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  Retrofire Officer John Llewellyn (1931-2012) (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   Retrofire Officer John Llewellyn (1931-2012)
Robert Pearlman

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posted 05-08-2012 07:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
John S. Llewellyn, Jr., 1931 - 2012

John S. Llewellyn, Jr., 80, who from 1962 through 1965 served in Mission Control as a remote site flight controller and then retrofire officer (RETRO) during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs died this afternoon, Tuesday, May 8, 2012, fellow flight controller Sy Liebergot shares.

In his 2000 autobiography "Failure is Not an Option," flight director Gene Kranz described Llewellyn as "a stocky, square-jawed former Marine" who was an early member of the Space Task Group.

Llewellyn is credited with coining the term "Trench" for the front rows of Mission Control, where the most active consoles and controllers were located, as recounted by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox in their 1989 book, "Apollo: The Race to the Moon."

Llewellyn, who in other incarnations operated a flame thrower in the Korean War and tried to raise cattle in Belize, was a capable and conscientious Retro within the walls of the Control Center and prone to the most outrageous adventures everywhere else — "Butch Cassidy born a hundred years too late," as another controlled described him. Even within the walls of the MOCR, Llewellyn had his own way of doing things.

For example, Retro was supposed to count down to retrofire in the usual "ten, nine, eight..." pattern, but with Llewellyn, you never knew. Once he started at fifteen. Another time he began "ten, eight," and, when the puzzled FIDO looked over at him, quickly added "nine, seven..." Sometimes he got behind, and so the count would end up "...five, four, one, retrofire!" But he always go to "Retrofire!" at the right time, and was otherwise an exemplary Retro — inside the MOCR.

Outside, was another story, or dozens of stories. He is said to have broken a few bones falling from a collapsing drainpipe as he climbed back to his motel room after the front door had been locked on him at the Nigerian remote site — or was it Australia? He is said to have found a man with a lady friend, thrown him out of a second-story window, and then, intent on inflicting further damage, jumped out after him. There are at least three different stories, involving three different bodies of water, in which Llewellyn submerged cars.

Llewellyn himself was no help in sorting out truth from fiction in all of this, smilingly denying everything, occasionally throwing in a correction that was more improbable than the original story.

In any case, it is said that Llewellyn used to get mad at the O&P guy sitting up in the third row of the MOCR. O&P would inquire of him whether his retrofire times were completed yet, and Llewellyn would tell him belligerently, "Y'all oughta get your ass down here in the in trench workin' this instead of sittin' up there," and the name stuck.

Between 1997 and 2001, Llewellyn participated in six interviews for Johnson Space Center's Oral History Project.

Above 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.

A moment of silence can be signified by a reply with no words and only a period.


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posted 05-08-2012 07:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote


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posted 05-08-2012 09:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sadly, we are losing so much colorful history with the passing of men like John.


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David Carey

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413 is in

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Michael Davis

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Fra Mauro

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posted 05-09-2012 11:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had the great privilege and pleasure of being the interviewer for 5 of the 6 JSC OHP interviews with Llwellyn that Robert cites above. He was entertaining and enigmatic, though he was quite a bit more subdued on tape than he was with the recorder off. I never knew quite when he was telling a yarn, the truth, or some mix of the two (whether deliberately or not).

Even aside from his space program participation, he was perhaps the most fascinating guy I ever interviewed. John was a guy who lived life to the fullest, for better or worse. Kind of like the Dos Equis "most fascinating man in the world" guy, only a little rougher around the edges. Everyone who knew him had a "Llewellyn story" that just added to his legend. I still tell the one (perhaps apocryphal?) about his riding the horse to the MCC after his parking privileges were revoked.

Godspeed to one of the greatest characters of his day.


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Lunar Module 5

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posted 05-09-2012 04:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kite     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very sad that another member of the original "Trench" should pass away. According to the books "From the Trench of Mission Control to the Craters of the Moon" and "Apollo: The Race to the Moon" he was a one off character but certainly knew his subject. Deepest sympathy to all his family, friends and ex colleagues.


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Rick Mulheirn

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posted 05-12-2012 10:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If it involves bodies of water and submerged cars, I would be thinking more of Keith Moon of the Who instead of John.

Wow, it goes to show not all members of the MOCR in the old days cared just about their jobs to the exclusion of everything else.

I'll miss him like the rest of you, but with a little bit of a smile in the process.


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