tv Lunar Module Landing Operations CSPAN August 29, 2019 12:56pm-1:44pm EDT
to themselves. live coverage begins september 4th at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span and cspan.org. if you're on the go, listen to our free coverage using the free c-span radio app. next, another discussion on the lunar module landing operations during the mission to the moon. with four former apollo era flight controllers and engineers. th >> good morning, everybody. welcome to space center houston on the 50th anniversary of the apollo 11 moon landing. i'll say that periodically through the day so people will applaud. you can feel the atmosphere is
charged. it's a special day, an auspicious day. we're honored to have with us a panel of four important engineers, my personal heros when i was growing up. i was only 14 when you did the miracle back in 1969. i tried very hard to get here and follow in your footsteps as quickly as i could. we have a panel that's going to talk about lunar module landing operations today. if you want to know what that is, they'll tell you about it as we go around. the panel is jack knight, bob nance, harold loden, and bill reeves. i'll have them to identify themselves, say a little bit about what they did, and then open it up a little bit for questions. by the way, since i didn't introduce myself, i'm john charles, the scientist in residence here. i'd like to turn the microphone over to mr. knight to talk a little bit about what you did
here for apollo 11 and what brought you here in the first place, and your recollections of that important day. >> okay. i was the son of an air force family. we were in various bases around the world. i went to georgia institute of technology and graduated in 1965. i came directly here to the manned space flight center and was hired by the operations area. and in particular, the apollo systems group. at the time i arrived, apollo had been as a program in work, but we were flying the gemini and the gina vehicles. i was in the environmental control electrical control area.
-- i was on -- in the ssr staff support room for that. and on all subsequent flights i was in the mission operation control room in positions we called telcomm or telmu depending on the flight. that's apollo 9, 11, and everything with a lunar module on it. i'll pass to bob nance. [ applause ] >> good morning. this is a big day. i started this morning with a prayer just like 50 years ago. lord, please help me not screw up today. my name is bob nance. in 1962, i heard president john kennedy tell the world that we were going to go to the moon by the end of that decade, and i wanted to be a part of that, and everything from then on went on.
i also went to georgia tech, and i met astronaut john young there and through him ended up here at from georgia tech to then the manned spacecraft sooner in lunar module propulsion. i was so blessed that i got to absolutely live my dream of sitting on the consul as lunar module propulsion when we landed on the moon. i think we'll talk a lot about that later. [ applause ] >> well, good morning. my name is howell loden. a little bit about my background, i grew up in texas. moved around a lot. my dad was a methodist preacher. i was in florida working on a space program in 1963 to 1964 which is the langley project and the manager of that was a good
friend of mine. he said well, why don't you go to houston and mind the spacecraft center. my wife and i are from houston. i said that would be great. i got a job here. went into the operations directory, and i was at the gemini gina systems. back up just a second, i'm an electrical engineer by education from texas a&m. anyway, during apollo 11, i was a flight controller in the lunar module emc systems area, which that area comprises to the descent and ascent engines. the radars and the hardware for the primary and backup computer systems. and i flew all the apollo missions from remote site in
australia, apollo 9 through 10, 11, 13, all the way through 17. i was in mission control for the lunar module. specifically on apollo 11, i was the control guy on consul for the ascent from the moon. the descent was exciting. i was there sitting behind our good friend karlton who is no longer with us. passed away a few months ago. i was a little hesitant as to whether we were going to make it or not when bob was calling out the fuel remaining because we didn't have a lot left, did we? but, you know, when i got on the ascent, we had problems too. i hear people say the ascent was more risky than the descent. i find that hard to believe. anyway, that's my story and i pass it over to bill reeves.
[ applause ] >> good morning. my name is bill leaves. this working? okay. my name is bill reeves. i grew up in arkansas and went to oklahoma ou to get an electrical engineering degree and wound up in texas here as fast as i could. when it came to football season, i didn't have a chance growing up in arkansas and ou and texas. when i hired on in 1967, i hired on into the flight operations drek rat flight control vision. as a flight controller on the lunar module in the electrical power system group. we were in charge of all the power systems and power distribution systems of the lunar module, and we also were in charge of the pyrotechnic
systems. i had gotten here right after the apollo 1 fire which happened in january, so the program was in a delay while they figured out what had happened and redesigned and got back flying again, which turned out to give me the time i needed to get on board and was lucky enough to be in position when we started flying the lunar module. and so i was in the staff support room which is the support rooms are the rooms that support the main control room, and we're the people that made the people in the main room look good. >> absolutely. >> when you see the control center, when you go over and see the control center, when you see it on movies and everything,
that's the tip of an extremely large iceberg. there's a lot of people supporting that. then i was -- i controlled on the lunar module throughout the entire apollo program for all the flights, and then after apollo was over, i flew backseat in airplanes for about eight years and then came back to operations for shuttle and was a flight controller in shuttle and later selected as a flight director for shuttle for 22 shuttle flights. and that's it. [ applause ] >> this is excellent. this is a very good thumbnail sketch of the lunar module activities for apollo. i am derelict in my duties. i forgot to tell you when we're finished here, not now, but when we're finished, please move quickly to the exits.
there's 200 people or more waiting for next presentation. with that out of the way, i'd like to ask a couple questions and then we'll open it up to questions. i'd like to talk to the events of any mission, the powered decent and the powered ascent. i'd like to talk with mr. nance and talk about your recollections, my trepidations or confidence you had about the lunar landing, the powered propulsion down from lunar orbit and your thauoughts about the success, the inevitability of success or any sweaty palms you might have had. >> yes. there were a lot of sweaty palms. that is a raw area, but let me try to give an overview. first of all, the lunar module descent starts shortly after the lunar module comes back around from the backside of the moon. the big surprise we had, and i think jack mentioned it in the previous session, that the data
was so difficult that we were having trouble getting voice and data, in particular, high gain data, and as we started the descent, the engine fired, the first thing that happened was the data dropped out. we're sitting here giving no, no gos without any data. i know a lot of times you hear the landing and it sounds like everything went really, really smooth, but it was difficult at the beginning. the data would drop out. we'd get a little bit of data, and okay, everything is working good. we got our data back, and then we came to where the crew starts off with their head down so they can see the lunar surface. as they lean down, they rotate 180 degrees. when that happened, we lost data again. so at first it seemed are we really going to be able to land like this, but the great news was we started getting good data. everything was looking good. we did hear that we were going
to be long. we knew that from the very beginning. that had to do with a slight timing error, i think when the burn started but everything was going very, very smooth. one of my jobs, and i was likewise, i should have mentioned before, i was in charge of the ascent engine, descent engine and the reaction control. they are the thrusters that you see out on the lunar module out there. and a lot of people think wow, you just concentrated on the descent engine, but we had to have a visual pattern where you looked at the ascent and rcs. you're burning an engine. the vehicle was shaking. you wanted to make sure if the descent engine wasn't working good, or if there was something bad happening. even though you were concentrating on the descent, you constantly had to look at the other systems in the various propulsion systems. we start off burning at about 98% thrust, and then it drops, and it dropped at six minutes
and 25 seconds. by then we had data. everything was looking pretty good. everything is just tracking. we had a few computer problems that you heard about, overload on the computer, the 12:02, and later. everything was going good. one of the things we were always worried was our fuel margin on the first mission. it was running about 4.5% propelment remaining. it was looking pretty good. when we heard attitude hold. attitude hold is when the crew decides to take over themselves. normally if they did nothing, the limb would come all the way downright to the moment just before landing. we already knew from simulations that we did with neil that he liked to take over early. but this is way earlier than we normally had ever seen. we knew that something was going on. one of my jobs was of course the
propellant monitoring. are we going to run out of fuel. we had sat in a meeting with neil and buzz and worked out what we were going to do. we first had an indication of low level. that is 5.6 % propelment remaining. we knew that. the goal was at that time you knew approximately how much time you had to cover. well, to be honest, we got to 5.6, they weren't anywhere close to hovering because neil had realized he had to go down over top of a crater and get away from a boulder field to try to find some smooth ground to land the limb. we could see this happening, because the rcs, the little jets normally a descent engine has a bell. small motions are made with it. when you see the rcs, that means he's overriding it and putting a command that's greater than the descent engine can move that fast. he had leaned over going forward to speed up.
he stopped descending antewent up a little bit. i'm sure that was to see where he could find a clear spot to land. then the next call was 60 seconds. that's sixty-seconds until you run out. that's not 60 seconds until you have to make up your mind. the calls were 60, 30, and bin go. 60 seconds, 30 seconds, and bingo. h my original idea was 60, 30, and 15. and buzz was kind of talked and was pretty active and everything, and neil was always very quiet. and after quite a while of talking about this, all of a sudden neil says, i don't like abo abort, because i'm a pilot, and i'll make that decision. and i said we know that you will, mr. armstrong. and so he turned around and said
can you all give out another name, please? i believe buzz was a navy pilot. he says well, an aircraft carrier when you're committed to land, you have to land no matter what, you say bingo. neil said bingo works. it was 60, 30, bingo. the problem was, i never expected to call 30. in simulations we normally landed shortly after 60 seconds. actually, i have a website. it's called robertnanceapollo11.com. you can hear the ssr talking to control, and when i made the 60 second call out that was passed on, it was 60 seconds. when i made the 30-second callout, it was more like 30 seconds, like i couldn't believe we're here. the final number after a lot of analyzation was we landed with 22 seconds of fuel remaining.
in addition to all of that, we had a problem with slosh, but that's another story for another day. but the interesting thing about this is that i think it's really important that the public understand just how brave neil and buzz were. i mean, there were so many things. people don't realize they think, well, we sent other missions there. this was the very first time we had ever landed any spacecraft like this. all the other missions, as you heard about probably ranger and surveyor, landed directly. you couldn't do that with men on board. if anything happened, you had no way to stop it to start back up. the ascent wouldn't have enough propellant. we started in orbit and went down slowly. this is the first time. these computers have very little memory. this is the very first time that was ever done. and i just -- if you want to
applaud somebody, you applaud neil and buzz. it was amazing. [ applause ] >> thank you, and skipping over an awful lot of interesting stuff i'd like to ask of mr. loden about the powered ascent back to orbit. and if you could say just a few words about the unique characteristics of the ascent propulsion system. >> okay. let's see what i can come up with here. 50 years is a long time ago to remember all the details. as you remember during the descent, we had the alarms. it gave everybody a lot of concern. that was because the on board computer was being overloaded doing tasks that it really didn't need to be doing. it had to do with a radar trying
to keep track of where the csm was and that kind of thing. so when it came to ascent, there was quite a few crew checklist changes that had to be made to take into account that potential problem again showing up possibly on ascent. we did not want that to happen. we wanted to keep those alarms from happening. so one of the changes were made that we just came up with a procedure to stow the antenna and to power off the rendezvous radar during ascent. there was another issue that i remember working when they came back in from their eva, buzz noted the circuit breaker panels -- there are circuit breaker panels on both sides of the lunar module on the inside.
it's not like in a house where you flip it like a light switch. you push in and pull out. well, these circuit breakers, most of them were already out, in the off position. and he noticed once he got back into the lunar module a circuit breaker was broken off. it happened to be the ascent engine arm circuit breaker. okay? that doesn't mean we're not going to be able to light the ascent engine. we have two ways of doing it. that one allowed the computer to automatically light it. we have a manual way to work around that with another push button. so they are trying to figure out what to do. as i understand it, he took out his trusty government-issued blackball point pen, pushed it in. okay? during the countdown at the right time for ascent. the other thing that occurred leading up to ascent on the
ascent propulsion system, the fuel tanks we had two pressurization bottles to repressurize the fuel tanks to get the right pressure before it goes into the stress chamber. normally when we did this in the simulations, they were operated valves to open the tanks to pressurize the fuel tanks. normally we would always see both the tanks drop a couple psi or pcm counts is what we called it. that confirmed both valves opened it. when we did it on the lunar surface and they fired the valves to lift off, i only saw one bottle drop. i did not see the other bottle drop. it said there's a possibility we've only got one bottle of pressurization on the fuel tanks. part of the normal procedure for
ascent was assuming you had both bottles bottles. and we had a correction system they had to both use the same propellant, and we could use the ascent engine propellant out of its tanks to also fire the altitude control system on the way up. but if we only had one bottle of pressurization, we had to terminate that interconnect. it's called ascent feed. so we had to alert the crew before liftoff that that was a possibility, that if we only had one bottle that pressurized, they'd have to terminate ascent feed on the way up. the countdown to t-0 was done by the computer. the procedure also called for shortly after takeoff, they were to hit an engine fire override button which circumvented the command coming out of the
computer just in case the computer on command went away for some reason the engine would stay on. so at lift off a few seconds after liftoff, i told the flight, we've got both bottles. i saw the other bottle starting to drop in pressure. i was very relieved about that. and to tell them, you know, continue on with ascent feed. and from then on, and -- i noticed that they had not hit the engine fire override either. the second way of keeping the engine on. so finally about halfway up, they finally energized the backup route for keeping the engine on. those were the things that occurred for me during the ascent, and as far as the ascent engine, you know, it was about a 3500 pound thrust engine. not very big. about four foot tall, about three foot in diameter. no big deal. the ascent stage was about
11,000 pounds. it did it job very well. if you'll notice on the films of ascent when we're looking at the window, you see it kind of rocking back and forth. that's just in the dead band of the altitude control system. that's what the altitude control thrusters are keeping it within that. the ascent engine was not givable like the descent engine. once we got back on orbit, they docked with command service module. got back in to command service module and discarded our eagle which impacted on the moon after they left the moon. it was a very good engine. very reliable engine. it did its job. that's the part i was very grateful to be a part of such a great event. thank you. >> before we leave that topic, i want to drill down on one point.
that is how many test firings did thes ascent engine have before the flight? >> that's a question i do not know the answer to. i would assume that it had gone through a lot of tests and firings as well as probably some in vacuum chambers as well. start kind of things. both the descent and ascent engines were thoroughly checked out before. the descent engine with the throttle capability was something -- a new capability we'd never had on a spacecraft before. the people that put these machines together were very dedicated. that's a part of the iceberg that bill was talking about a while ago. the people that built these spacecraft, and the components that went into those spacecraft, those are the ones that made it happen. >> and that wasn't the gotcha
question. there's a particular aspect of this i'd like to just let you know about. >> yeah. this is not my area, but i have read quite a bit of things over the years, and it's part of nasa's development process when they felt there was an area that was highly risky, they would hire two contractors to work on it in parallel. there are two different contractors who worked on the ascent engine, and finally you got to the point where one was more successful or successful enough. and nasa said you're it. you can build ascent engines. one of the things about the ascent ingengine is the injecto during a firing was so bad they could only fire it once. so they did a lot of testing until you certified that. after that, no ascent engine was ever test fired before it was used for launch.
descent engine is probably a different story. that's the interesting story on the ascent engine. but it was -- as you said, it was a simple engine. all you had to do was get them to mix for the fuel, and that's -- and it would work. and we knew from testing that it would work at least once. and that's all it had to work. >> that's a good point, jack that i did not remembered. the first time we lit that sucker was on the lunar surface. you know? that is pretty risky, when you think about it, isn't it? >> you know that i was in a meeting with -- i think it was actually a debriefing from one of our simulations. we didn't really love those. those were sometimes difficult where we missed a problem or something, but i remember neil saying why in the world didn't we just put a big lever on the side, because the actual top of the engine looked like a seat
sitting in the middle of the lunar module. he said why in the world didn't we just put a big handle where you just turn it and it starts? >> yeah. well, that would not necessarily work for an abort stage during a powered descent, so -- yeah. yeah. >> well -- >> let me add another thing. bob mentioned the loss of comm. when they came around the moon for power descent, the engine was essentially pointing toward the earth. so the s-band high gain antenna had to point through the landing gear and what not to get to the earth's antennas. one of the things that was added late in the game was the defl t deflectors on the descent stage that under the down firing
thrusters. they were added late in the game because a thermal analysis said there might be enough erosion caused by the thrusters that it would imagine the thermal protection on the descent stage so they put the deflectors. because it was very late in the game, those deflectors were never included in the modelling of antenna pointing and getting good communications. so the comm guys, pretty sure that's what happened. when he started the descent engine or as you were coming around, the antenna was trying to point through one or more of the deflectors, and so we had to tell them to move and reappoint the attenin a. because neil wanted to be looking down at the moon, you had the 180 degree turn he was talking about after he started the descent engine you had to
roll it over so when it pitched armstrong and buzz would be able to see where they were going. all subsequent flights the crew decided they didn't need to be looking down. they could just get in their anticipated position, and they would have to do is pitch forward. you would not have to be a leaning maneuver. that's probably why we ended up with comm problems until they pitched -- had pitched forward enough and moved enough across the surface that the limb easterable antenna got good enough direct comm with the ground. >> i'm glad you mentioned those rsc thrust deflectors. one interesting thing about that, like he said, this is the first lunar module that had them installed and the reason they were installed is like he said when the downward thrusters would go, they would potentially
cause damage. as i recall, there was a limit placed on impingement of maximum of 15 seconds on the descent stage. then we would have to terminate the flight. the deflectors eliminated that problem, because on apollo 11 it would have exceeded that according to data after. we would have probably aborted if we did not have the deflectors on there. >> i was going to say there were a lot of great neil armstrong sayings throughout getting ready for this thing. and one of my favorite stories, but -- and all us old people remember things differently, but this is the way i remember it. we late in the game with the landing radar that was on the lunar module to tell you how high you are, there had been some problems in testing with
the landing radar locking on at the distance it was designed to lock on at. so there was a lot of concern about whether it was going to be giver them the data they needed. and they had done a lot of testing on it. we were in a flight rule meeting. i can remember it like it was yesterday. it was a very large room with a lot of people in it, and there was a big, long, white table. neil was sitting at the end of the table. it was a discussion about developing a flight rule that said if the computer was not accepting landing radar data by x altitude, then it would be an abort. and the altitude would be a calculated altitude. so they argued it for two or three hours and finally gene says, okay, guys, that's it. we've talked about this long enough. that's the rule. if the computer is not accepting radar data by x altitude,
calculated altitude, it's an abort. everybody's nodding their head, and neil was sitting at the end of the table, and he had his head in his hand. he was just shaking his head. all of a said gene said what's the matter, neil? don't you agree with this? he said you must think i'm going to land with the window shades down. [ laughter ] . >> i think that's the only mission rule meeting i remember. >> i don't like to remember them because the room was full of nothing but smoke. >> it was a different time then. we have time for a few questions from the audience. anybody have any questions? please shout it out and i'll repeat it for the c-span audience. >> how far away did they land from the intended site?
>> it was about 3.7 miles, but it was within the ellipse. they were down range and slightly to the left. and i actually have -- i was looking all this up in case you asked that question. i didn't know it a week ago, and i did put it all on a website, robertnancyapollo 11.com. >> the question is compared to the smart phone, how much computing power did we have back then? >> well, one picture on your cell phone had more bits in it than that computer on the lunar module. >> why did the lunar module carry jumper cables?
did you know it carried jumper cables? >> i think we had -- >> we -- >> i guess we had die hard batteries on board. we didn't need them. >> if our batteries didn't work, none of their stuff would work, so -- no, there weren't any jumper cables. there were some cables that went between the command module and the lunar module during coasts to the moon where we powered some heaters in the lunar module for the two or three day trip to the moon so you wouldn't use any of the power out of the batteries that you needed for the lunar module on the lunar surface, and those are the only cables i'm aware of. >> and those cables, like bill said, they kept the heaters going on our inertia measurement. but those cables came in to be very important on apollo 13.
because we were able to use the limb battery power to recharge the reentry batteries on the command modules so they could reenter safely. >> yes, sir. >> why was the ladder so far off the lunar surface when they landed? >> the landing gear -- the original intent was it would automatically land, and as jack had said, and literally what was going to happen was that when these probes were about four feet tall, were to hit, it would actually shut the engine off and it would drop. we learned very quickly in simulations that that is not what neil had in mind, and i don't think as a pilot, i wouldn't want to have done that either. so none of the apollo landings were anywhere near as strong. but if the engine had quit up at
10 feet, the limb or 12 or 13 feet, it was designed to survive that fall. >> it's going to survive by stroking the landing gear? >> yes. it had a honeycomb, and it would compress. you didn't didn't want the lad tore stop it from compressing. >> there was no spring or anything in the landing gear. it was a honeycomb aluminum structure inside a tube. it was just a one-shot deal. and it would crush and the strut would compress. but he landed so light that it didn't compress very far. that's why the ladder was as high as it was. >> do you know who prepared the united states flight and what occurred -- >> who was responsible for picking and packaging and mounting the u.s. flag and the top is straight because of the
support arm. what about the bottom? >> my recollection of that, that was designed by our tech services division here at the space center. they came up with the concept of unfurling the flag was a support at the top and just let it hang in lunar 16 gravity. it was all compressed into a small package before it was deployed. and i forget. we fly one in our control center just like that. in fact, one of the flags that we have in the control center actually is now on the moon. i forget what mission they took it from the control center and flew it to the moon, but it's just like that. >> t >>. >> the practice flights with the lunar landing training vehicle,
was this excess fuel at the landing? >> one of them he didn't land. he ejected out of it. >> i think that's right. the only ones that you would leave for some other reason or an engine problem or a leak in the ascent on the simulation, so we never really -- the normal landings always had 4% or 5% remaining. >> yes, ma'am. >> thank you. >> i was six years old when we landed on the moon. i watched it on television. i was a little confused. now 50 years later, so you're called mission control. i who is actually controlling everything? who is actually in control? i know you're carrying things out, but what control do you all have? >> the question first, for the audience that's not here in the room. the question was it's called
mission control, but who is actually in control? is it the people on the ground or the people in the spacecraft? >> well, the control covers a lot of ground. the crew could manually control a lot of things within the vehicle, but what the flight ops team is constantly doing is keeping track of the flight plan and any changes to the activities that we're going to do, and any changes to any procedures that we're going to do, and working any anomalies that occurred with the spacecraft. it's a joint effort between the crew and the ground. your constantly going back and forth. in those days we didn't have a lot of the command capability they have today, so you would put together procedures, read them up, and the crew would work through the switches. where today a lot of that stuff is done by command from the
ground. >> are you mean whog ing who is ultimate control of making a decision? >> i just want to know how much control is on either end. >> let me -- the ground computer complex did almost all the trajectory calculations and generated the set of numbers sent up to the spacecraft which they entered into their computers. so without the ground, they would not have had enough computation power to do the whole mission, but once you got into powered descent, there was nothing the ground could do if the crew wanted to keep going. if that's what you're talking about -- but if the ground called an abort, there's -- most chances they would abort because they would assume the ground saw something they could not see. >> i think another part of that is the that the in mission control, it's the flight director that makes in a time
critical situation that makes those decisions based on his team on the ground and longer terms, he actually gets ma management that sits behind him and makes the decision, but the overall decision to recommend the abort comes from the flight director. >> there's three consuls that had the abort switch on it. flight director, retrofire director, and -- >> that was almost associated with a launch vehicle. none of those abort vehicles work once you got out of -- >> time for one last question. >> that was another whole lecture. can somebody answer that in five words? >> my guess would have been
12:02 alarm. the first one. it was just unexpected. it was not a normal thing. we'd done it in sims but nobody really expected it would happen, and then the -- because of the simulations had set up a situation, we had gone and did a bunch of research to figure out what alarms would be a real problem and what not, and jack garmin had a list they worked out with mit who did all the programming on this thing. >> it seems like the only time that neil was nervous is when he said we need a readout on the 12:02. >> again, unexpected. >> and during the simulations, he had punched out. he aborted when he got that alarm, but not -- since we'd had all the discussions and reviews, he decided that it was okay. >> do you know that points out that the real unsung heros that there's so many, and all over this country.
but the simulations guys were just amazing. they had to not only learn the systems and how they worked and looked at our procedures, but then try to find areas, and in the very last sim, the 12:01 actually came up, and that was the emphasis for looking into that. and that is just a perfect example of the teamwork that it took to pull this mission off. >> another way to describe the simulation people, they were very devious. >> and on that note, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. thank you to the panelists. [ applause ] american artifacts q reel
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weekend on c-span3. 50 years after the moon landing, apollo 11 astronaut michael collins reflected on the apollo program's impact at the time as well as on today's politics, diplomacy, foreign policy, and space initiatives. welcome. it is truly a thrill to see space diplomacy a topic near and dear to me draw a wonderful crowd. thank you so much for joining us this evening. i'm a historian of science and technology and a curator at the smithsonian national air space museum. 50 years ago this week there was a call to land humans on the moon within a decade and return them safely back to