Back in April I attended the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission panel in Hutchinson Kansas. It was absolutely and utterly amazing.
You can read better things about it here:
But I’m pulling out good quotes from the notes I have from the panel, and figured today is as good of a day as any to put them here.
This really was an amazing experience. I was fortunate to be able to go, and have a ton of pictures from it as well. There was a signing which you had to pay a significant sum to be able to do – I definitely didn’t have it, but I ended up purchasing a poster on my way out. As I’m walking through the foyer, someone takes my arm and says “Hi! Are you going to stay for the signing?”
“um.. No, I didn’t have a ticket.”
“well, my wife couldn’t make it, and you have a nice poster, here’s my other ticket.”
I still don’t know who this person was. I don’t remember his name, if he said it. But it was just.. amazing. My poster got signed by so many people, I got to chat a bit with a couple of them (didn’t want to hold up the line too bad…) and it was just like.. wow. Some of these guys have BEEN TO SPACE. LIKE HOLY CRAP REAL SPACE. ZERO GRAVITY.
As a lifelong kid who digs the cosmos.. it was absolutely mind blowing.
from Andrew Chaikin (who is an amazingly awesome author, and gracious and kind to boot):
in introduction: “They would not accept failure”
“These guys were my heroes growing up”
“It really doesn’t get any cooler than this.”
“Apollo 13 deserves to be called NASA’s finest hour”
“Apollo 13 is the story of what’s best of us.”
Guenter Wendt (who passed I believe 2 weeks after this panel): “We had a lot of things to do to get to where we wanted to go.”
Jack Lousma: “I knew the crew needed information and immediate action.”
“This was not a problem referred to in the checklist”
He was asked what he would have done had they not made it. The answer floors me:
“It never entered my mind. We were all focused. There were no other alternatives but being successful.”
Sy Liebergot: “I think we have a slight instrumentation problem.” when the actual event occurred.
“That is probably the greatest understatement in manned spaceflight.”
“No, not once, did we ever think we would lose the crew.”
My brain still, months later, remembers them talking about this, and it’s just amazing to me. They were so singly focused that failing NEVER ENTERED THE LEXICON. AT ALL. I think we all could learn from this.
Chaikin: Had any of you ever conceived a problem of this magnitude?
(Gerry Griffin): Answer was basically no ; however the simulator had a tendency to be brutal. The “Sim Sup was diabolic and could bring us to our knees”
By the time Apollo 13 launched, so much had gone into it, they were “fairly confident that we knew the spacecraft well… never envisioned this massive of a failure.”
400000 people made Apollo 13 happen, 50-100k were helping.
Sy: (no idea on first name) Murray was the worst SimSup. “He would throw a failure in just to see what would happen.”
It came out that the exact problem on 13 was simulated on Apollo 10’s simulators. What happened in the simulation?
“The crew died. We were not ready to deal.” – i think that made a LOT of the people in the arena titter
Gene Kranz: the control team was so methodical. “if we lost comm with the crew we could have been in a heap of trouble.”
“We trained the way we wanted to fly.” – interesting comment
Ed Fendell: “If you ever say you can’t do something again, you will disappear.” (massive applause)
“We were mentored into this world of how they do things.”
Milt Windler: “It doesn’t do any good to think about stuff behind you.” (i need to remember this more apparently..)
Wendt: Mattingly sat in the simulator for 14-20 hours for the battery thing.
Joe Kerwin: It was SO cold in the spacecraft, down in the 40s.
Mattingly was used on the ground because he knew it better than anyone else in the world. Kerwin offered Mattingly Capcom and Mattingly said “No, Kerwin is CapCom for reentry, I’ll sit beside him.”
Kerwin’s the guy that told Apollo 13 crew “We’re going to put together a thing.”
Kranz: Ken asked the questions that I wished I could answer
Ed Fendell: “Duct Tape Can Do Anything.” – sooo true
Chaikin: So many crises, one after another, when did you feel your prayers would be answered?
Kranz: Didn’t celebrate until the recovery team did.
First Crisis: shooting behind the moon.
Second Crisis: System hanging in there (?)
Final Crisis: “Kerwin was the guardian angel”
“If you can’t do anything about it, don’t sweat it.”
Kranz admitted he (and probably others) were scared when the spacecraft entered atmo. Blackout lasted 1min26sec. He was sitting, “was really frightened we went through it all and lost them.”
“When I heard ‘Okay Joe’, we knew we were okay.” (from Swaggert to Kerwin)
The reentry was probably the quietest Mission Control “EVER.”
42 degrees F in the capsule coming in, Wendt: “They kind of froze their butts off” – the entire place erupted in laughter
Chaikin: “Did you ever consider how important you would be in history?”
most of them said no, flat out.
Modules to the space station at that time “never would have dreamed”
“How confident were they? a TEAM of IBM guys came in to write programs” (i believe for the simulator)
Space program today:
Constellation was “unfunded vaporware” – i WISH i knew who said that quote D: maybe Chaikin
Kranz: doesn’t agree; Constellation had to absorb Columbia’s costs.
“Nixon’s statement wrote the epitaph for Apollo; Obama wrote the epitaph for manned space flight.” – Kranz
Constellation was unsustainable because it was never funded at the right level; the space station has never been figured into current costs (ie: amazed it’s lasted this long)
“3 Billion is a pittance compared to losing the leadership position in the world”
“A lot of assumptions are incorrect, it would be money very well spent”
Carrying it over (i believe this was discussing about taxes?) is a solution – $3b a year equals less than 1c on a tax.. (food for thought, i’d rather my tax dollars went to nasa than some fat government head’s pocket)
“The best thing to do is to go back to the moon, learn to live there, then take it to Mars” – Kranz I believe still
Current thought to space travel: “Thoughtless and dismissive attitude”
“What better simulation do we have for going to Mars than going to the Moon?” – Ed Fendell
“What’s going to happen is that no one will say I want to be an astronaut. If we don’t do something, all the knowledge and inertia will be gone.”