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  Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
  Apollo 11: Broken ascent circuit breaker handle

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Author Topic:   Apollo 11: Broken ascent circuit breaker handle
kennedyone
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Posts: 26
From: Garrison Iowa 52229
Registered: Jun 2009

posted 07-06-2009 09:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kennedyone   Click Here to Email kennedyone     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Did I read somewhere where the ascent circuit breaker pull handle was broken off accidentally by the portable life support system (PLSS) of one of the astronauts during egress on the Apollo 11 EVA?

328KF
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posted 07-06-2009 09:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is correct. The event became one of the famous marketing strategies of Paul Fisher, inventor of the "space pen."

He claimed that the AG-7 ink pen was used to push in the bi-metallic strip of the breaker assembly, thus "saving" two of the Apollo 11 crew from being stranded on the moon.

In fact, it was stated by the crew following the flight, and years later confirmed by Aldrin that he used the black felt-tip marker, made by the Duro company, to punch in the remains of the breaker.

Today, Fisher AG-7's are readily available, but vintage models usually fetch higher prices. The Duro markers, however, are long out of production and very scarce. While the company made an attempt to market them as "used by the Apollo astronauts," the claim never quite caught on like it did for Fisher.

tr
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From: Laguna Niguel CA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 07-08-2009 03:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At a recent book signing, Buzz stated that he still had both the pen and the piece that had broken off the breaker in his possession.

perssj
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From: Sweden
Registered: Jul 2006

posted 07-23-2009 08:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for perssj   Click Here to Email perssj     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm just reading Neil Armstrong's biography "First Man" and have a special interest in pens. On page 489-490 he tells the story about the broken switch which was fixed with a part of the pen:
For example, the outer knob of an ascent engine-arming circuit breaker broke off, which Buzz was able to depress prior to liftoff with a felt-tipped pen.
Now, on Fisher Space Pen's webpage and also included when buying the AG7 it is noted:
But they still had their Space Pens, and so were advised to retract the point and use the hollow end of the pen to activate the inside switch. Aldrin then used his Space Pen to flick the switch, lifting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely to the moon.
In the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal it says:
[In his book, "Men from Earth" Buzz elaborates, "We discovered during a long checklist recitation that the ascent engine's arming circuit breaker was broken off on the panel. The little plastic pin (or knob) simply wasn't there. This circuit would send electrical power to the engine that would lift us off the moon... We looked around for something to punch in this circuit breaker. Luckily, a felt-tipped pen fit into the slot."]
I guess than it was a felt tip pen and not the ballpoint Fisher Space Pen used? Am I correct?

Editor's note: Threads merged.

xlsteve
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Posts: 391
From: Holbrook MA, USA
Registered: Jul 2008

posted 07-23-2009 08:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for xlsteve   Click Here to Email xlsteve     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by perssj:
I guess than it was a felt tip pen...
I believe that this was a Duro marker. Buzz still has this marker.

MadSci
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Posts: 211
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: Oct 2008

posted 07-25-2009 03:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MadSci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll have to go and dig out my copy of Tom Kelly's book, but I remember in it he remarked that they discovered the broken breaker before the moonwalk, and the LM team were horrified at the suggestion by Buzz that he could jam a pen in there.

While the walk was in progress, they designed a work around using redundant wiring and switchgear to bypass the broken switch, and that this was how the problem was solved. He painted it as a vindication of the decision to include multiple wiring circuits in the LM control system.

I wonder if there were two broken breakers. The only other thing that makes sense to me is that they did in fact send up the instructions to work around the broken breaker, but that at the last moment Buzz, perhaps forgetting they had done so, jammed in the pen, thus creating in his own mind the memory of solving the problem this way.

Does anyone else have more info on this? I've always wondered about the inconsistency in the two versions.

Obviousman
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From: NSW, Australia
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posted 07-26-2009 02:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Obviousman   Click Here to Email Obviousman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just going off various books I have read, but if I recall correctly Buzz did actually use the pen to set the breaker but the LM systems people had a workaround if they could not get it set.

MadSci
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Posts: 211
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: Oct 2008

posted 07-26-2009 06:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MadSci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Still looking for my copy of "Building Moonships", but I found a reference on page 217 of "Chariots for Apollo" that quotes Tom Kelly and Manning Dandridge stating that the broken breaker was "fixed" by re-configuring the panel to use another switch for the circuit. That this was worked out during the moonwalk and sent up to Buzz and Neil.

Which makes me wonder whether the pen in the breaker, an idea which according to this book was rejected, was just carried out despite the work-around, and the astronauts have forgotten about that. Hmmm.

MadSci
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From: Maryland, USA
Registered: Oct 2008

posted 07-27-2009 01:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MadSci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Having a bit of fun with this issue. So far I can find the reference to the broken breaker in the Lunar Surface Journal occurring at 112.56.28 MET. Later it is reported that MC sees that the breaker is closed at 123.20.43 MET. A comment has been added to the Journal to the effect that seems Buzz did indeed close the breaker, possibly with a pen.

A copy of the 30th Anniversary Celebration Program includes a mission summary, which states that the post-EVA current draw for the LM was 2 amps greater than expected, and investigating this led to the discovery that Buzz had pressed several breakers and broken one.

I can find no mention in the Journal of any extraordinary procedures sent to the LM to bypass the switch just that it is closed and ready for the ascent.

So I'm now leaning to believe that Aldrin used the pen, and that Tom Kelly's recollections may be in error.

faintgalaxy
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From: Marquette MI, USA
Registered: Apr 2011

posted 04-19-2011 09:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for faintgalaxy   Click Here to Email faintgalaxy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From 1968 to 2/1971 I worked as a tech for Mechanical Products Inc. in Jackson, MI. where we built the circuit breakers/switches used in the Apollo and LM space craft. I worked in the Engineering Lab where we basically hand built the breakers.

The evening of the breaking of the push-pull operating button, several techs were called into the Lab to determine how to safely reset the breaker. Once the breaker was reset they would not be able to reopen it without the pull button so they didn't want to reset until it was needed for the assent.

We proceeded by breaking several breakers in the same manor as had occurred on the moon. We quickly determined the breakers could be reset by pressing in on the broken end of the button shaft with anything that would fit without affecting the calibration or normal function of the breaker.

That information was relayed to the astronauts "stuck" on the moon. — Jimmer Gee

Kevmac
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From: College Station, TX
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 04-19-2011 09:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kevmac   Click Here to Email Kevmac     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How about THAT! Thanks for the great story and sharing your experience. Welcome to collectSPACE!

MadSci
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Posts: 211
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: Oct 2008

posted 04-20-2011 12:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MadSci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow! This beats digging out books anytime!

Michael Wright
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From: Aberdeen, Scotland
Registered: Aug 2000

posted 04-20-2011 04:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Wright   Click Here to Email Michael Wright     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have the checklist page relating to the circuit breakers and in his commentary on this page, Buzz mentions that 'the very pen I used to record these notes was the perfect tool to engage this circuit breaker.'

The writing on the checklist page is certainly done in what would appear to be felt tip and not done by any type of ‘ballpoint’ pen. The felt pen wins!!

tfrielin
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Posts: 162
From: Athens, GA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 08-18-2011 05:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tfrielin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One note for the historical record regarding the circuit breaker and Aldrin's pen:

Do not believe Craig Nelson's account in his 2009 book "Rocket Men" (do not believe much of anything in this train wreck of a book) in which he implies Aldrin used the pen to push in the circuit breaker at the moment of lunar liftoff.

This is not true.

No less an expert than Eric Jones (of Apollo Lunar Surface Journal fame) informed me that Aldrin used the pen about two hours before liftoff.

In any event, Tom Kelly's account that they re-routed the electrical signals to by-pass the circuit breaker is correct -- Eagle was going to liftoff the moon with or without Aldrin's pen.

MadSci
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Posts: 211
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: Oct 2008

posted 08-22-2011 02:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MadSci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by tfrielin:
Tom Kelly's account that they re-routed the electrical signals to by-pass the circuit breaker is correct — Eagle was going to liftoff the moon with or without Aldrin's pen.
Thanks for that insight regarding Tom Kelly's recollection - I wonder if you would share your source on the matter as there seem to be many slightly conflicting, or at least incomplete, sources of information on this bit of history.

Personally, I think that Kelly's story rings true, and the redundant circuitry would be the first and obvious choice — think about it — that's exactly what the redundant circuits were laced there for, and sticking a pen into a broken component controlling the only engine that can get them home is not the logical and safe way to get out of this problem.

It does however sound like something a pilot would do, and a logical backup to try if the redundant circuits didn't do the trick. I've always thought that probably the instructions were uplinked and followed, but then at the last moment Aldrin also used the pen "just in case," and of course remembers it as the fix to the problem.

tfrielin
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Posts: 162
From: Athens, GA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 08-22-2011 09:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for tfrielin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't have Tom Kelly's book Moon Lander handy, but as I remember the electrical re-routing is described there.

SilverSnoopy
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Posts: 36
From: Sacramento
Registered: Aug 2011

posted 08-23-2011 10:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SilverSnoopy   Click Here to Email SilverSnoopy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have a friend, that has a friend at NASA and confirmed the pen being used.

Buzz also confirmed it in "The Wonder of it All."

Dave Clow
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Posts: 236
From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
Registered: Nov 2003

posted 09-12-2011 03:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Buzz was asked at last year's Astronaut Scholarship Foundation show if he happened to have one souvenir he valued most, and he said it was the pen and the broken switch.

Jay Chladek
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Posts: 2270
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 09-13-2011 11:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Buzz will be getting life from the pen story long after. I would say both stories are true in that the panel likely was re-wired with a work around, but Buzz probably did stick his pen in there as a backup to complete the circuit in case the work around did not work. You know how NASA and astronauts love to have backup plans, even for backup plans.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-25-2017 06:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dave Clow:
...he said it was the pen and the broken switch.
From Christina Korp, Buzz Aldrin's manager, on Twitter:
Buzz Aldrin let me hold the broken circuit breaker and the pen from Apollo 11.

And from Buzz Aldrin:

Telling my story about the pen and circuit breaker and the engine circuit before liftoff on Apollo 11 for my documentary.

All times are CT (US)

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