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Apollo 13 Engineers to be Honored 183

Posted by samzenpus
from the duct-tape-to-the-rescue dept.
sconeu writes "Yahoo! News is carrying a story that the engineers who helped save the crew of Apollo 13 will be honored by GlobalSpec. The article mentions the jury rigged air scrubbers, and gives duct tape its due." Here is our coverage of the 35th anniversary.
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Apollo 13 Engineers to be Honored

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  • by beders (245558) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:04AM (#12301351) Homepage
    An inanimate carbon rod
  • by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:05AM (#12301352) Homepage Journal
    Duct tape is like The Force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it's used to bind the universe together.
  • Who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FTL (112112) * <<slashdot> <at> <neil.fraser.name>> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:07AM (#12301364) Homepage
    Who the heck are GlobalSpec [globalspec.com]? Is it news when some random company decides to award someone famous? Can I get also get front-page Slashdot story if my company gives "a crystal globe" to Linus Torvalds and/or Bill Gates?

    No criticism to the Apollo 13 engineers. What they did was amazing. But what's this story got to do with them?

    • Re:Who? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Who the heck are GlobalSpec [globalspec.com]?

      They are, according to themselves "The Engineering Search Engine".

      Is it news when some random company decides to award someone famous? Can I get also get front-page Slashdot story if my company gives "a crystal globe" to Linus Torvalds and/or Bill Gates?

      No you probably wont get front page Slashdot publicity if you try and do something similar to what Globalspec has done. If only because they thought of it before you did. Unfortunately, for your compan

    • Re:Who? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gowen (141411)
      Who the heck are GlobalSpec?
      They're an engineering company. [globalspec.com] They make motors, bearing, compressors and the like. This is simultaneously
      i) a publicity stunt for themselves
      ii) an attempt to improve the standing of engineering (and engineers) as a profession.
      Is it news when some random company decides to award someone famous?
      Apparently so.
    • Re:Who? (Score:5, Funny)

      by houghi (78078) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:45AM (#12301573)
      Can I get also get front-page Slashdot story if my company gives "a crystal globe" to Linus Torvalds and/or Bill Gates?

      No, but give either/both an enema and it will be frontpage news.
      • No, but give either/both an enema and it will be frontpage news.

        We'd like you to uh... "accept" our "crystal enema" award on primetime TV in front of millions of viewers.

    • They are primarily google spammers. So if I want to get needle valves or any other mechanical part, I'll always see their little site and one of their competitors, before I see any actual useful Google search results.
    • Who the heck are GlobalSpec?

      An engineering search engine. They claim to offer loads of useful stuff, like parametric search of numerous manufacturers for a wide range of products. In reality they have an annoying website which never quite seems to tell you what you want to know and bombards you with crap if you subscribe.

      I would like somewhere where I can find suppliers for a 52mm galvanized obtuse flange-compressor and compare prices, but using GlobalSpec is little better than typing "52mm galvanize

  • by kiljin (780496) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:09AM (#12301376)
    Now we just have to figure out how to use duct tape to convert from english to metric units.
    • Now we just have to figure out how to use duct tape to convert from english to metric units.

      Duct tape transcends metric and imperial, and eschews units altogether.

      Put a slightly-too-large bolt over your slightly-too-small thread, tighten close enough, seal with duct tape.

      There is no need to convert between units, merely provide an interface between the two.

      Duct tape is good.
  • by Smiffa2001 (823436) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:10AM (#12301382)
    ...why the air scrubbers were different shapes in the first place? Was it because of an engineering reason (room/volume to fit into) or because two different teams were working on the designs of the two modules? Seems daft that on essentially the same spacecraft, there are two devices that do the same job with different designs. It's always bothered me...

    That aside, it is good to see these guys being recognised.
    • by jonwil (467024) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:15AM (#12301424)
      The command module was build by North American Aviation and the Lunar Module was built by Grumman Aerospace.
      So it could well be the case that since 2 different companies built the 2 different air systems, they used 2 different shapes of CO2 filters because no-one bothered to make them the same (after all, it didnt matter much at the time)
    • by macpeep (36699) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:15AM (#12301427)
      Because the command module was made by a different company than the lunar module and nobody thought about coordinating / unifying components between the two since nobody ever envisioned that there would actually be any need to use parts from one as spare parts for the other.

      Contrary to popular belief, NASA does very little itself. Pretty much everything is done by subcontractors.
    • by Illserve (56215) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:38AM (#12301541)
      The obvious answer is because the entire thing was a hoax. Ron Howard was contacted at the time (he was already 15 and NASA computers predicted he would be a great film director) and asked what would make his movie (already planned for production in 1995 back in the 70's) dramatic, and he came up with this idea.

      It should also be pointed out that Tom Hanks is a robot specifically made to star in Apollo 13, which explains his meteoric rise to acting stardom. In fact, Bosom Buddies was created to serve as his vehicle by NASA.

      NASA has more plans in place for both Ron and Tom in further upcoming movies about the "moon landings". Just you wait.

    • Hence the snide comment from Ed Harris' character, Gene Krantz, that it must be a government operation if one craft had square canisters and the other had round ones.

      You also have to think, it's not like these 2 engineering teams e-mailed each other daily and sat in on video conferences and such. Phone calls probably could have been made, but I doubt that they did much more than discuss the manner in which the 2 craft would be docked together. And I seriously doubt that either company flew their engineers
  • Damn it (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:11AM (#12301394)
    "the jury rigged air scrubbers"

    I knew they didn't get a fair trial...

  • by GomezAdams (679726) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:12AM (#12301402)
    One of the processes of setting up any critical mission whether for space or here below is doing the 'what if' drills. As a former submariner we trained to do our jobs under normal circumstances, then drilled even more for doing that job and several others under duress. Same with the space program. They have procedures for every almost every contingency and drill the crew and staff untl they could handle stress and deliver.

    Bravo to them and the Apollo 13 crew. Well done!

    • What's even more impressive is that the problems with Apollo 13 weren't even simulated...hell, they weren't even thought about. It's amazing that they all got together and actually solved the problem by winging most of it.

      All with computer systems with less power than the C64 and slide-rules...and yes, duct-tape!

      I'm in awe of these guys.
      • Actually, they did simulate almost this exact scenario. In fact, as a simulator exercise for Apollo 10 they "failed" the fuel cells at almost exactly the same point in the flight where they failed on Apollo 13.


        The "LEM as a lifeboat" scenario was pretty thoroughly considered a few times. While they did have some "real-time problems" to solve, the general approach had been worked out ahead of time.

      • by orac2 (88688) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:08AM (#12303243)
        Actually, if you read the original article in Spectrum, you'll see that a lot of it was simulated: in particular critical lifeboat procedures (including the important power-the-CSM-from-the-LM-through-the-umbilicals bit) were developed after an Apollo 10 sim where three fuel cells were failed at almost the same point that they did on 13.

        And they did have a bunch of mainframes on the ground for the heavy lifting with the trajectory calculations.

        While there was some brilliant improvisation (the LM controllers hack to power up the LM for example), the controllers were by no mean 'winging it': thanks to leadership, teamwork, dedication and skill, when it came to crunch time, they'd already had a lot of the work done.

        Disclaimer: I'm the author of the Spectrum article!
        • THanks for the great info! I'm one, like millions, who only know the surface details of this story through the movie "Apollo 13"...and while I know it was a movie and they probably changed quite a few things...it's hard for someone, like myself, do see where the facts end and the fiction takes place.

          • Cheers, that was a big part of my motivation to write the article in the first place: while the movie was good, I felt there were useful insights and lessons in the events of Apollo 13 that could only be expressed through a more detailed and factual telling, in particular the importance of mission control's overall culture.
        • Actually, if you read the original article in Spectrum, you'll see that a lot of it was simulated: in particular critical lifeboat procedures (including the important power-the-CSM-from-the-LM-through-the-umbilicals bit) were developed after an Apollo 10 sim where three fuel cells were failed at almost the same point that they did on 13.

          I'll add to this another example:

          In the movie the over-dramatized manual burn is proceeded by Tom Hanks figuring out that they can use the Earth's terminator as a referen
  • by jag2k (862535) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:15AM (#12301426)
    No engineering project is complete unless it's held together by copious amounts of duct tape. No exceptions.
    • You would not believe the amount of "nuclear grade" (low halogen) duct tape we use at a nuke plant.

      It doesn't hold the plant together, but it has multiple uses for contamination control.
    • No. Certain things (airplanes and, ironically, heating and air conditioning duct work [wikipedia.org] come to mind as good examples) should not be held together by duct tape unless necessary. However, there should always be sufficient duct tape available to hold important pieces in place should the need arise.
  • Good Idea (Score:4, Funny)

    by lbmouse (473316) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:18AM (#12301444) Homepage
    Congratulations to the Apollo 13 engineers.

    They should do something like this every year. They have the Grammies, Emmys, etc., why not the Nerdies? They could use Slashdot sections as the categories.
  • by tyroneking (258793) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:23AM (#12301470)
    "One thing a Southern boy will never say is, 'I don't think duct tape will fix it.'"
    That's so cool, but obviously means I'll never want to visit the South without my own personal surgeon.
    • I'll never want to visit the South without my own personal surgeon.

      Don't worry. From what I've seen in Atlanta, we seem to be importing them. I don't think I've had a doctor with a Southern accent since the Reagan administration.
  • by dcw3 (649211)
    Come on, it's a couple days old already. Ok, I'm expecting to the the obligatory "you're new here, aren't you" response.
  • Congratulations!

    "plastic bags, cardboard and duct tape"
    I shall go nowhere without them.
  • This was on cnn.com for a while http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/space/04/19/apollo13. engineers.ap/index.html That aside - they did do a damn nice job bringing Apollo 13 back to earth.
  • sure they did a brilliant job duct-tapeing the pieces, but a really brilliant engineer would have a.o. forced all subcontractors to use the same type of scrubber....
  • Jury rig is something a mafia don on trial gets away with.

    Jerry rig comes to us from World War II. The Germans were known amongst the allies, ever quick and able with a good racial nickname, as "Jerry". Toward the end of the war, with German industrial productivity crushed and little supplies available, the Germans had to improvise with scraps of whatever they could scrounge. Somehow, mostly by sheer guts, they managed to keep on fighting with their jerry-rigged junk.
    • From dictionary.com (and my childhood)

      jury-rig (jr-rg) tr.v. jury-rigged, jury-rigging, jury-rigs

      To rig or assemble for temporary emergency use; improvise: The survivors of the wreck jury-rigged some fishing gear.

      • It's a common corruption of the term. GIs weren't always known for their spelling prowess.

        Incidently, Google returns 173,000 hits for "jerry rig", while coming up with only 109,000 for "jury rig".
        • But the term is far older than WWII. It was in common usage in the British navy in the 1700s. One posible origin is the old Frence 'ajurie' - to help.

          Sorry - you're WWII origin is an urban myth.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      When in doubt, check wikipedia:
      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_rigged [slashdot.org]
      On sailing ships, the jury rig is a replacement mast and yards improvised in case of loss of the original mast. The term "jury" is believed (Skeat) to have its source in a Latin and Old French root meaning "aid" or "succour".

      Although ships were observed to perform reasonably well under jury rig, the rig was quite a bit weaker than the original, and the ship's first priority was normally to steer for the nearest friendly port and acquire r
  • by McFadden (809368) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:50AM (#12301596)
    What I found most interesting from the Yahoo! article was the "Houston we've had a problem" quote. Assuming the journalist has done his homework (and a quick Google search would indicate that he probably has), it's interesting that the phrase "Houston we have a problem" seems to be the one that has entered the public consciousness (or at least amongst the crowd that I hang out with).

    As for which was uttered on Apollo 13, I think the latter phrase is the one that accompanied the eponymous movie about the troubled flight (IMDB confirms this) and so has become more well known amongst a certain generation than the original.

    As someone who used to teach English, hats off to Swigert, who in his moment of crisis used the more appropriate present perfect tense (have + past participle) to suggest an incident that happened in the (recent) past but is still (extremely) relevant now.

    Sorry.... I really should get out more.

    McF

  • Duct Tape for an Engineer is like the Dark Side for a Jedi Knight!
  • by DaGoodBoy (8080) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:57AM (#12301651) Homepage
    ...by putting the engineering plans and documentation [space.com] on the Internet! Then we can build some and make a Beowulf cluster... oh wait.

    DaGoodBoy
  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:58AM (#12301656) Homepage
    who put the 12 volt oxygen tank heater in a 72 volt circuit? I'd like to know what happened to that guy ;)

    • The problem is the oxygen tank was made by a sub-subcontractor. NASA's original CSM specs called for 12 volt electrics. They latter changed the specs to a higher voltage, and informed North American. The problem is North American never told the folks making the O2 tanks, so they only built with 12 volts in mind.
  • by jago25_98 (566531) <jago25_98@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @08:08AM (#12301717) Homepage Journal
    Guess it was a while ago but I can't remember how they did it. That's Tom Hanks for you.

    As a result here's my executive summary:

    - oxygen tank exploded
    - 2 of 3 fuel cells lost
    "Houston, we've had a problem."

    - Ed Smylie, engineer at home watching TV disaster rushes into the centre
    - O2 buildup fixable with lithium hydroxide canisters to help CO2 buildup...
    but some of the backup square canisters were not compatible with the round openings in the lunar module

    "If you saw the movie (`Apollo 13'), it wasn't like that," Smylie said, adding there wasn't any hollering and screaming. "Everything is pretty calm, cool and collected in our business."

    - used duck-tape to convert the backup square canisters to fit the round lunar module fittings

    - this allowed the astronauts to breath just that little bit longer
  • Long Overdue... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IdJit (78604) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @08:18AM (#12301778)
    These guys deserved special recognition decades ago. What they did for those guys up there was nothing short of remarkable, especially in a highly dangerous environment such as space, and most remarkably with the fledgling technology they had available.

    Kudos to the often-uncelebrated ground crew and their determination to get Lovell and crew back safely.
  • A saint in India saved these guys. Without Him, there would have been no return. Ask them, they will tell you that at their worst moment, they suddenly saw things clearer, and were able to work without illusion... ask them
    • I don't have mod points our I'd give you -1, a saint indeed.

      The fumes are getting to you.
  • What about the... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dayid (802168) *
    Ahem, what about the Central Floridian Middle-School Teacher who took out his astronomy class to chart stars, and found out that if NASA had "fired the thrusters" at the time they had planned to - because they had charted the moon's alignment improperly - would've completely missed the mood and sent these guys spinning out into the middle of no where?

    I mean, I figured when the movie came out that no one was going to mention that little "goof up" that NASA had - you know, it's not all good having your measu
    • There were quite a few of these unsung heros. I remember another story about a group of researchers at the University of Toronto who were contacted by Grumman to determine the conditions needed to allow for the explosives to be set in order to separate the lunar module and the command module. The funny part about this story is that the team at UofT simply thought they were one of several teams working on this problem and that NASA was looking for consensus on the parameters. It turns out they were the on
    • Ahem, what about the Central Floridian Middle-School Teacher who took out his astronomy class to chart stars, and found out that if NASA had "fired the thrusters" at the time they had planned to - because they had charted the moon's alignment improperly - would've completely missed the mood and sent these guys spinning out into the middle of no where?

      Got a reference? Because this sounds like utter bullshit.

      NASA never planned to fire any thrusters until *after* Apollo 13 was *already* rounding the moon.

      • While I'm equally dubious about the parent post, you should know there was a burn before the PC+2 burn on Apollo 13, and it was done relatively soon after the explosion in order to get the spacecraft onto a free-return trajectory prior to pericynthion. Here's part of what I wrote about it in the original Spectrum article [ieee.org]:

        There was, of course, a fly in the ointment. During earlier Apollo missions, the outgoing trajectory of the spacecraft had been selected so that if the service module's main engine faile
        • While I'm equally dubious about the parent post, you should know there was a burn before the PC+2 burn on Apollo 13, and it was done relatively soon after the explosion in order to get the spacecraft onto a free-return trajectory prior to pericynthion.

          I'm aware of that burn, but has discarded it from my thinking because it happened too soon after the accident for a school class to have had time to a) learn about the accident and then b) make an observation in time to notify NASA. The free-return burn oc

  • ...the Apollo engineers had been watching too much MacGyver.
  • A Top Ten Geek Movie (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theonetruekeebler (60888) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @08:59AM (#12302051) Homepage Journal
    Apollo 13 [imdb.com] is easily one of the ten best geek movies out there. I really and truly admired the engineers the film portrayed---they were clever and resourceful, kluging up a solution to a life-threatening problem tens of thousands of miles away.

    The reason this is such a wonderful geek film is that there is no bad guy. No evil to overcome. It's not even man versus nature. It's man versus The Problem, and man, brandishing a slide rule and some duct tape, triumphs.

  • They should honor the guy who did those. He did not work at NASA when Apollo 13 happened. He had worked for them about five years previous as some kind of student intern or something. He figured out stuff like that and put it in the file. When they had a sudden need, they pulled the plan out, and it was good to go.
    • Unfortunately, as Jerry Bostick, the head of the Flight Dynamics branch notes in the Spectrum [ieee.org] article, the bottleneck was that they didn't have the software in the Real Time Computer Complex (big bank of IBM mainframes) to compute the correct burn for the cojoined CSM and LM's trajectory using the LM's descent engine. The limiting issue for the Dynamics branch wasn't the trajectory options, it was executing them with the descent engine, without even the aid of the primary navigation system for later burn
  • Duct Tape -- never leave home without it.
  • It's nice to see good engineering work finally get the recognition it deserves. I seriously think that one of the main reasons people are turned off from engineering/science is that they see it as non-rewarding. Most business professionals get a lot more recognition for their work, even though it's less challenging. Everyone is aspiring to be that "celebrity CEO" type rathen than focusing on doing their best in a job that's less visible.

    That said, I wonder if it would even be possible to pull off something
  • I'm not trying to be a troll here, but aren't we a little late with that? Or is it just a celebration thing and they are recelebrating their good deeds?

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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