, , , , , ,

said to be the highest of NASA compliments, so having this said about you means you are running in very fast company.

On November 14, 1969 about 36 seconds into lift-off the Apollo 12 spacecraft had a lightning discharge. There was a second one 16 seconds later. This caused a power surge, automated shutdown of the fuel cells followed by instrument failures and garbed telemetry. The Gold Team flight director, Gerry Griffin, was seriously considering scrubbing the mission.

But EECOM (electrical, environmental and communications systems) controller John Aaron recognized the failure pattern. He made a call: “Flight, EECOM. Try SCE to AUX”. No one knew what he was talking about. But astronaut Alan Bean remembered where the switch was. What Aaron was saying was change the Command Service Module’s Signal Conditioning Equipment, which converted raw signals from instrumentation to standard voltages for the spacecraft instrument displays and telemetry encoders, to use a backup power supply. Telemetry was restored, and after a lengthy inspection in orbit, the mission continued and was completed.

Apollo 13 was launched April 11, 1970 and had the famous explosion on April 13. John Aaron was tasked with finding a power up sequence that would restore functions to the Command Module. With a great deal of help from grounded astronaut Ken Mattingly and many engineers and designers, and despite the ship’s limited power supply and very little time, a new procedure was invented. As is well-known, despite some terrible risks, the astronauts did indeed land safely.

In the book and the movie The Martian the crew of the Hermes, a spacecraft that voyages between Earth and Mars, sends a message to Mission Control: “Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man”. (page 213)