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Apollo Expeditions to the Moon



The lightning bolt that struck Apollo 12 aloft also hit the crane an platform of the mobile launcher.

I could recall any one of hundreds of incidents that have occurred over the years as we flew Apollo. Launch has always been an uneasy time for me, and I always looked forward to successful separation from the booster. When one adds to this an apprehension caused by bad weather over the Cape, I become even more concerned. It turned out that all of the elements were present for Apollo 12. The launch was made into a threatening gray sky with ominous cumulus clouds. Pete Conrad's words 43 seconds after liftoff, electrified everyone in the Control Center: "We had a whole bunch of buses drop out", followed by "Where are we going?" and "I just lost the platform." The spacecraft had been struck by lightning. Warning lights were illuminated, and the spacecraft guidance system lost its attitude reference.

During the Apollo 13 crisis the Mission Control directors discussed possible landing recovery options. Because of the unique configuration (the LM still attached to the CM) new procedures leading to reentry were developed. Ten phone lines were open between Mission Control and experts at the Grumman plant. Engineers in Downey, Calif., where Odyssey was built, ran emergency problems through Computers and at MIT a team worked through the night on the guidance system and prepared new trajectories. Perseverance and ingenuity were rewarded with a safe landing in the Pacific less than 4 miles from the USS Iwo Jima.

When the Apollo 14 crew was unable, after repeated attempts, to dock with the lunar module, the Operations Team was faced with the prospect of having to abort the mission. In order to work out new procedures, Mission Control hastily located a docking probe and drogue. Flight Controller John Llewellyn (left) discusses possible solutions with Bob Gilruth, George Abbey, and John Young. The crew docked successfully with the new procedure, and had no trouble docking again.

The spacecraft was still climbing outbound, accelerating on its way to orbit. There was not much time to decide what should be done. The crew was given a "go" for staging and separation from the first stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle, Within seconds, John Aaron, the CSM electrical and environmental systems engineer, found what had happened. Pete was asked to switch to the secondary data system so that telemetry would show the status of the electrical system. The crew was then asked to reset the fuel cells, which came back on line, and Apollo 12 continued on its way into orbit. Additional checks were made of the spacecraft electrical system and a guidance reference was reestablished. Apollo 12 went on to the Moon.

A chapter of this book is devoted to Apollo 13. As I moved up in the organization, I reluctantly relinquished the job of flight director. But there were many well qualified young men to assume this responsibility. My faith in their abilities was confirmed by their actions during this epic flight. Following the successful return of the Apollo 13 crew, the performance of the Operations Team was recognized with the presentation of the Medal of Freedom by the President of the United States to Sig Sjoberg, my colleague through all the tribulations of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

Docking was another major hurdle that had to be overcome if we were to make it to the Moon. Normally, it went well but I always breathed easier when it was behind us. There had been no major docking problems in the program until Apollo 14. After five unsuccessful attempts by Al Shepard and his crew, we still had not made the initial docking with the lunar module. Previously we'd always had a docking probe and drogue available in the Control Center, as well as experts on the system, but now there were frantic calls for assistance and the absent docking system had to be hurriedly located to help understand what might be going on thousands of miles out in space. Procedures were worked out and another attempt proved successful.