How the Eagle Landed: Grumman Construction Log, and a message to space (Apollo 11)


32 Responses to “How the Eagle Landed: Grumman Construction Log, and a message to space (Apollo 11)”

  1. Three-ring binders… slide rules… duct tape… The world of Apollo was a nation on the cutting edge of technology, pushing every part of it, using what seems to us today to be antiquated techniques. Imagine that the computers that sent the Saturn V into orbit, the CSM and LM to the Moon, and assisted Neil and Buzz in their descent to the lunar surface were not constructed from silicon chips, but wires looped through copper rings, that had to be woven — by hand! — in a certain fashion or they would not work properly. When anyone wants to point to something America can truly be proud of, it should be the Apollo program, because it showed how science, industry, and the coming together of hundreds of thousands of Americans could accomplish one of the truly amazing feats of the 20th Century.

    • martyn jones says:

      You do know they copied the rocket from the british?

      • Hayes Whitt says:

        No, the Germans.

      • futnuh says:

        There were hundreds of thousands of hard engineering issues to resolve in order to land a man on the moon and bring him safely home. Your implied dismissal of this mammoth undertaking with a glib comment reveals a profound ignorance.

      • kjs3 says:

        Really?  The British had a rocket capable of going to the moon in 1969?  I did not know that.  You guys should have spoken up.

    • cservant says:

      You should look at the instrumentation ring of the Saturn V rocket.  Good chunk of it was cordwood layout.  They needed that for the space and ruggedness.  The whole rocket vibrates, no flimsy wire wrap. 

      That and alot of point to point work.

    • xzzy says:

      The technique is still relevant today. Fermilab uses software that around the lab is referred to as the “logbook”. It’s basically a web tool to enter notes, images, and random thoughts as the experiment runs. Shifters use it to pass knowledge to the next shift and make note of strange happenings so they can be investigated in detail later.

      Entries are never deleted.. it’s basically a giant rolling notebook that goes back ~20 years. A physicist can look up an entry by date and gain some insight on the status of the detector on that day. 

      There are also entire shelves filled with three ring binders that were populated prior to the existence of the software.

    • Mister44 says:

       re: “but wires looped through copper rings, that had to be woven — by hand!”

      Rope memory! I thought I was the only one who knew that little known space fact.

    •  The Apollo 15 lunar module landed in a valley surrounded by mountains. The flight control system had a terrain model of the landing site which consisted of five vectors, each vector representing one point in space. These days you would probably model every single rock.

    • PeterKVT80 says:

      A couple of inaccuracies there. The computer did in fact use silicon chips for the logic. It was the woven memory that was constructed by hand but the rings were made of ferrite. Copper is not magnetic, it wouldn’t have transferred the pulse. It is quite astounding how programs were recorded in patterns of these thousands of beads. Imagine if the programmers make a mistake, the poor ladies would have have to do it again.

      • Eric S. Smith says:

        Core memory, while persistent in the absence of power, was RAM as we know it: no need to re-weave to fix mistakes.

  2. Scott Berkun says:

    The HBO miniseries From The Earth to the Moon had an entire episode (Episode #5) about the design and development of the Lunar Lander. It’s a fantastic display of teamwork, design, innovation and working around tough constraints. Highly recommended for engineering and design students or anyone looking for inspiration:

  3. Gorgonzola says:

    OCRing would be a good crowd-sourcing job.  Get a bunch of people to volunteer to do one page or use the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

  4. z7q2 says:

    pg 4 transcript

    Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation


    Page No. 73052
    Engineer A. Hecht
    Project LM-5
    Location Plt 5
    Time 8am/6pm day shift
    Title —–
    Date 6-5-68

    (1) Mod 14 to TPS 70010 prep was issued last night, deleting ECS Control Unit & all assoc. cables (because P/J 765 cannot be mated due to absence of ECS relay Box).

    (2) Generated dev. #8-11 to incorporate Mod 14 change into OCP (temporary).

    (3) Attended LM5 Mtg: Heard following statement: DO NOT USE Bag of OLD CB Guards delivered to vehicle yesterday. They may be TIGHT FIT.
    Delivery of NEW CB guards promised for 6/10 (Mon)

    (4) Waited for QC coverage to transfer stamps fr. 70010 Prep TPS to OCP from 0915 until 1430. No QC coverage available.
    Advised Pad Supervisor, Don Getnost(QC), D. De Martino, R. Valdez (QC), Meeting at Command post (incl. Al Beauregard), and Milt Cohen.
    Result: At 1430 still no QC, no promise except “We’ll try for tonight”. Pad supvsr will call X6111 if when QC becomes available. Returned to plt 39.


    (5) Checked 1730 w. pad supervisor for QC assignment. He suggested we call back after 1815 to get QC coverage (ask for Vinnie Mackel, pad supvsr).

    ok now someone please proofread this and do the next page, thanx!

    • DewiMorgan says:

       Hah – I did the same thing here:
      Seems better to do it on that blog, than in everywhere it gets reblogged, like BoingBoing.

      • DewiMorgan says:

         Your formatting is preferable I think – also you can spell “Aircraft”, “absence”, “try” and “17:30″ correctly, and I apparently can’t. Agree my “for” is more correctly “fr.” (meaning “from”).  And yay! I love that you realised that scribbled out thing said ‘if’ – that adds a LOT that I totally missed!

        You have “supervisor” in one place where I think the original says “supvsr”, and I think we’re both wrong: what I put as “pet 39″ and you as “PH 39″ should be “Plt 39″ (platform 39?) and the location at the top of the page should be “Plt 5″. Yup, confirmed from page 5.

        In sum, I feel your transcription is considerably more faithful to the original to mine, but a wiki would really be the best place for this if we could get one.

  5. nixiebunny says:

    Here’s an interesting tidbit from p.73064 on the Master Alarm:

    Vehicle powered-up, and back on line with TPS 35-923.
    TPS completed 1600. Conclusions –
    1. 35uF at P/J 148 pins C&D seemed just at the verge of preventing the master alarm when switching from “Off” to “Inv 1″.
    2. With 50 uF, the master alarm never came on, in 10 cycles of switching from “Off” to Inv 1″ and to “Off” again.
    3. With the 50 uF, the master alarm came on – as it should – when the AC bus was de-energized.

    It’s no wonder that the alarm would trigger randomly, if they were
    changing an electrolytic capacitor value by 30% to stop it happening. Electrolytic capacitors
    are known to have widely varying values, even the god ones that NASA

    The conclusion that I reach from this is that the design needed to be redone to use different methods of detecting problems, so it wouldn’t depend on component values being just ever so.

  6. Wayne Johnston says:

    Amid the technical entries there are notes from everyday life, like this one from 6/20/68 (page No 73066 – page 18 of the PDF). A Hecht wrote “Please note that my pay check was locked up and unavailable to me, forcing me to come in tomorrow during the day in order to get cash at a bank before closing (& before returning to work). It would be well if night shift personnel could have their checks brought to the ACE Station in the future, the avoid similar inconvenience.”

  7. I just found out this year that for Apollo 15, 16 and 17 the top hatch of the LM was opened and the Commander was basically standing  up with his head out “teenager in a limo style”  for the final descent. WOW. What a fan-freaking-tastic view that must have been.

    • Commander was basically standing  up with his head out “teenager in a limo style”  for the final descent.

      No thats wrong. You can read more in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. In all, landings the commander had manual control of the vehicle at touchdown and viewed the lunar surface through the left front window. This notion may have come from Apollo 15 where the crew did a Stand Up EVA after landing. To do that they decompressed the LM and opened the top hatch. One of the crew climbed up and stuck their head out of the hatch. It was done to get panoramic photos of the landing site with a long lens, and to survey the landing site for the first main EVA with the rover.

      •  Weird…I could’ve sworn I read that someplace not too long ago. Might have been in a different part of the Multi-Verse.

        • JustAdComics says:

          You may be thinking of proposed versions of the lander that were never built. Very interesting book by Robert Godwin called “The Lunar Exploration Scrapbook,” which had a ton of wild designs and concepts. It’s on Amazon if you’re interested: The Lunar Exploration Scrapbook : A Pictorial History of Lunar Vehicles

  8. Steve, this is great stuff!  Come by some time and I will show you some of the design and test data for the original Saturn V.  As far as I know it is the only copy in existence as I got it from the wife of an Apollo engineer that died and she didn’t want any of it.

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