back to article 50 years ago, someone decided it would be OK to fire Apollo 12 through a rain cloud. Awks, or just 'SCE to Aux'?

It is half a century since NASA's second crack at landing a crew on the Moon had a shocking encounter on the way to orbit. It was almost as if NASA bigwigs were looking for some way to inject a bit of drama into Apollo as the US taxpayer tired of the agency's costly jaunts off-planet. A jolly trio (when compared the Apollo 11 …

  1. usbac

    John Aaron was the original steely-eyed missile man!!

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Yup. Although the more of these stories you read, you have to give massive credit to all of them.

      Utter heroes one and all.

      Icon as they all must have balls of steel...

      1. swm Silver badge

        As I remember it one of the astronauts said (when all of the lights went out) something like, "oops, we lost the platform" and "we never saw this in the simulator." Fortunately the Saturn V inertial platform and guidance system were independent and function flawlessly. Good design.

      2. iLurker

        "... you have to give massive credit to all of them...."

        And the engineers who thought of the possible failure modes, and provided a reliable backup solution.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Many of my friends wonder why I always have a Plan B for anything that requires implementation or coordination. They call me "so negative" and a "pessimist".

          After nearly 60 years in electronics and IT it has become second nature to ask myself "what can go wrong - what if?" - and to have more than one Plan B at least in outline. I suspect most competent engineers do that too.

          I call myself a "realist" - with the old adage "Fear the worst - and hope for the best".

          1. OurAl

            Plan A

            The first line of Plan A should always read "Plan B is kept in the top drawer"

          2. Muscleguy Silver badge

            I was talking to a med student in the week who was using the GP surgery automated blood pressure device on me. They are still taught how to take BP manually using a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer (vertical column of mercury). This for the same reason why bags of transfusion blood are still hand labelled. In a disaster situation there may be no power for automated BP meters or barcode readers.

            You might be practicing medicine in a tent in the hospital grounds under lamp or candle light.

            As records become computerised* and electronic and computerised medical devices proliferate 'what are we going to do in the disaster situation?' should still be asked and med students still need to learn the old manual methods.

            BTW the stethoscope is dispensible, you can do it by carefully watching the mercury column for when it starts and stops pulsing.

            *The GP was a bit nonplused as my records apparently say I have a hearing aid when I don't. I did have a hearing test about 15 years ago but no action was necessary. Someone coded it wrong. The data are sometimes not reliable.

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              well at least you've got *some* data...

      3. zuckzuckgo

        >"as they all must have balls of steel..."

        Flying through lightning I might prefer balls of carbon fiber.

        1. Glenturret Single Malt

          Since carbon fibre is graphite and at least partially conductive, balls of diamond might be preferable. Or, perhaps even more appropriately, balls made of buckminsterfullerene, C60 (don't know how to get subscript here) which is, of course, the "football" molecule. But it hadn't been discovered fifty years ago.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      In my humble opinion he was a *man* (at his age today many are still called "boys") who took the time to fully understand the systems he was working on and responsible for, and with the required memory and quick thinking to analyze the situation and recall the right information at the right time. Without a search engine, tags or AI (just the I).

      Hope they could find enough of them for the next Moon landing attempts... I can imagine the next launch/landing:

      "Huston, the display shows only an emoji of a Pokemon throwing lightnings! Everything else is blank!"

      At Huston:

      "Stand-by Artemis 8!"

      "Quick! What StackOverflow says about that???!!!!"

  2. PerlyKing Silver badge

    The more I learn about it...

    ...the more I am in awe of the accomplishments of the Apollo program.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "...the more I am in awe of the accomplishments of the Apollo program."

      Technically it's Apollo/Saturn since both were needed.

      The key point.

      They knew the limits to their knowledge.

      They knew they didn't know everything (and couldn't in the time allowed) so they planned around it.*

      *They also had about 5% of the whole federal budget (itself considerably swelled by Vietnam) rather than the 0.9% NASA has today (less that the DoD spends on the aircon for its overseas bases).

      1. MajorTom

        Re: "...the more I am in awe of the accomplishments of the Apollo program."

        Yes. I just attended a great talk by a space policy advisor, a Washington "swamp creature" she called herself, who was asked about what to tell anyone dubious about the US space program over thanksgiving dinner. Regarding the NASA 2019 budget, the number for space exploration she mentioned was $8 billion. She said to compare that with the US Government's budget for pizza: $9 billion.

  3. Saruman the White Bronze badge

    Apollo 13

    I belive Apollo 13 was also hit by multiple lightening strikes and survived fine. The subsequent explosion was caused by a different issue, and would probably have happened regardless.

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: Apollo 13

      As I remember it (from the article I read a couple of years ago) A13 had *multiple* 'total loss of vehicle / crew' failures - and survived them all, of course. ..ahhhh found it: fascinating stuff.

    2. Public Citizen

      Re: Apollo 13

      If my memory hasn't completely failed me, the explosion aboard Apollo 13 was caused by the failure of a part that was installed a couple of years before the bird flew.

      1. Mike Richards

        Re: Apollo 13

        Good news - your memory is still working.

        The explosion was caused by a fan used to stir the oxygen tanks. The tank that exploded was originally meant to fly on Apollo 10, but substituted late in the build and eventually ended up on Apollo 13.

        The cables driving the fans were insulated with Teflon, but this had been damaged after completing a countdown test. At the end of the test, the tank couldn't be drained entirely through a drain line, so the decision was made to turn on heaters in the tank and let the residue boil off. A switch designed to prevent the tank heating beyond 27C failed and the temperature gauge could not go higher than 27C, so no one noticed when the tank became much hotter, melting part of the insulation.

        When the switch was thrown to stir the tanks, a spark leapt across the exposed wiring and - well they didn't go to the Moon.

        1. Scott 53

          Re: Apollo 13

          well they didn't go to the Moon.

          They went to the Moon, went round it and came back again. They just didn't stop there.

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: Apollo 13

      "multiple lightening strikes"

      I don't care how bright they made the paintwork. Seems irrelevant to me.

      Oh, you meant lightning. OK then.

    4. Brian Morrison

      Re: Apollo 13

      Apollo 13 almost had a fatal failure during the second stage burn, the centre engine suffered a pogo vibration that caused the engine mounts to move nearly 6 inches at the peak of the cycle. Had this continued another cycle or two the stage would have come apart but luckily the sensors detected problems with fuel pressure and shut the engine down.

      Jim Lovell thought that this was the mission's glitch and that they wouldn't have any more problems, but he was wrong on that count.

  4. boltar Silver badge

    A saturn V was needed...

    ... to lift the massive balls these guys had. Hats off too all of them, they were incredibly brave.

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: A saturn V was needed...

      When the previous gig for a lot of at least the early guys (test pilot) had a 1 in 4 fatality rate at the time might as well go all out and get to see space or even better the moon if going to pull the Gs and play russian roulette every time you go up.

      (edit: yep all 3 were Navy test pilots lol).

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: A saturn V was needed...

        One reason why the Soviets decided not to go for manned moon landings (they used robotic landers for sample and return missions and got their moon rocks and regolith*) was because they decided the risk to their cosmonauts was too great. Their guys had balls of steel too but it wasn't their decision.

        Yuri was first in space, Valentina first woman, Leika the first dog and they had the first space station. They also put the first probes on Venus.

        *The moonlanding was faked conspiracy nuts ignore the Soviet landers and their moon rocks. At the height of the Cold War if the Soviet moon rocks had contradicted the Yank moon rocks it would have been exploited to the max and the Soviets accusing the Yanks of fakery. Didn't happen so the conspiracy nuts are doubly wrong. As well the Soviets monitored the Apollo flights, they knew where they went. If they had faked it Moscow would have told the world.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: A saturn V was needed...

          " they decided the risk to their cosmonauts was too great."

          Ater the Wall came down and the russian space guys were able to get a look at the LEMs they made some pretty damning comments about the extreme recklessness of the USA in trying to get there first.

          They had a point: The pressure hull of the LEMS was so thin (aluminium foil) that was fairly easy to put a finger through it and it would have torn easily in the event of any mishap.

  5. Dave 32

    Field Mill

    I seem to remember that NASA installed "Field Mills" to measure the electro-static potential in the atmosphere at a subsequent point, just so that the launch of a rocket, atop a highly conductive and hot plume, wouldn't trigger any more lightning bolts.


  6. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Don't point the camera at the sun

    Lots of things on Apollo 12 didn't go as planned. Alan Bean pointed a handheld video camera at the sun which destroyed the pickup tube. No more TV. It is still amazing that it was done at all. It makes me feel horribly spoiled to have highly accurate GPS module smaller than a pack of fags and an Inertia Measurement Unit even smaller along with tiny computers and cameras to navigate a rocket built from catalog parts.

    1. Fred Dibnah Silver badge

      Re: Don't point the camera at the sun

      We were all sat in the hall at primary school watching the Apollo 12 moonwalk on the B+W TV. It got very boring after the TV pictures were lost, but James Burke, Partick Moore et al did their best.

  7. steelpillow Silver badge

    Mr Bean

    It's not all in the name, then.

    (just be thankful I didn't mention Alan Bean Foster)

  8. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    Scott Manley has an in-depth video on this in incident. Well worth a watch.

    1. Dazed and Confused

      Gene Kranz's book Failure is not an option is well worth a read.

      I'd love a copy of Chris Kraft's "Flight: My Life in Mission Control" but when he died over the summer they went to more than just silly money. Looks like it's coming down to more reasonable prices.

      1. M. Poolman

        Gene Kranz's book Failure is not an option is well worth a read.

        I'll look out for it. In the mean time I'd recommend Tom Wolf's "The Right Stuff" for those interested in this kind of thing.

    2. davetalis

      The series From the Earth to the moon is a great watch too, especially Spider and the Apollo 12 episode

  9. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    Worth watching

    Youtube has a video of Apollo 12 landing on the moon. Well worth your 15 minutes. It is very interesting how NASA landed on the moon with a computer much less powerful than the phone I hold in my hand.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "landed on the moon with a computer much less powerful"

      1) It wasn't taking selfies and posting them

      2) It wasn't playing Pokemon

      3) It wasn't messaging the astronauts families and friends

      4) It wasn't streaming "Blue Moon" and playing it

      5) It wasn't downloading and displaying Moon maps while descending

      6) It wasn't profiling astronauts to sell them Moon underpants

      7) The software wasn't written by Google and didn't use Java

      1. RyokuMas Silver badge

        Re: "landed on the moon with a computer much less powerful"

        But you have to admit, the whole thing was about providing telemetry to allow the rocket to be tracked...

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: "landed on the moon with a computer much less powerful"

          Well, there are a few times when you want to be tracked...

          Anyway it was the mode left on to track the CM while landing Eagle that led to issue in the Apollo 11 mission.... good that the software was designed to "kill" less important tasks and give priority to the critical ones.

          Compare it to phones that could interrupt a navigation app to show the photo of who's calling you...

      2. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

        "Moon underpants"...

        ... I want those.

    2. NeilPost Bronze badge

      Re: Worth watching

      Try listening to the super-awesome BBC World Service 13 Minutes to the Moon. Compelling listening and delves I go much of the nerdy details.

    3. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: Worth watching

      For the seriously nerdy there is a replica of the DSKY (display/keyboard) available via a Kickstarter project. (Instructions here). One neat additional feature is that you can replay the mission with the mission audio synched to the AGC. So as a code comes up on the display, you hear the astronaut reporting it to Houston about half a second behind, i.e. as he's had time to react.

      The other thing that gets lost in the Apollo reporting sometimes is that the lunar module was entirely fly by wire. When you see Armstrong moving the joystick to the left - well that's just a recommendation to the AGC to go left. :-)

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    And just *where*

    is out tame moon landing conspiracy theorist? He should have been all over this by now.

    Perhaps he got struck by lightning?

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: And just *where*

      Perhaps he got struck by lightning?

      That would be asking too much from Karma.

    2. Alister Silver badge

      Re: And just *where*

      He doesn't believe that the Saturn V's engines were powerful enough to get out of the gravity well, or something, so perhaps he's ignoring this story.

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: And just *where*

      "Perhaps he got struck by lightning"

      I thought that was why he was a looneylunar landing conspiracy theorist in the first place.

    4. Julz Bronze badge

      Re: And just *where*

      I thought the current lot say that the launches happened but they never went from Earth orbit to the Moon. That would mean that stories about Earthly lightning strikes are ok and not fabricated.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And just *where*

      Clearly we never went to the moon, where are all the new varieties of cheese?

      Oh, hang on, there's was Lymeswold; and the supplies of that ran out after about 10 years.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: And just *where*

        The excellent A Cheesemonger's History of The British Isles relates how British cheese was down to single figures in the 1970s. Now, it seems, there are about 700 varieties.

        1. Dazed and Confused

          Re: And just *where*

          > British cheese was down to single figures in the 1970s. Now, it seems, there are about 700 varieties.

          And what do you call 700 varieties of cheese?

          A good start

          (why no red wine icon, wtf, good cheese is good with a fine ale)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: And just *where*

            "good cheese is good with a fine ale"

            Hence The Ploughman's at any non-gastro pub?

          2. Fred Dibnah Silver badge

            Re: what do you call 700 varieties of cheese?


        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And just *where*

          I was unusually riveted by the "Look Inside" - I made it as far as the author causing a goat-jam before I remembered I was supposed to be working. Still, what are Friday afternoons for if not reading about cheese?

    6. MrReynolds2U

      Re: And just *where*

      the moon landings were actually filmed on the other side of this flat Earth that we live on

  11. Bendacious


    "A leak... meant [NASA had to] retank the cryogenics".

    As we all know cryogenics are just chemicals that are liquid at very low temperatures. They have unremarkable uses aboard a space vehicle. It's a coincidence that this was three years after Walt Disney died.

  12. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Brings back many memories

    I avidly followed every launch and landing I could. Amazing days made possible by amazing people. I don't think balls of steel would be sufficient. Titanium might be better (tougher and lighter than steel)

  13. Blake St. Claire

    costly jaunts?

    as the US taxpayer tired of the agency's costly jaunts

    Really? We seem to never tire of paying for the military's costly jaunts, even back then. And that was orders of magnitude more. (And still is.)

    i wasn't paying taxes back then, but now I'm more than fed up with the size of the military budget and not at all worried about NASA's budget.

    I kinda remember that launches and moon walks had become commonplace and maybe a little boring. It was also apparent that we had beat the 'Ruskies' so the thrill of the race was gone.

  14. Sherrie Ludwig

    Better than Disneyland

    If you ever get to Florida, science nerds, don't faff around with Disney or Universal, go to Cape Canaveral, where the magic and adventure were REAL. They have the whole mission control center, and a show that demonstrates a bit of what it took to put people on the moon. They also have a Saturn V you can walk along side, which is quite a hike, and a "ride" experience of a Space Shuttle liftoff - don't know how that was done, but highly convincing. And more info and exhibits than one can absorb in a day.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Better than Disneyland

      It's many years since I visited, but I hope you can still touch a bit of moon rock and fail to land the space shuttle simulator!

  15. Douglas Wardle

    Halcyon Days

    I'm old enough to (faintly) remember John Glenn launched into space. Several years later, while at a campground in Canada we tweaked and re-tweaked the rabbit ears on the TV to watch as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The space program was riveting, as were so many other technological events. My mom, an RN, was in tears when the first heart transplant was announced. Great times.

  16. W@ldo

    ...and Bean laughed while going into space

    Great story about this at the link below. Watch one of the short videos that has the actual folks involved in the solution that saved the mission. I always liked the part about Bean laughing about the event while cruising into orbit.

    I grew up in the 1960s, lived in FL and the space culture was all around us. It was an incredible time to be around all that activity. On the downside, when my 6th grade class went to Kennedy Space Center there were only a few rockets & capsules to see--that's all they had at the time. It's much more fun to visit now!

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