Apollo Expeditions to the Moon



Apollo 16 had its unique problems and one was a major one of the instantaneous and serious variety. Just after separation of the CSM from the LM, prior to initiating final descent for the landing, a maneuver was to be performed by the command and service module Casper to circularize its orbit around the Moon. Preparations for the burn went well until a check was made of the secondary yaw gimbals. These gimbals controlled the direction of thrust in yaw plane for the service propulsion system, a system that was essential to insuring that the astronauts could get out of lunar orbit. The gimbals appeared normal until the motor was started and then they exhibited rapidly diverging oscillations. The two spacecraft were asked to rendezvous; and Jim McDivitt, the Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager, met with Bob Gilruth and me to tell us that it appeared to him that the mission would have to be terminated.

Another meeting in an hour was scheduled to review the bidding. By the time we had the second meeting, the Operations Team, through extensive testing and simulations, determined that the oscillations would have damped and the secondary servo system was safe to use. John Young and Charlie Duke proceeded with the landing, as I reflected on the phenomenal capabilities of a group of young engineers who had solved a problem of a spacecraft 240,000 miles away from Earth.

Apollo 17, the final mission to the Moon, clearly demonstrated the maturity of the Operations Team. For the first time, a manned launch was made at night. A landing was made in the valley of Taurus-Littrow, the most difficult of any of the Apollo landing sites. The spacecraft performed in an outstanding fashion, and there were no major problems. Minor ones that did occur were handled without difficulty. The problems encountered were all overcome due to the careful premission preparation, rigorous testing, planning, training, and hours and hours spent simulating critical phases of the mission with the flight crew. These simulations prepared the controllers and the crew to respond to both normal and abnormal situations. Their record speaks for itself on the adequacy of the training. This was not brought together overnight, and in 1962 we were a long way from Taurus-Littrow.

The basic flight-control concepts used for Apollo were developed by a small group of people on the Mercury Operations Team. In 1958, under the leadership of Robert R. Gilruth, the Space Task Group had been given the fantastic responsibility of placing a man in orbit around the Earth. Those few young men who assumed this task did not have any previous experience on which to rely. It had never been done before. What they did have was the willingness to tackle any job, and a technical capability that they had attained through an apprenticeship in what I consider to have been the Nation's finest technical organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Other members of the Mercury Operations Team had experience with aircraft development and flight testing with the Air Force and Navy or with major aircraft companies, both within this country and in particular with AVRO of Canada. That country's cancellation of the CF-105 with its attendant effect on the AVRO program proved to be a blessing to the United States space program. Many fine engineers came to work as members of the Space Task Group at Langley. Jim Chamberlin, John Hodges, Tecwyn Roberts, Dennis Fielder, and Rod Rose, to name a few. The operational concepts that were developed by this cadre on Mercury were improved as experience was gained on each flight. As the Operations Team assumed the responsibility for flying Gemini, the concepts were further developed, expanded, and improved. There were many essential steps that had to be taken to get to the Moon. For the Operations Team, Gemini was one.

Only a small group of people were involved in Mercury operations. When the team was given the responsibility for flying Gemini, and with the Mercury flights continuing, the organization had to be expanded. A conscious effort was made to bring young people into the organization. With an abundance of recent college graduates, the team took on a young character. The additions brought with them the aggressiveness, initiative, and ingenuity that one finds in the young engineer. They did not all come from major colleges; there were graduates of Southwestern State College in Oklahoma, Willamette University in Oregon, San Diego State College, Texas Wesleyan College, and Northeastern University in Boston, to name a few. A large contingent of officers was also made available by the U.S. Air Force and this group provided excellent support. I came to rely on these young people and I can honestly say they never let me down.

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