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Apollo Lessons
March 9, 2009

From left, Lloyd Kaplan, Bill Bright, Dwennon Healy, Daniel Leeder, Donald Margheim and Edmon Beshears discuss the similarities and differences between the Apollo and Orion programs.From left, Lloyd Kaplan, Bill Bright, Dwennon Healy, Daniel Leeder, Donald Margheim, and Edmon Beshears discuss the similarities and differences between the Apollo and Orion programs. (NASA Photo by Tom Tschida) Six men who worked on the Apollo program that enabled astronauts to land on the moon said during a Feb. 12 visit to Dryden that similarities between the Apollo capsule and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle do not end with the vehicles' shape.

The men had different jobs at the North American Rockwell facility in Downey, Calif. Basing their comments on their experiences, they warned that even though the programs are built in different eras with different challenges and timetables, many of the risks are the same. For that reason, the workforce of today can learn from past mistakes.

For example, multiple wires frequently had the same number or there was no place for the wire to go, parts did not fit like the drawings showed, and the parts were rarely available when needed.

"Some mistakes are made over and over again," said Lloyd Kaplan, who worked on Apollo service modules. "You are there to correct them."

When Kaplan worked on the Apollo service module, he recalled an instance in which a wire harness was put together and was so tight that he worried that it wouldn't be adequate for the mission. "When it reached the launch pad I was in bed saying 'please don't blow up,'" he recalled." Everything, though, worked out fine on the mission.

The men agreed that human error can lead to additional challenges. Charles "Bill" Bright, who completed checkouts of the Apollo vehicles for five years in Downey beginning in 1968, offered one idea to limit errors.

"Don't get in a rut of doing things the same way. Be resourceful and think about how you can do it differently. They will put constraints on you because they don't want to spend money. But if you are resourceful, you can manage to save money and get your job done much easier. Be alert while doing something, understand what it is and think about other ways of doing it," Bright said. That was a bit of wisdom he gained through experience as part of a team of program managers from all areas of Apollo that came to Downey for combined systems tests. The astronauts sat in the capsule and everything from power up to launch and return was simulated.

"That was a big deal," Bright said.

Also, "be innovative and think about ways to develop solutions," added Dwennon Healy, who worked on Apollo capsule systems installation.

"You've got to be willing to talk to each other. You've got to be willing to share your ideas with each other. Ideas are what you are after. Ideas help develop the systems. Ideas make it come together much more efficiently. You're primarily problem solvers and you are building a product at the same time," Healy said.

"You've got a lot of issues out there. Come up with a plan and make it a living plan because it will change," Healy said. "You're putting together the future of space travel and I keep asking some very pointed questions: 'You're going to the moon, huh? What else are you going to do?' Maybe a lot of you know that. But the future is unlimited. Spend time talking to each other and working on ideas and make this thing terrific."

A group of men who worked on the Apollo Program visited Dryden Feb. 12.A group of men who worked on the Apollo Program visited Dryden Feb. 12. They toured the hangar where the Orion Crew Module test article integration work is ongoing and spoke to Dryden employees about their Apollo experiences. (NASA Photo by Tom Tschida) Earlier in the morning, Brent Cobleigh, director of Dryden's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, gave the men a tour of the hangar where Orion Crew Module test article integration work is ongoing and gave them some background on the current effort. Dave McAllister, abort flight test operations lead, also explained parts of the effort to the group.

Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., built the Orion Crew Module test article for which Dryden is integrating systems for tests this summer, Cobleigh said. Lockheed will build the crew module that will go to the moon.

"When the Altair lunar lander reaches the moon, it will be three stories tall," Cobleigh explained, adding, "It will be like landing a condo on the moon." The parts of the Altair that will not make the return trip won't go to waste, as Cobleigh said there were plans to use discarded parts as storage tanks for subsequent missions to the moon. Also, supplies delivered to the moon from unmanned versions of the Altair spacecraft, or commercial launchers, could be stored in those tanks, he said.

"The launch abort system has three solid motors in it. If you get to a flight condition - whether you are on the pad or in flight, if the crew should need to escape from the rocket, these abort motors fire and you get about a half-a-million pounds of thrust," Cobleigh said.

The visitors also toured the control center that will be used for test flights planned at White Sands, N.M., during this 40th anniversary year of the moon landing. A C-17 will transport the capsule and control room to White Sands, where further integration work will continue leading up to the Orion research flight, he explained.

Rounding out the group of visitors were:


  • Daniel Leeder, who worked on an Apollo mockup made of heavy aluminum. The mockup was used to determine whether the capsule would end a mission on land or in the ocean when it returned from space.
  • Donald Margheim, who was assigned to the Apollo command module. He was brought to Downey after three astronauts were lost in the Apollo 1 capsule during a fire on the launch pad. He worked on gold alloy joints that connected the aluminum tubing in the capsule. The Apollo team determined that the solid gold alloy tubing connectors would not melt in the event of a fire.
  • Edmon Beshears, who worked on tubing mockups for Apollo until he accepted a position as a mechanic elsewhere on the program.
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