Saturday, July 18, 2009

Monitoring Apollo 11

Perhaps the only people on Earth watching Apollo 11 more intently than me were the NASA folks in Launch Control and Mission Control. (Okay, I'll admit that perhaps that this is a slight exaggeration.) As glued as I was to my TV set, I was just an amateur. These folks were paid to stare at their screens, bite their nails, and chain smoke their way through the mission..

The Firing Room at Launch Complex 39, in a building adjacent to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, was responsible for all operations from prior to launch until the vehicle rose completely above the launch tower, about 7 seconds after liftoff. The Firing Room staff controlled the preparation and execution of the launch sequence. The Firing Room staff also monitored all of the status readouts for the immense Saturn V rocket and the systems aboard the Apollo spacecraft, which was at the time the most complex machine ever built.

At the back of the Firing Room was a small glass-in enclosure known as the Operations Management Room. The team that worked in this area supervised the Firing Room and made the executive decisions. This is also where the VIPs (NASA brass like Werner von Braun) observed the launch. The red stripe on this badge indicates a security clearance for its bearer.

When the vehicle cleared the launch tower, control transferred to the famed Mission Operation Control Room (MOCR) was located, on the third floor of Bldg 30 (Mission Control Center, or MCC) at the Manned Spaceflight Center, now the Johnson Spaceflight Center, in Houston. The remainder of the mission, through splashdown, was run from this room. The badge shown at left was issued to Edward Pavelka, who supervised the Flight Dynamics Officer (FIDO) team for Apollo 11.

Other NASA Centers played a vital role in the Apollo 11 mission. For example, Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC), in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, provided computer support and radar tracking of the flight through a network of ground-based sites. The colorful badge at left was issued to a GSFC employee for Apollo 11.

And, of course, contractors got their own badges, too. The example at the bottom of this blog was issued to George Faenza, a McDonnell Douglas employee who oversaw Apollo/Saturn testing during the Apollo era.

As a 12 year old boy during the mission, my role was to have my models of the Saturn V and the LM constantly at the ready in front of the TV, in case there was an urgent need to act out some portion of the mission as a critical event occurred. No one issued me a badge, but I belonged to that program!

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