Category How Apollo Flew to the Moon


Taking a lunar module to the Moon was not like jumping into a boat, casting off and sailing away. This was an extremely complex, diverse and exotie machine, perhaps even more so than the CSM, and one whose many capabilities were pushed to the limit in order to save weight. The machine had already been given a preliminary check on the coast out from Earth, but now, every system was going to be tested as far as possible while they were still attached to a good CSM.

First of all. the three crewmembers had to put on their suits. At this point there was no need to wear helmets and gloves and this made it much easier to operate equipment and talk to each other. Next, they checked to ensure that it was safe to open the two hatches that separated the spacecraft – after their earlier inspection the hatches had been closed so as to ensure that a failure of the thin-skinned LM, perhaps through meteoroid impact, would not have a catastrophic effect on the command module’s atmosphere. Once they had checked a pressure gauge to confirm that the tunnel was at the same pressure as the CM cabin, the forward hatch was removed, followed by the probe and drogue assemblies that had brought the two craft together. Having gained access to the tunnel, the LMP opened the LM’s upper hatch and floated through into the lander’s cabin. NASA even dreamt up an acronym for this; IVT. for inlravehieular transfer. When the LM’s battery supplies had been brought on line, the umbilical that fed power from the CSM could be disconnected.

Numerous items were transferred across for use in the time the LM would be operating independently. These ranged from pens and books to the helmets and gloves that they would wear on the Moon. Valves were opened to enable the ascent stage to access water and oxygen supplies in tanks contained in the descent stage. The reason these were stored in the descent stage was that they would be left behind on the lunar surface in accordance with the philosophy of discarding dead weight prior to major manoeuvres. Communications, cooling, caution and warning, guidance and navigation, environmental control all the systems that make a spacecraft fit to carry a human – were turned on, tested and checked. Rows of circuit breakers similar to those found on contemporary aircraft were opened or closed as required, based on diagrams in the checklist that gave the LMP a quick method of checking their state by simply scanning his eyes across and comparing the patterns of white or black dots. White meant the breaker should be pulled to reveal a white ring indicating that it was open.

Ever since the lunar module had been installed within the shroud at the top of the Saturn V. its landing gear had been Lucked tight against its descent stage. Explosive devices were fired to deploy the gear to give the LM its familiar form with out – splayed legs. At the same time, long probes that had been folded up against three of the legs were released. These probes, which extended 1.7 metres below the landing pads, would reach the surface shortly before touchdown proper. Their purpose was to provide a cue for the commander to shut down the engine while the LM was still a short distance above the ground. From there, it could gently drop under the Moon’s weak gravitational attraction. The lip of the engine nozzle was only about 30 centimetres above the plane of the landing pads, and planners feared that if a small bump in the surface were to even partially plug the nozzle opening, it could result in a dangerous backpressure within the engine.

Originally a probe had been attached to all four footpads but Neil Armstrong had pointed out the possibility that his descent down the ladder might be impeded by a large length of metal probe that had been bent in some unpredictable way during the landing. The probe below the ladder was therefore removed from Eagle and all subsequent landers.

LM abort modes

In the continuing spirit of NASA’s defence-in-depth philosophy, a series of PADs were read up to the crew that not only told them exactly when they were going to start their descent to the surface, but also what to do in the event of an abort being necessary at various times before, during and after the descent – in case the radio link were to fail and prevent the provision of the information at the time of the energency. As the programme progressed and planners made their procedures more elaborate, these PADs increased in complexity. All these PADs were based around a single event, powered descent initiation (PDI) which was the moment the main engine


Alan Bean working at the rear of the LM. In front of him hanging beneath the LM is the silvery antenna of the landing radar. (NASA)

was ignited to start to slow the spacecraft and take it out of orbit and on to the surface. Some PADs told the crew what to do if the landing was aborted before PDI, others were relevant if PDI did not occur. Yet more had details of the bums to make if an abort were required during the descent – one relevant to the first six minutes, the other relevant to an abort between six minutes and touchdown. All these PADs were copied down by the LMP onto forms in the checklist.

With all the preparations done, they were nearly ready to go to the Moon and pick up some rocks.

Program alarms: the cause

Over the decades, many stories have been told about why. when they already had enough to contend with just to land Eagle on the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin found themselves dealing with what appeared to be a balky computer. The rendezvous radar became deeply implicated in the problem and stories abounded about whether or not it should have been powered at this point. Some said it was a procedural error, or a crew7 error. In fact, there was no problem with it being powered. It was the mode that it was in that was related to the actual problem.

In the 2006 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, Aldrin. who w ent by the nickname ‘Dr. Rendezvous’ by virtue of his thesis on the subject, saw it as a conflict between the checklist and his operational needs. “Being Dr. Rendezvous,

… I was going to leave the rendezvous radar on and active so if we had to abort, it was on and working and we could reacquire Mike as soon as possible if we had to go up."

Probably the best account of the alarms is told by Don Pyles, then a young engineer at MIT who specialised in the new7 field of software. lie was an integral part of the team who w7rote the computer code for the landing. Given the close relationship the computer had with the spacecraft’s other systems, he knew a lot about them too.

Eyles agrees with Aldrin. "Many explanations have been offered for why the [rendezvous radar] was configured in this way for the lunar landing. For example, a fanciful scheme for monitoring the landing by comparing [radar] data to a chart of expected readings may have been considered by some people in Houston. However, a simpler explanation is sufficient to explain the facts: The [radar] was on for no other purpose than to be warmed up if there were an abort.”

The tale of the program alarms that Eyles tells is quite nuanced. It centres on a little electrical funny associated with two of the LM’s major systems, the computer and the АТС A (attitude and translation control assembly), ‘flic latter mediated between the spacecraft’s controls and the computer. These systems synchronised themselves by way of 28V. 800 IIz AC signals which were meant to match in frequency, which they did. However, the relative phase of the signals was not defined and w7hen the computer was powdered up, which was after the ЛТСЛ had been powered, the phase angle between the two systems could be of any value. If it was near 90 or 210", there were odd consequences. In this condition, data about the pointing angle of the rendezvous radar would make no sense to the rest of the G&1S system if it were in either its Slew or Auto modes (the third mode, ‘LGC. was not implicated). The result of this circumstance was that counters in the computer were continuously being incremented or decremented, an operation that took up valuable cycles of processing time. Unfortunately, upon power-up, this was the situation that Eagle found itself in.

During PDI. the computer was already very busy with all that it had to do to keep the LM on a safe flight path to landing. Ever)’ two seconds, it would run through its list of jobs. These included updating the state vector, controlling the LIVTs attitude, controlling the descent engine’s throttle, adjusting the engine’s gimbals to maintain its aim through the centre of mass, and flying the desired trajectory to the surface. The extra cycles required to deal with the errant counters took the computer very near to the end of its available time before it ran out.

What Look it over the edge in the first instance was a task that Aldrin had to perform when he instructed the computer to display delta-II. the difference between what the computer thought their height was, and the accurate value determined by the landing radar. This task caused the computer to run out of time before it could complete all its allotted jobs, at which point it threw’ up an error code and performed a reset. Thankfully, the software had been written in such a way that, after each reset, it could pick up the threads of all the tasks it had been executing and then continue as if nothing had happened. ‘This resilient approach to software writing is attributed to Hal Laning, another of the software engineers at MIT.

‘The load on the computer increased again when P64 began to run. It had the additional task of calculating LPD angles for the commander and with the errant counters still eating up computer cycles, the time ran out once more. The crew were presented with their second series of alarms. Although the numerical error code was different, the guidance officers recognised it to be of the same basic type as the first, and therefore harmless so long as it did not become continuous.

In 2004, Eyles summed up Laning’s achievement thus, “When Hal Laning designed the Executive and Waitlist system in the mid 1960s, he made it up from whole cloth with no examples to guide him. The design is still valid today. [It] still represents the state of the art in real-time GN&C computers for spacecraft.’’

Since the computer was still doing its primary job flawlessly, despite the alarms, the crewr returned to their roles; Armstrong looking out, and Aldrin keeping him abreast of the numbers. “35 degrees. 35 degrees. 750 [feet]. Coming dowrn at 23 [feet per second].”


“700 feet. 21 [feet per second] down. 33 degrees.”

“Pretty rocky area," said Armstrong. The erratic LPD angle had swung by a huge amount to 33 degrees and it w’as indicating that they were heading towards an area just outside a large crater known informally as West Crater. It was so named because it was situated on the western end of the landing ellipse. It w:as common for the ejecta blanket around such a crater to include a scattering of large blocks. ‘This

did not look like a place he wanted to set down. Armstrong never got to use the ability of P64 to redesignate his landing site. He was too preoccupied with computer alarms and by the inability of the LPD to give him a trustworthy idea of where the computer was aiming. Instead, he took control, made his decisions and carried them out.

"PICKING UP SOME DUST”: P66 "600 feet, down at 19.” Aldrin continued his litany of data while Armstrong weighed up his prospects. The computer was still behaving and otherwise the descent seemed to be going well. But he had to decide what to do about the block у ejecta around West Crater.

“I’m going to…” he told Aldrin. and assumed manual control of the LM’s attitude by changing to P66. He then pitched forward to an almost vertical attitude that allowed Eagle to maintain its horizontal speed and let him fly over the boulder field of West Crater. Once clear, he pitched the LM backwards again to resume cancelling the craft’s horizontal speed, and he searched for somewhere safe to bring it dowm.

P66 looked after the LM’s vertical speed, also known as its rate of descent (ROD), by adjusting the throttle to maintain a desired value. The commander had a ROD switch that he could flick up or down momentarily to increase or reduce the rate of descent by fixed increments. At the same time, his hand controller let him adjust the vehicle’s attitude, which gave him control of horizontal speed, very much in the manner of a hovering helicopter, ‘l ilt to the left and the engine would aim slightly to the right, pushing the LM towards the left.

“100 feet, 7>Vi down, nine forward.’’ called Aldrin. “Live per cent. Quantity light.” he added.

A light had come on to indicate that they had only 5.6 per cent of their propellant remaining. From pre-flight analysis, planners had decided that, from this point, they could fly safely for only another 114 seconds before they must either land the LM or abort. A 94-second countdown began in mission control that would lead to a call for the crew either to abort or land. If the commander felt he could get the ship dowm within the remaining 20 seconds, he could continue, otherwise he had to get out of there by punching the abort button.

However, Apollo ll’s slosh problem had fooled them again. By triggering the quantity warning light early, it made them believe they had less propellant than was actually available and it came very near to causing an unnecessary abort. A set of fold-out baffles were retro-fitted to Apollo 12’s LM but they were not very effective. It wasn’t until Apollo 14 that the slosh problem was resolved.


The manner in which the team decided how to deal with this low-level quantity warning light taps into one of Apollo’s most interesting side stories, because it illustrates the management style of How ard Wilson (Bill) Tindall, one of the senior
engineers. He was an expert on the subtleties of rendezvous and trajec­tories, and became head of the Mission Planning and Analysis Divi­sion. In the hectic days that led up to Apollo’s successes, he coordinated the planning process that threaded together the disparate systems and people to create the bureaucratic edifice that was an Apollo mission.

Подпись:His method of decision making touched just about every facet of a flight, from the dumping of urine to the position of the Navy’s recovery force or any other thing that was intertwined with the trajectory, and he is considered by many to be a major reason for the success of the programme.

There were two sides to his style.

The first was the manner in which he handled large meetings that involved engineers, programmers, mathematicians, crews or whoever in order to get this diverse mass of people to reach a decision – “knocking people’s heads together”, as one engineer described it. David Scott attended lots of these meetings and shares the admiration that many have for his abilities. “Tindall would control the debates in terms of giving people the opportunity to talk, and then mix and match and make the trades. Then he would make a decision and say, ‘I’m gonna recommend this to management. Anybody have any really strong objections?’ And the guy who lost the debate may say, ‘Yeah, it won’t work!’ And Tindall would say, ‘OK, fine. We’ll go this way and if it won’t work, we’ll come back and re-address it, but we’ll make a decision today.’ They were good debates and anybody could stand up and debate the issue. But he kept it moving. He didn’t get bogged down because he himself was a brilliant engineer. I think Tindall was a real key to the success of Apollo because of how he brought people together and had them communicate in very complex issues. He was very good at it. He’d have them explain it, and in front of all their peers.”

The second side to Tindall’s ability was in the extraordinary memos he wrote, now fondly called Tindallgrams. NASA often displayed the formal stuffiness of a government bureaucracy, yet the memos from this particular senior engineer not only showed how he tied the project’s final stages together, but they revealed a unique chatty, easy to understand style that historians thought was quite remarkable. For example, a memo that discussed the possible reasons for Apollo ll’s overshoot had as its subject line, ‘Vent bent, descent lament!’ Another, written
before the Apollo 11 mission, concerned the LM’s low-level warning light, and was sent to a large list of addressees. It had this wonderful section:

‘"I think this will amuse you. It’s something that came up the other day during a Descent Abort Mission Techniques meeting.

“As you know, there is a light on the LM dashboard that comes on when there is about two minutes’ worth of propellant remaining in the DPS tanks with the engine operating at quarter thrust. This is to give the crew an indication of how much lime they have left to perform the landing or to abort out of there. It complements the propellant gauges. The present LM weight and descent trajectory is such that this light will always come on prior to touchdown. This signal, it turns out. is connected to the master alarm how about that! In other words, just at the most critical time in the most critical operation of a perfectly nominal lunar landing mission, the master alarm with all its lights, bells and whistles will go off. This sounds right lousy to me. In fact. Pete Conrad tells me he labelled it completely unacceptable four or five years ago, but he was probably just an ensign at the lime and apparently no one paid any attention. If this is not fixed, I predict the first words uttered by the first astronaut to land on the moon wall be ‘Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me."’

Sheer engineering magic.


By the time the Apollo missions arrived at the Moon, scientists knew that the Moon was a rock-strewn, battered world where very little happened. Sunlight, unfiltered by an atmosphere, irradiated its surface making it hotter than any landscape on Harth, and after sunset this heat was quickly radiated to space, making it colder than the depths of the Antarctic. Scientists had established that the surface was basically a rubble layer, called the regolith. that had accumulated over aeons by the incessant pounding of incoming hypervelocity meteoroids ranging in size from sub­microscopic dust to mountain-sized asteroids and comets. They were sure that volcanism on a large scale had created the maria but didn’t know whether it had also occurred in the highland regions. They had some theories, largely unsupported by hard data, to account for the Moon’s existence and for why Earth should have such a large satellite in comparison to its size.

“Apollo 8, Houston. What does the ole Moon look like from 60 miles?” Capeom Gerry Carr could not suppress his desire to ask the obvious question when the crew of Apollo 8 came around from behind the Moon on their first pass in orbit. CMP Jim Lovell had dreamed of this day from childhood, and took the opportunity to reply. It seems unsurprising now. but what he saw was very similar to the view anyone can see through a telescope, only from a much closer perspective. “Okay, Houston. The Moon is essentially grey, no colour; looks like plaster-of-paris or sort of a greyish beach sand.’’

Bill Anders later spoke of his impressions of the Moon’s far side. “The back side looks like a sand pile my kids have been playing in for a long time. It’s all beat up. no definition. Just a lot of bumps and holes.”

They were not telling the scientists anything that they did not already know from the pictures sent by Lunar Orbiter. Apollo 8 added little to our understanding of the Moon, as would be expected of a brief pioneering reconnaissance mission. Its role during the 20 hours it spent in lunar orbit was to give its crew and the mission control team experience of operating a manned spacecraft in the lunar environment. While they were there, they could also inspect two possible landing sites on the southern plains of Mare Tranquillitatis. Planners were keen for the crew to study them visually from orbit and to inform future crews of what to expect, given that they had arranged for these sites to have the same early morning illumination that the landing missions would expect. Apollo 10 likewise concentrated on operational matters, rehearsing the steps that would lead to a landing. Both crews had Hasselblad cameras, and obtained many photographs on 70-mm film of selected swathes of the lunar surface. Although these covered areas already imaged by Lunar Orbiter. Apollo had the great advantage of returning its film for processing.

With Apollo 11, a crewman was left alone to look at the lunar landscape while the focus of exploration moved to the surface.

X-ray fluorescence spectrometer

The Moon has little protection from the Sun’s constant output of x-rays that wash over its day-lit surface and strike whatever gets in their way. When they strike certain elements, particularly those at the lighter end of the Periodic ‘fable, they cause the atoms to re-emit or fluoresce x-rays in certain well-defined energies. Therefore, by comparing the spectral make-up of x-rays from the Sun with x-rays from the sunlit lunar surface, scientists could identify some of the elements in the topmost layer. This was a particularly powerful technique because it could sense those elements that formed the bulk of rocky planets, namely oxygen, silicon, aluminium, magnesium and iron. Apollo’s x-ray spectrometer therefore consisted of two detectors, one of which w’as built into the SIM bay to receive x-rays from the Moon. The second was on the opposite side of the service module where it measured the x-ray flux from the Sun.

It wasn’t long after the SIM bay w-as used for the first time on Apollo 15, that a comparison was made of the signals from the x-ray spectrometer with altitudes from the laser altimeter revealing an important clue to the Moon’s history. Scientists had noticed that a graph from the laser altimeter showing the surface elevation beneath the CSM bore a strong resemblance to another from the x-ray spectrometer showing the concentration of aluminium along the same path. The aluminium concentration declined in low-lying terrain. The significance of this lies in the fact that aluminium is a relatively lightweight element. The discovery that its concentration was greater in the highlands strongly implied that, at one time, the Moon must have been largely molten to allow that element to rise to the top. This ran counter to one of the two popular theories about the Moon’s genesis that were vigorously debated at that time.

One school, dubbed the ‘cold Mooners". believed that the Moon accreted from the solar nebula without generating significant internal heat, that the large basins on its surface w’ere made by impacts and that the maria were splashes of melted rock w’hich pooled in low-lying areas. The ‘hot Mooners’ believed that the interior of the Moon was sufficiently hot for thermal differentiation into a core and a mantle, and that it had later undergone substantial surface volcanism. creating the maria.

Both schools had grasped elements of the truth. Current theories contend that upon its formation, the Moon was so hot that its mantle was completely molten in what is descriptively called a magma ocean. Within this fluid mass, gravity allowed the various constituents of the magma to migrate either up or down according to their weight, such that the fresh crust tended to have a high concentration of aluminium. The fact that strong evidence of this chemical differentiation is still extant today is testament to the extraordinary antiquity of the lunar surface when compared to that of Earth.

Mass spectrometer

Mourned on the end of a boom to place ii clear of the spacecraft was the mass spectrometer. It was designed to characterise an)’ lunar atmosphere by measuring the atomic weight of the atoms and molecules that entered an aperture on one side of the instrument. They were promptly electrically charged, or ionised, by electrons from a filament source. Л magnet then diverted the path of the resultant ion stream towards a pair of detectors. Simply stated, the heavier an atom or molecule, the more resistant is its motion to change by an applied magnetic field. By measuring the deflection of the particle stream, the masses of its constituent parts could be determined.

When it was deployed out of the SIM bay, its inlet aperture faced away from the bulk of the CSM and in the same direction as the engine bell in an attempt to shield it from the gases that emanated from the spacecraft. During its time in lunar orbit, the instrument was flown with the inlet either facing the direction of travel or facing backwards. The hope was that differences between the two modes of operation would allow scientists to discriminate between atoms that were genuinely part of the Moon’s atmosphere (which should Lend not to enter when the inlet was facing backwards) and those that were coming from the spacecraft (which would enter from either direction).

In practice, little difference was detected whichever way the inlet faced, implying that most of what was being detected was essentially pollution from the spacecraft. This supported, on a global scale, the same results that researchers were finding from ALSEP experiments placed by Apollos 12, 14. 15 and 17. These were deluged with contaminants from the Apollo spacecraft, which made it very difficult to extract natural data from their results. This was hardly surprising considering that estimates for the total mass of the natural lunar atmosphere were around 10 tonnes – a figure very similar to the quantity of gases released during each Apollo mission, mostly from operation of the descent and ascent engines. Essentially, each Apollo flight temporarily doubled the mass of the entire lunar atmosphere.


The LM approached the CSM with its windows facing its quarry. When originally envisaged, the LM was to have had two docking ports, the second being at the forward hatch. But in the drive to cut weight from the spacecraft, the heavy docking collar was replaced by a simple square hatch through which a suited crewman and his back pack could crawl on his way to the lunar surface. With the docking port at the top of the ascent stage, a small window was installed above the commander’s head to enable him to view through the roof of the LM. Having lined up in front of the CSM, he had to pitch down until the docking apparatus of both spacecraft faced each other, essentially lining up their v axes. The LM was then rotated 60 degrees to



Docking alignment of the CSM and the LM ascent stage. (NASA)

line up the docking aids between the two spacecraft. From here, the CMP took over m bring the spacecraft together and dock. The commander could carry out the docking, but to do so would have meant craning his head backwards uncomfortably he was still fully suited. It was much easier for the commander to hold the LM steady while the CMP, who was comfortably viewing through a rendezvous window, brought the CSM up to the small spacecraft.

When Armstrong was manoeuvring Eagle for docking, he decided to change the procedure, but soon wished he hadn’t. He realised that if he were to pitch down at that point, the Sun would shine straight into his eyes. Therefore, he chose to line up 60 degrees further around before he pitched down, thereby avoiding the Sun. Having done so, Collins asked him to rotate a little further to get the docking aids properly aligned.

“We complied and promptly manoeuvred the vehicle directly in the gimbal lock.” related Armstrong in the debrief. Having gone into gimbal lock, the PGNS was no longer able to hold the vehicle stable. "I wasn’t aware of it because I was looking out the top window. No doubt, we were firmly ensconced in gimbal lock. We had all the lights on.” Bui they had a backup system. “We just pul il in AGS and completed the docking in AGS. This was just a goof on our part. We never should have arrived at the conclusion from any series of manoeuvres. However, that’s how ii happened. Ii wasn’t significant in this ease, bui il certainly is never a desirable thing to do.”

Unfortunately, holding the LM siable using the AGS had a side effect that caught Collins unaware once he had soft docked and began to retract the docking probe for a hard dock. As the probe began to pull the light ascent stage towards the much heavier CSM, ihe AGS delected a change in altitude and furiously tried to compensate for it by firing the LM’s thrusters. Collins didn’t realise this and began his own aitcmpi to correct ihe motions of the spacecraft relative to one another, but as the two spacecraft were flexibly joined at the capture latches, their motions were somewhat complex. "That was a funny one.” he remarked immediately afterwards. “I thought things were pretty steady. I went to ‘retract’ there, and that’s when all hell broke loose. [The LM was] jerking around quite a bit during the retract cycle.” In eight seconds the time it took the probe to retract the problem disappeared as the two spacecraft became one. But this incident worried engineers who looked into the dynamical issues of having two vehicles joined by a flexible probe.

Dick Gordon and Pete Conrad had no such worries bringing CSM Yankee Clipper and LM Intrepid together on Apollo 12. “It was a simple, easy task to perform,” said Gordon post-flight. “It could have been done in darkness as well as daylight with just as much ease. I don’t think that the vehicles moved hardly at all at contact. There was certainly no noticeable motion, anyway.”

Conrad concurred: “We came right in and stopped. I pitched over and did the yaw manoeuvre after Dick did his roll. We did the docking just the way we stated before. Dick came in and docked; I maintained attitude hold – tight dead band. As soon as he got his top latches barber poled, we went to Free. Neither spacecraft so much as moved a muscle, and we got a complete, good lock. He straightened out

attitude with his translations thrusters and went to hard dock, and it pulled us right in there without either spacecraft deviating; bango! We had 12 latches.”

When Eugene Cernan brought Apollo 17’s ascent stage. Challenger, to rendezvous with the CSM America he thought the spacecraft was a fine sight to see.

“Okay. I’ve got you right out the overhead, Ron." called Cernan to his CMP Ron Evans. He had pitched over to face the LMs drogue at the CSM’s docking probe and the mirror-like surface of the command module looked resplendent in the sunshine. “Now I’m going to yaw.”

“Okay, yaw her around,” replied Evans as Cernan began to line up the two craft to get the docking aids aligned.

“Okay, here we go.” Cernan was enjoying the responsive spacecraft he had under his fingertips. “What a super flying machine!”

“Still looks kind of tinny to me.” mocked Evans.

“Command module looks just as good as the day they pul it on the pad,” said Cernan.

“And, you know-, so does Challenger, by gosh.” said Evans. “You’re missing some of the pieces.” The last time he had seen Challenger, it had a descent stage attached, one that still sits quietly on the Moon.

“Yes, one big piece we left behind.”

When Evans tried to dock with Challenger, he found the lightness of the LM took a bil of getting used to. His approach speed was only two or three millimetres per second. “Coming in nice and slow; no problems,” he informed his commander.

“Okay, you’re looking good, babe.” said Cernan encouragingly. “I got you on my COAS right up in the middle of the window. Looking good. Must be a couple of feet away.”

“Stand by,” warned Evans as he neared the point where 16.3 tonnes of CSM would impact 2.3 tonnes of LM ascent stage whose tanks were nearly empty. But the capture latches failed to engage with the inside lip of the drogue. Evans had brought the CSM in too slowly.

“Okay; I didn’t get it. Let me plus-.v it.”

“Okay. You didn’t get it," confirmed Cernan.

“Might have been a little bit slow. Stand by.” Evans went to have another go but this time driving the probe home by firing his thrusters to give the CSM a positive push in the plus-.v direction.

“You got it! Capture!” Cernan had heard the three latches at the tip of the probe engage.

“Barber pole,” called Evans, as he saw the ’talkback’ indicators on his instrument panel change to show that they had latched. "Capture, go Free.”

Evans’s call for Cernan to ’go Free’ meant that he wanted the LM to stop trying to hold its attitude. The lightweight spacecraft was at the end of the probe and any motion it had would be damped out by the probe’s articulated tip.

“Crazy thing,” muttered Evans as he waited for the CSM and LM to line up on the end of the probe.

Cernan wondered what the problem was: "Say again?”

"I get the right…” Evans laughed at the jittery LM. “And then it goes around the other way. I think you’re bouneing around up there, too, you know.”

”J know it. I’m just swinging free,” replied Cernan.

“You’re bouncing around more on the probe.” said Evans. “See, I’m not moving at all.”

To try to stabilise the situation. Evans suggested that Cernan allow the LM to hold its attitude again. Thruster jets began to pull the small spacecraft onto the attitude it had been programmed to keep. As it did so. it also applied a small torque to the CSM via the probe.

“Okay. I’m stable now,’’ called Cernan once the LM’s motions had damped out. “Okay. Now let me come up to you."

“Okay, when you’re happy. I’ll go free. Looking good now.”

“Looking good, yes.” confirmed Evans. “See that’s what we needed. Okay. Why don’t you go to Free, and we’ll go to retract?"

“Okay,” said Cernan. “I’m Free.” Cernan once more stopped the LM from controlling its attitude.

“Okay, retract. Here you come.” The struts of the probe mechanism began to fold, in the process drawing the two halves of the docking tunnel together. “Bang! I got two barber poles.”

“You got what?” quizzed Cernan.

“Okay,” laughed Evans. lie had got the sense of the talkback indicators the wrong way round. "Two greys, I mean.”

Cernan shared the humour. "That’s better. Sounded good in here.’’

“Yes, sounded good in here." confirmed Evans.

“Okay, Houston.” announced Cernan. "We’re hard docked.”

After the flight, Evans discussed how this docking differed from earlier in the mission when the LM was still attached to the S-IVB. “One of the noticeable differences between this docking and the docking with the S-IVB is the fact that the ascent stage did dance a lot more than the S-IVB did. The S-IVB is steady as a rock. The LM dead band would change attitude, and you’d try to follow it.”

In view of the difficulties that Apollo 14 had experienced w hen Stu Roosa tried to dock with the LM An tares while it was still on the S-IVB. his post-rendezvous docking was approached with some apprehension by mission control. Before the lunar landing. Bruce McCandless at the Capcom console gave the crew’ a change to the procedures. “With respect to docking, again we anticipate normal operation. However, we’d like to add to the normal procedures a LM plus-.v thrust of 10 seconds, four-jet RCS. to facilitate or to give us just a little more of a warm feeling on the docking.”

By having the LM thrust towards the CSM at the same Lime as Roosa was docking was evidently something neither Shepard nor Roosa was happy with. “We mutually agreed that it would be better to give it one go at least using the normal technique with no thrusting.” explained Shepard after the flight.

“We really didn’t see any advantage to that LM thrusting," added Roosa. "I didn’t like that idea of the LM coming on with thrust. We didn’t see where we had anything to lose by trying the normal docking method. If it didn’t capture, then we’d try it." In the event, Roosa’s docking went smoothly, without any hint of the troubles that had beset their earlier docking.

Clandestine science

Towards the end of the Apollo programme, crews were handed increasingly large programmes of scientific investigation to be carried out during the coast between the worlds, most of which Look place on the homeward leg. Some of this was a precursor to more extensive experimentation that would be carried out on Skylab. the space station that NASA was to launch after the Moon programme had been wound down.

Apollo 14’s heavy schedule of in-flight experiments included: demonstrations of electrophoresis, heal flow and convection in a weightless environment; how liquids behaved as they transferred between tanks; and a demonstration of the casting of composite materials in space. However, one of the experiments carried out on board Kitty Hawk was not to be found in the flight plan.

Some observers have noted how. across the six crews who went to the surface, there seemed to be a difference of personality between the guys who occupied the left station of the lunar module and the guys on the right. The commanders were all businesslike, supremely focused and driven and these traits tended to be carried on into their time after Apollo. The guys on the right, while equally as competent and capable, tended to lead more varied lives once the mission was over. It is unclear whether the astronaut selection process managed to tease apart two different types of
pilots from what was a very homo­geneous pool, or whether the experi­ence of the mission itself set the course of their future lives. The left – hand crewmen were all mission commanders, and after Apollo they generally went into business, management or similar professions.

Among the right-hand crewmen,

Schmitt, who was already a scientist, became a politician; Irwin and Duke had a calling in Christianity; Bean took up a career as an artist; and Buzz Aldrin struggled with depres­sion and alcoholism in the years directly after Apollo, then became an excellent ambassador for Apollo through his many TV appearances and public lectures.

The one remaining LMP in this list, Ed Mitchell, later professed a deep interest in states of being that were outside the physical – con­sciousness, spirituality and the para­normal. On the way home from the Moon, he experienced a "grand epiphany” that he later described as "nothing short of an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness”.

During the weeks leading up to the launch, Mitchell arranged a clandestine experiment with a few like-minded friends whereby they would test the ability of ‘psychic forces’ to operate over long distances. On four occasions, twice during each leg of the journey, he concentrated on a sequence of Zener cards[5] while his crewmates were settling down to sleep. The participants on Earth had to determine the sequence. The press had a field day with the story when it was revealed a week after their return. Perhaps they sniffed a chink in NASA’s reputation for having a scientific or engineering-driven approach to everything. However, Mitchell believes his study produced statistically significant results. After his flight, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences to continue research into the scientific investigation of the paranormal.

Entry monitor system

The crew’’s next task was to put the entry monitor system (EMS) through a series of tests to verify that it could be trusted in its role, which was. as the name implied, to monitor the progress of the re-entry.

This bit of kit on the main display console came into its own in the final minutes of the mission, but its weight wasn’t carried for two weeks without it having to work for its passage. NASA’s engineers saved weight by having systems share their components wiiere possible, so throughout the flight, the single accelerometer within the EMS provided backup to those in the guidance platform whenever the effect of
engine burns had to be confirmed. Its digital display was regularly pressed into providing the crew with extra information, but the full cap­abilities of its systems were utilised on re-entry.

It was not a single display; instead, it was a specialised gui­dance and display system to present critical entry parameters to the crew, and it occupied a prominent position on the massive instrument panel directly in front of the left couch. In normal use, it allowed them to monitor the progress of an automatic re-entry through its in­dependent measurement of velocity and g-forces. But if the main guidance system were to fail (which happily never happened), it would have yielded enough information to allow them to steer the spacecraft manually to an accurate and safe landing.

Among the switches and knobs on the EMS panel were three displays that covered various aspects of re-entry. The largest was a window behind which was a scrolling graph on a long Mylar tape, 8.75 centimetres wide. A scribe drew a line across the tape to show the progress of re-entry. The axes of this graph were deceleration and velocity: in other words, the rate at which velocity was being lost – the deceleration – was plotted against how much still had to be lost. As their velocity reduced, the scroll moved to the left and its scribe left a trace to enable the CMP to visualise the trends. If, during the early stages of re-entry, the onset of g – force was too rapid, then the spacecraft was coming in too steeply and needed to roll around and try to fly higher in order to avoid flying through the thicker air for any length of time. Conversely, a low g-force while still at a high velocity could mean that the spacecraft was failing to lose enough energy and would need to dive more deeply into the atmosphere or risk sailing out into space on a long lethal orbit. The graph made these decisions apparent. The scroll was inscribed with lines that represented limits of g-force and the distance that could be achieved during the entry to aid interpretation.

Below the scroll was a digital display that was discussed in earlier chapters owing to its use in previous stages of the flight. During re-entry, it displayed either the range in nautical miles to the splash point, or the current velocity. The initial values for both were entered into the EMS prior to re-entry.

The third display, the roll stability indicator (RSI), looked a little like a simplified artificial horizon, and that is essentially what it was. It consisted of a pointer on a circular display that told the CMP the direction in which the spacecraft’s lift vector was aimed with respect to the Earth below, and was driven by the GDC and its gyros. Since the lift vector was always in the direction of the crew’s feet, it essentially

indicated whether they were flying feel-down or feel-up. Two indicator lamps were located ai ihe lop and bottom of Ihe display which told the CMP which way round the lift vector should be aimed to achieve the correct re-entry conditions. If he had to fly the re-entry manually, he would roll the spacecraft to aim the pointer at whichever lamp was lit.

The panel had two other lamps: one to indicate when the SPS engine had been commanded to fire, and the other to indicate the onset of 0.05 g at the start of re­entry. A knob allowed selection of the instrument’s various functions, including access to live built-in tests with which to verify the unit’s correct operation. These tests ensured that the lamps would trigger at the correct point, that the digital counter was operating, and that the scroll and its scribe were working properly. Two different patterns were printed on the scroll: one for a conventional re-entry, and the other for an entry that included some degree of skip away from Earth for a time. The start of the scroll included several patterns for testing its operation, whereby the scribe was expected to make a predefined scries of motions.



As soon as Eugene Cernan and his crew stepped off their recovery helicopter, Apollo’s lunar programme began its recession into history. Many commentators have tried to weigh up its historical position with arguments that range from Apollo being a shallow political stunt hatched from the hubris of America’s political establishment, to it being the first step in the movement of our species off this planet into the wider cosmos. Perhaps it depends on whether the glass is seen as being half empty or half full.

Journalist William Hines of the Chicago Sun Times took the glass-half-empty approach when he characterised Apollo’s quest for the Moon as being like the quest of a little dog he once watched as it stalked after his car, caught up with it when he stopped, then marked it territorially before walking away. To Hines, Apollo was the same. "We caught the Moon, we peed on it and we left.”

Futurist and science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury had higher aspirations for the lunar programme’s long-term meaning. In 1994 he said, “I’m willing to predict to you that 10,000 years from now, the people of the future will look back and say July 1969 was the greatest month and the greatest day in the history of mankind. It will never change because on that day, mankind freed itself from gravity. We’ve been clinging here on this planet for millions of years and hoping someday to reach the Moon. We dreamt about it when we were living in caves. And finally we broke free and the spirit of mankind soared into space on that night and it will never stop soaring.”

As for myself, I am with Bradbury and his glass-half-full notions. In my perhaps naive optimism, I cannot help but see Apollo as having been a strange, mad but ultimately satisfying adventure of the human spirit. Whatever basal national posturing created it, or filthy pork-barrel politics spread its wealth around, I see in the people of Apollo a generation who rose above such narrow concerns to take one of the most powerful nations on Earth to the Moon and realise a dream that had haunted us since culture existed, and do it in a way that was laid bare to the world – mistakes included.

W. D. Woods, How Apollo Flew to the Moon, Springer Praxis Books,

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-7179-1. © Springer Science+Business Media. LLC 2011

On the penultimate day of the Apollo 11 mission, the crew held a press conference from their spacecraft. During the proceedings. Buzz Aldrin pul Apollo’s optimism in these terms on behalf of his crewmates. “We’ve come to the conclusion that this has been lar more than three men on a voyage to the Moon. More, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team. More, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.”

As I studied Apollo, I was always impressed at the monumental dedication of the people associated with the programme; people who would gladly work 16- to 18- hour days, 6 or 7 days a week in buildings where the 5 o’clock rush home was unknown, and without the weight of totalitarian dictatorship bearing down on them; people who felt in their bones that Apollo contained a historic significance that transcended its genesis; people who thought that going to the Moon was just the greatest, coolest thing to have ever been involved with. I count myself as having been hugely blessed to have lived in an age when dedication could achieve such a difficult goal. 1 rejoice that 1 grew to see a new form of bravery in the men who rode the rockets. This kind of heroism did not require that they engage in the slaughter of fellow men and women for the sake of an ideal, but instead it required trust in the brilliance, hard work and imagination of hundreds of thousands of people who placed them at the top of a fantastic machine that could easily kill them, but thankfully on most occasions, did not. Rather, it took them on a voyage of momentous discovery.

Just prior to the first moonlanding, NASA commissioned film director Theo Kamecke to make a reflective documentary about Apollo ll’s journey. One section pondered on the dawn of the mission’s launch day. Over shots of sunrise, the narrator asked, “In what age of man will the meaning of this morning be understood?” The short answer is: Probably not in this age. Detractors who ask why Apollo should have consumed so much of America’s resources while poverty, disease and hatred exist in the world, are asking the wrong question. It is not in the nature of our species to resolve every problem before embarking on something creative, otherwise we would never have had impressionist art, theories of relativity or Egyptian pyramids.

Perhaps Apollo was really about going and seeing what is out there; and who. as a child, did not want to do that?

[1] Hypergolics are a family of chemicals that ignite spontaneously when mixed.

[2] The concept of the orbit is explained in the next chapter.

[3] See Chapter 6 for a fuller explanation of the RHFSMM AT, a defined orientation in space.

[4] The EMS or entry monitor system was discussed in Chapter 5 where we saw how its ability to measure velocity change could be used for manoeuvres to retrieve the LM from the S – IVB. It will be discussed further in Chapter 15. where we shall sec how it is used for its prime purpose, monitoring re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

[5] Zener cards are familiar tools for paranormal researchers. Each card has one of five

symbols; a circle, square, cross, star and wavy line.

Platform realignment: the LM way

The LM possessed a full guidance and navigation system similar to that in the CSM but with different names. It was the primary guidance and navigation system or just PGNS and, as often happened, the people of Apollo quickly transmogrified the pronunciation of this clumsy acronym to ‘pings’. It had its own inertial measurement unit and optical system. Upon power-up, it needed to know three things: what time it was. where it was, and which way was ‘up’. A call from the CMP in the command module allowed the commander to set the mission clock to the right time, and this information was eventually passed to the computer. Other variables were loaded into the computer to prepare it for the proper operation of the spacecraft; the LM mass, the settings for its digital autopilot and trim angles for the engine gimbals. An uplink from mission control direct to the computer’s memory provided a state vector to tell it where it was, how fast it was moving and in what direction. They also uploaded a REFSMMAT which would provide a reference for which way was ‘up’, but only when the guidance platform was aligned in accordance with it.

Although the computer at the core of the LM guidance and navigation system was essentially identical to the one in the command module, the systems connected to it were quite different. This reflected how engineering constraints altered when designing a super-light, rocket-powered Moon-lander instead of an interplanetary


Pete Conrad and Alan Bean in the LM simulator. Between them is a yellow tubular

framework that surrounds the eyepiece for the AOT. (NASA)

spacecraft that had to withstand atmospheric re-entry and parachute drop onto the surface of Earth.

For the first alignment of its guidance platform, the LM was still docked to the CSM, and procedures reflected this. First, as a starting point, the known orientation of the platform in the CSM provided an approximate alignment. Since there was no computer-to-computer connection between the two spacecraft, gimbal angles were recorded manually by the CMP and radioed through to his colleagues. A few simple calculations had to be applied to these angles to account for the different orientations of the coordinate systems of the two spacecraft, and to take into account the angle indicated in the tunnel that measured any mutual misalignment. The gimbals of the LM’s fMU were then commanded to drive the platform to this orientation. While not sufficiently accurate for precise manoeuvring, this procedure gave the platform a reasonably good idea of which way was ‘up’.

The next step was to carry out a fine alignment that used Program 52, as in the CM. However, whereas the CM sported a sophisticated motor-driven sextant and telescope, the LM had a much simpler periscope arrangement called the alignment optical telescope (AOT), which was mounted at the top of the cabin between the two crewmembers. This was a remarkably ingenious device, whose elegance was in the simplicity of its design. Its main component was a unity-power telescope with a 60- degree field of view that could be manually rotated between six fixed positions: forward, forward right, aft right, aft, aft left and forward left. It incorporated two methods of using the stars to determine the orientation of the platform. One was for in-flight use when the LM was free to rotate; the other was for use on the surface, or for when it was attached to the CSM. Despite its simplicity, the AOT allowed the commander to align the LM’s platform just as accurately as the CMP could align the platform in the command module.

Sighting the stars was done against an illuminated graticule on which were inscribed a series of patterns. A pair of cross-hairs was used when the LM was in free flight, and a pair of radial lines and spirals came into play for surface or docked alignments. In both cases, the computer was told which of the six detents the AOT was in, and which star was to be marked. In each case, it was then a two-step process.

To mark on a star during free flight, the LM was manoeuvred to make the star move across the X and Y cross-hairs, with marks being taken when it coincided with each line so that the computer could define two intersecting planes whose vertex pointed to the star. A similar pair of marks on a second star gave the two vectors the computer required to calculate the platform’s orientation.

The second method was normally used on the lunar surface, but it could also be brought into play when the LM was docked to the CSM. It was considered undesirable to try to manoeuvre the entire stack from the lightweight end so this method did not require that the LM be manoeuvred. It was also a simple two-step process once the computer knew which star was being viewed at which detent. First, the graticule was rotated until the star lay between the two radial lines. Pressing the ‘Mark X’ button yielded the shaft angle. The graticule was rotated again until the star lay between the two spirals. Pressing ‘Mark Y’ gave the reticle angle. The


The exterior aperture of the AOT on top of Spider, as photographed by David Scott from the open hatch of Apollo 9’s command module Gumdrop. (NASA)

computer could then convert this information into a vector to the star. This process was repeated using a second star. When completed, the computer could determine the platform’s actual orientation which allowed it to be accurately aligned to the required REFSMMAT, in this case, the landing site REFSMMAT.