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  Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
  Apollo: Surprise among team that it worked?

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Author Topic:   Apollo: Surprise among team that it worked?
moorouge
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posted 05-24-2013 06:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Reading and listening to accounts both by the astronauts themselves and the countless technicians that made the landings possible, one emotion seems to be missing. There is elation, sense of achievement, wonder to name a few. But only once have I come across the emotion of surprise being expressed that the whole enterprise actually worked as advertised.
...if enough of the clan work together, a couple of surprised former monkeys land on the moon
This quote taken from the book "The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day" by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

So, how surprised were those involved with Apollo that it did actually deliver.

garymilgrom
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posted 05-24-2013 07:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not surprised at all. After all the testing, rehearsals and simulations plus the step by step flight approach which built on successful completion of simple goals before moving to more complex goals, success was expected. Even the ability to deal with emergencies successfuly was expected due to huge experience with same in simulations. There would have been surprise only when they were NOT able to solve a situation.

This can be found in many astronaut comments that their flights, even lunar landings, often felt like sims. They were so well rehearsed there was no surprise left.

Except for that bang on Apollo 13 of course!

Headshot
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From: Streamwood, IL USA
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posted 05-24-2013 09:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just my personal observation, but the only surprises I believe those involved in Apollo experienced were:
  1. How fast and well everything finally came together (there was only 10 months between Apollo 7 and 11) and,

  2. That it worked on the very first landing attempt. (NASA was prepared to make two more landing attempts in 1969 if Apollo 11 did not succeed.

garymilgrom
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posted 05-24-2013 01:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good points Headshot. I agree.

moorouge
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posted 05-24-2013 02:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Practising for all situations would give confidence in the systems. This does not necessarily equate with having some surprise when one discovers that that confidence is well judged.

onesmallstep
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posted 05-24-2013 02:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
All the points above are well taken, but maybe the only surprise for the NASA engineers and contractors was how quickly the public and the politicians said 'been there, done that' and began canceling flights and feeling blasé about any other missions after Apollo 11 (except for 13).

Remember, the majority of the people working on Apollo were involved in flight test or the military so reaching a goal through careful engineering or not taking no for an answer was crucial to the program's success. 'Go fever' certainly added to this atmosphere, with the Apollo 1 fire being its tragic outcome.

Even on the historic moon landing of Apollo 11, abort or failure was possible, as is well documented. Only level heads and extensive sim training helped avert disaster. It was this wealth of experience-and responsibility for astronauts' lives-that dictated a successful result. So no surprise - was no surprise.

psloss
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posted 05-24-2013 02:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for psloss   Click Here to Email psloss     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Reading and listening to accounts both by the astronauts themselves and the countless technicians that made the landings possible, one emotion seems to be missing. There is elation, sense of achievement, wonder to name a few. But only once have I come across the emotion of surprise being expressed that the whole enterprise actually worked as advertised.

Have you read 'Murray and Cox' / "Apollo: The Race to the Moon"?

p51
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posted 05-24-2013 10:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There was a massive effort to put men on the Moon, I don't think anyone stopped to wonder if they'd pull it off. It wasn't, "If," to them, it was always, "WHEN". Consider this was the largest singly-focused peacetime project the US Government ever undertook since the building of the Panama Canal, I don't anyone really doubted they'd do it, I think they all knew it would happen and the only variables were when and who'd walk on the surface first and when that'd happen.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-25-2013 12:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think a better question might be whether people involved in the development of the space shuttle were surprised that it worked first time.

p51
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posted 05-25-2013 11:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
I think a better question might be whether people involved in the development of the space shuttle were surprised that it worked first time.
Now, THAT would be a good topic. I know three NASA folks at KSC when STS-1 went up who had a secret bet on what would happen. Only one bet that it would have a correct takeoff and landing. The other two were convinced one of the SRBs would blow up on takeoff or it'd come apart on descent. One was convinced the SR-71 ejection seats would be used at some point. All were surprised the mission went as well as it did.

DChudwin
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posted 05-26-2013 07:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What were the historic words of CAPCOM Charlie Duke after Apollo 11 touched down?

'Roger, Twangquility Base. We copy you down. We’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. But we’re breathing again.'

I don't know if this indicates surprise, but it is certainly shows apprehension and relief. Despite all the sims, the approach and landing of Eagle had all kinds of surprises (the computer alarms, the boulder fields, almost running out of fuel). That it did work is a tribute to the flight control team and to Neil Armstrong's brilliant piloting skills and cool head.

I listened to the landing from the NASA Press Center at Cape Canaveral. At least there, there was surprise that NASA carried it off on the first try. The Apollo 12 Saturn V was nearly ready to go, and if the first attempt had not been successful, Pete Conrad and Al Bean would have been the First Men.

garymilgrom
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posted 05-26-2013 10:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dave; Interesting point. I'd say there was tension and concern as the fuel ran down but not surprise that Neil made it to the surface.

I think we're getting close to arguing semantics. The air was full of emotion - how's that for a summary?

Delta7
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posted 05-26-2013 11:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think it's telling that "after Apollo 17 splashed down the people in mission control breathed a sigh of relief," according to something I read, exactly which I can't remember.

The implication being that they knew that the more missions they flew, the greater chance of something catastrophic happening even beyond the scope of Apollo 13. Saturn V launch, travelling 240,000 miles from earth, sending men down to a hostile and unfamiliar environment in a complex yet rather delicate and flimsy vehicle and having them get out and explore in suits where a fall could spell disaster; relying on one half of that flimsy vehicle to get them off the surface and on the mother vehicle performing flawlessly to get them out of the grip of lunar gravity.

There were so many points of risk and danger that when one thinks about it, it's truly amazing they pulled it off without losing anyone, all the talent and determination and dedication of some very smart people aside.

micropooz
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posted 05-26-2013 06:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I can't remember if it was Borman or Lovell who said in their autobiography that they thought there was a 50-50 chance of coming back alive after Apollo 8. I'd certainly be pleasantly surprised if I made it through a 50-50 situation...

Headshot
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posted 05-27-2013 08:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Delta7:
I think it's telling that "after Apollo 17 splashed down the people in mission control breathed a sigh of relief," according to something I read, exactly which I can't remember.
Perhaps the sigh of relief was more for the fact that mission control personnel would be moving on to more challenging flights e.g. the Skylab missions and beyond.

From their point of view in late 1972, a 12-day lunar mission, that was pretty much the same as the previous one, every six months, was not breaking any new ground and, by then, not that taxing for them. With Skylab, they would have to deal with a 28-day mission and two 56-day missions all within a 7-month period.

After that, Apollo-Soyuz and then the shuttle program would kick in.

moorouge
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posted 05-27-2013 02:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Perhaps one man's sigh of relief is another man's surprise that everything went more or less as planned.

Gonzo
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posted 05-27-2013 05:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't think there was any boredom in one mission to the next. Each had it's own milestones, highs and lows.

I think the "sigh of relief" was more of a, "that step's done. I'm glad it was successful. Now let's move to the next major milestone and move on." sort of thing. You have to remember, in each phase of the missions, there were many, many technicians, engineers and managers involved. As one phase finished successfully, the next began with its own team to do its work.

And as far as the "guys turning blue and able to breath again", could you imagine with so much pressure on it working, with so much press coverage, the last thing they wanted/needed was a disaster. Just think of the disappointment, set-backs and embarrassment that would involve! I don't think a lot of people appreciate the amount of national pride was involved with these missions. If I were there, I would have been holding my breath too. It was hard enough watching it at home as a 10-year old that didn't understand the intricacies of space flight!

p51
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posted 05-27-2013 10:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gonzo:
I think the "sigh of relief" was more of a, "that step's done. I'm glad it was successful. Now let's move to the next major milestone and move on." sort of thing.
I'm quite sure that there had to have been a degree of, "thank god nothing went bad my on watch," as well.

It's not that they weren't all 100% behind the mission, but no government employee wants a disaster (especially a public one) hanging over their heads. Don't forget, a LOT of people associated with Apollo 1 who had nothing to do with the disaster on the pad were 'transferred' to other jobs, which in many cases meant a dead end to their careers...

Sy Liebergot
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posted 05-28-2013 09:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Sy Liebergot   Click Here to Email Sy Liebergot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Folks, please let me cut through all this speculation and nuanced sermantics--we were ELATED!

All times are CT (US)

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