apollo 8 mission.
Lovell said this was a good example of NASA leadership. The Soviets hesitated in sending men around the Moon. NASA took the calculated risk to send Apollo 8 around the Moon. Lovell considers this the high point of his space career. He recounted the humbling experience of covering the Earth with his thumb.
Neal prompted Lovell to tell the story of the reading from Genesis, but Lovell recounted the debate over who took the famous photograph of Earthrise.
Neal returned to the Genesis reading as an example of the religious aspects of the undertaking. Then he asked Cernan to discuss why Apollo 10 didn’t land on the Moon.
Cernan said that the fourth Apollo flight was originally scheduled to land on the Moon. Even after Apollo 8, there was some discussion about landing with Apollo 10. But they didn’t have enough experience with the LM, especially in orbit around the Moon. Apollo 10 flew with a LM a little heavier than on Apollo 11. The mission wasn’t disappointing, because it was his second space flight, his first launch on a Saturn 5, and his first trip to the Moon. The landing software wasn’t ready for Apollo 10. Commented that, just as Shepard and Schirra painted a yellow line for the later astronauts to follow, so Apollo 10 painted a yellow line for Armstrong to follow “so he wouldn’t get lost.” Mentioned his first on Apollo 10, after “somehow a computer switch got put in the wrong position—we won’t discuss how or why!—and our Lunar Module spun out of control, passing over the lunar surface at several thousand miles an hour, not so high above the top of those mountains,” and he exclaimed “to the entire world, on an open mike: ‘Golly gee whiz, what the heck happened?’—it was something like that…” Claims to be the first guy to swear in space.
He said that Schirra asked him just that morning, “Could you really have landed on 10?” Of course, with the arrogance of an attack pilot, he said, “Hell, yes, Wally, we could have landed! The problem was they short-fuelled us and we couldn’t have got off the surface, which sort of entered into our decision-making at the time.”
Neal asked Armstrong what he remembered most over the thirty years since Apollo 11.
Armstrong recounted how Apollo 11 built upon the experience of the preceding missions, and added the new elements of descent and landing, working on the surface, and ascent from the lunar surface back into orbit. None of those were trivial, but he viewed descent being by far the most difficult. Orbital speed around the Moon was about 5500 feet per second, or 3500 knots, and the higher the orbit is, the more fuel is needed to land, while the lower the orbit, the greater the possibility that “you’ll make a new crater, and they’ll name it after you.” So they compromised on an orbit with a low point of roughly 50,000 feet, or 10 miles. The fuel required to get to the surface from that altitude is equal to about half the spacecraft’s weight. The fully fuelled two-stage Lunar Module weighed about 32,000 pounds, so they needed about 16,000 pounds to get down to the surface, with another thousand pounds to hover and find a place to land. The gravity at the Moon is one-sixth of Earths, so to support a 15,000-pound vehicle at that point, you need an engine with a thrust of 2,500 pounds. As with a helicopter or a Harrier, you need considerable throttlability to make a successful landing. But up to that time there were no throttlable rockets. His first experience with rockets was what the Navy called the LR-8 and the Air Force called the LR-11, used on the X-1 and Douglas Skyrockets. That had four chambers each with 1,500 pounds of thrust, so you could have 1,500, 3,000, 4,500 and 6,000 pounds of thrust, but no throttling. Apollo was so well funded that they had the luxury of developing two competing technologies for the critical areas, such as the throttling rocket engines. The first technique was to throttle by injecting an inert gas into the propellant streams upstream of the combustion chamber. The second used special flow valves with cavitating venturis. These were both high-tech, high-risk approaches, and both worked pretty well. The cavitating venturi method was chosen because it had good throttlability especially in the low throttle range where it was needed for hover, and it was very smooth. There were certain areas of the throttle range that couldn’t be used, because the propellant mixture out of the venturis was unpredictable and would lead to excessive erosion, just as in airplanes there are certain throttle ranges that are not allowed. It worked very well, and the engine was not very high-tech. It was a pressure-fed engine, not turbo-pump fed, and used supercritical nitrogen gas at 1,600 p.s.i. to pressurize the fuel tank, and the engine pressures were a remarkable 100 p.s.i., only, at maximum thrust. “There were a lot of technical triumphs in Apollo, but that is one that sticks out in my mind, probably because it was extremely important to me that it work.”
He also returned to inertial navigation systems, and mentioned that the landing radar was used to keep the LM’s inertial scheme from diverging. [JBC: Armstrong visibly enjoyed expounding on the technical aspects of navigation and engines.]
After listening to this, Roy Neal could only add, “Well, the big thing was that you did it.” He recounted an interview he did with von Braun in about 1979 in which he asked von Braun whether, when he was proposing the Saturn V to NASA, he really believed they could do it. Von Braun replied that he didn’t have to answer that question, because they did it! Neal admitted that it was a perfect answer to a lousy question.
Following Apollo 11, the impetus for the U.S. space program was lost. After the success of Apollo 12, it was left for Apollo 13 to become of the truly amazing adventure stories of our time, now a synonym in the U.S. for trial, tribulation and survival.
Lovell recalled that Kennedy’s speech in 1961promised to land a man on the Moon and then bring him home safely within the decade. He didn’t say it was for scientific purposes, but instead was to be a technological challenge. After Apollo 11 and 12 had returned material from the “maria” or lunar seas, the decision was made to go to the lunar highlands, looking for ejecta from the interior of the Moon. Apollo 13 was targeted for the lunar highlands near the crater Fra Mauro.
Soon after launch, the center engine of the second stage of the Saturn V shut down two minutes early due to high vibrations, in what he said he hoped was their crisis for the flight. Then, two days out from Earth, an explosion in an oxygen tank resulted from a thermostat that was not proper, but which flew on all preceding flights. The flight was a beautiful demonstration of crisis management, in the control center and in the spacecraft. The lunar module was used in a way never intended to return the crew to Earth. After the round LM carbon dioxide scrubbing canisters were saturated, they used a technique devised on the ground to jury-rig a system using tape, plastic and cardboard to enable the square canisters from the command module to scrub the LM atmosphere. He joked that this indicated, “On a $20-billion program without tape, plastic and cardboard, you’re lost. A lot of airplane designers have found out the same thing…” Then, 107 hours on the way back, the ground told them they were out of the re-entry corridor, and they had to jury-rig a method to correct their trajectory. Overall, although the flight itself was a failure, it was a triumph in the sense of people working together to overcome problems. He also said a strength of manned space flight is that the people on board can work to resolve problems.
He said that the movie “Apollo 13” was quite accurate, with some artistic license for dramatic purposes. He said that Swigert was well prepared for the flight and that he and Haise had all the confidence in the world in his ability to join the crew after they trained together for four-days. He also said that there wasn’t any argument between Swigert and Haise during the flight, that everyone was professional, but the only way Ron Howard, the movie’s director, could dramatize the strains onboard the spacecraft was to have a verbal exchange between the two. The movie depicted Ken Mattingly as solving the electrical power problem, but Mattingly freely admits that it was a team effort; Mattingly was just used to represent that teamwork in the movie.
Schirra mentioned that, that that time, he was broadcasting with “another Walter” and that Grumman test pilot Leo Krup, who was assisting the CBS coverage, and the whole Grumman plant turned out to solve the problem with the Lunar Module. He reminded Lovell that the movie could have included a line about Grumman sent a bill to Rockwell for $250,000 for towing.
Shepard said he was disappointed to be physically grounded for a few years, but fortunately was able to get that corrected and have a second flight. He returned to the topic of his first flight. After he received his medal from Kennedy, they were chauffeured to the Capitol for a reception. He and his wife Louise (in the audience today) were sitting in the back seat with Vice President Johnson between them in a long, stretch limousine with the top down. Between 250,000 and 300,000 people were leaning out of office building windows and waving. After a few blocks, Johnson suggested to Shepard, and then Louise, that they get up on the back of the limousine and wave to the crowds. Soon, he was also on the back, waving “all the way to the steps of the Capitol.”
After the Capitol reception, President Kennedy indicated that he wanted everyone to return with him to the Oval Office, where they discussed future plans. In a meeting with the astronauts, leaders of the agency and members of Congress, Shepard enthusiastically described of their accomplishments. Kennedy asked Webb what else they had planned. Webb started to describe Project Gemini, but Kennedy said, no, beyond that. Webb said that they did have some studies about how best to get to the Moon. Kennedy said he wanted a briefing on those plans. Ten days later he got the briefing, and a short three weeks after Shepard’s flight Kennedy made the commitment to the Moon. Shepard discussed subsequent historical analyses suggesting that it was a political decision, but said that Kennedy showed genuine enthusiasm that day.
After Glenn’s flight, he, Shepard and Grissom were invited to meet the President at West Palm and fly with him back to Washington, he showed the same sense of enthusiasm and national pride.
When they arrived in Washington, Mrs. Kennedy and Caroline met them. After meeting the “three great American heroes,” she looked around and politely asked, “But where’s the monkey?”
Apollo 14 was a relatively uneventful mission, except for some anxious moments during the transposition and docking process. After several perfect approaches by Roosa, Shepard was getting ready to put on the pressure suits and physically join the vehicles manually, but other procedures corrected the problem instead. Then, before descent, a short in the abort switch kept the software from enabling the powered descent. A software engineer from MIT re-wrote the code to bypass the short. Then, during the landing, the landing radar had to be operating by the time they reached 13,000 feet, but it wasn’t locking on to the surface. An engineer on the ground deduced that it was working, but had locked on infinity, and suggested cycling the circuit breaker, which fixed the problem.
Shepard said that they landed as close to the targeted landing site as any of the six missions, but Cernan vigorously shook his head, and there was general laughter. His “co-pilot,” Ed Mitchell, asked what he would have done if the landing radar wasn’t working at 13,000 feet, to which he replied, “Ed, you’ll never know!”
Cernan commented that the tanks that blew up on Apollo 13 came out of Apollo 10 shortly before launch. He also noted that the simulators were more primitive in those days. As Shepard’s backup on Apollo 14, Cernan did a lot of the simulator work testing the revised LM procedures, with Joe Engle, his LMP on that crew. MIT was writing the program for the digital autopilot to fly the LM with the inert CSM attached, so they would bring the tapes down on National Airlines. They would try it in the simulator, make comments on the problems, then MIT would rewrite it, come back to Houston with revisions. Cernan and Engle helped devise the two-man LM control techniques that enabled Lovell’s crew to make the course correction maneuver sighting on the Earth’s terminator. He commented that when Kennedy said we would go to the Moon and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard, he was asking America to do things that might have seemed impossible. Apollo 13, as an example of the space program in miniature, showed that difficult things could be done. He waxed poetic on how people came together to get the job done.
As backup commander to Shepard on Apollo 14, he realized there was absolutely no chance he was going to fly instead of him, given Shepard’s motivation. Slayton gave Cernan the chance to command, which he wanted to do more than walk on the Moon, and told him to go tell Shepard that he was just as good as he (Shepard) was. He recalled that when Shepard first flew, he (Cernan) was still a Navy lieutenant on carrier duty, and Shepard was one of his heroes.
Cernan also noted, for the benefit of his Navy audience, that five of the six lunar landings were commanded by naval aviators, as was the one that didn’t land (13), the first Apollo flight, and the last one, too. Some [unnamed] NASA managers literally directed him, if his choice was between landing and getting back alive, to get back alive, but he intended to do both.
Apollo 17 was the first night launch of a manned space flight, launched at 12:33 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1972, after a three-hour launch delay. The crew included the first scientist, Jack Schmitt, who did an outstanding job, at the expense of Joe Engle, an Air Force test pilot and X-15 pilot he described as a super lunar module pilot whose only mistake was that he wasn’t a naval aviator. In retrospect, he said it was the right decision.
Cernan corrected Shepard and claimed that Apollo 17 was the most accurate landing on the Moon. He also noted that his electric lunar rover was the only car within a quarter million miles but he still got his fender knocked off, and that they looked both ways whenever they crossed their own tracks, just to make sure no one else was coming. Most of his comments are repeated in the book he later wrote.
Neal concluded with discussion of Shuttle, Mir and Space Station plans, then asked Armstrong if space flight would ever become routine.
Armstrong said that nothing that let you see the sights and experience the emotions of space flight could ever be routine to anyone. He also indicated that the process of making the early flights successful was understanding that flights that seem complex could be broken down into smaller pieces until an aviator could understand them, and then it was doable.
Schirra observed that he and Armstrong were not jaded, and they had watched the launch of STS-83. He observed that STS-83 was brought back early because they lost one of three fuel cells, and asked Cernan how many they lost on Apollo 10. Cernan recalled that they lost one of their three fuel cells on the way to the Moon, but that there were other considerations. He observed there were no guarantees in Apollo, but they thought the risks were worth it.
The first question from the audience was from a young man, who asked Armstrong what it was like to walk on the Moon. He answered, “You would really like it!” The second question asked for more details. Armstrong answered that you feel very light while in the LM, but on the surface you are encased in a stiff suit. It was satisfying to get to the surface, because the excitement was being shared by hundreds of thousands of Apollo workers.
Neal asked Shepard how hard he really hit that golf ball. Shepard said that, for the same club head speed, it should go six times as far, and that the absence of an atmosphere meant that it would not curve or slice, which really intrigued him about the process.
Lovell said that the Apollo 13 entry was shallow, which made the blackout a little longer, but not as long as shown in the movie, and that Swigert may have held off from calling the ground, to heighten the drama.
Shepard endorsed a solid analytical approach such as he gained in test flying at Patuxent River, in the space program today, even for people involved in the experiments, both in devising the experiments and in working around any failures that may occur.
When asked if was scared when the explosion, Lovell said he was “a little apprehensive.” They knew they had a serious problem when they saw the oxygen venting, but they didn’t yet know how to overcome the problems: “Yeah, I was a little scared.”
Schirra commented that, regarding his experience in Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, he required larger spacecraft as he gained weight over his years flying. Regarding precision entry and landing (a point he came back to repeatedly), he recalled how on Apollo 7 they were assigned to track the planet Mercury setting on the Earth’s horizon in an evaluation of a navigation procedure. He noted that this was not something they were trained for or prepared to do. In the process, the computer locked up, thus eliminating their hopes for a precision reentry and landing. Out of ground communication, they recalled a similar incident during training at MIT when they tried to use the Apollo sextant to observe a nurses’ dormitory across the Charles River, and the computer locked up. The technician showed them the keystrokes to unlock it, which they recalled and applied in flight. When they came back into contact, Houston noticed that the computer was working, and asked how they did it, to which they replied, “You find out!” It took them an hour to find the technician at MIT who told them. This is another example of the teamwork that made Apollo a success.
Neal wondered aloud if today’s Mission Control is as well prepared to handle crises as in the Apollo days. Lovell said he believed that it is well prepared for Shuttle issues.
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