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Chuck Deiterich in Th Trench at mission Control during the Apollo 11 landing.

Chuck Deiterich NASA Flight Controller

Hot on the heels of meeting high flyer Eileen Collins, today I’ve met Chuck Deiterich, NASA RETRO Flight Controller during the Apollo program, to attend his talk ‘A Tour of the U.S. Lunar Program and Beyond.’

Chuck Deiterich RETRO Flight Controller
Chuck Deiterich RETRO Flight Controller

Chuck became involved in NASA after working on a Link Trainer, a simulator, and at about the same time, NASA came to Houston and he submitted an application for operations which was seen by the Chief of Flight Dynamics Glynn Lunney.

Chuck Deiterich was involved in some of the most historic American spaceflight moments, notably as Retrofire Officer (RETRO) flight controller in ‘the Trench’ at Mission Control during Apollo 11 landing.  As RETRO, he drew up abort plans, Trans Earth Injection (TEI) maneuvers, de-orbit burns, reentry, telescope pointing jobs and also responsible for mid-course correction burns during Apollo 13.

After Apollo, Chuck moved onto the Skylab program becoming Flight Dynamics Office (FIDO/FDO) monitoring space vehicle performance and flight paths and overseeing the historic docking of Skylab and Soyuz.  Later, Chuck worked on the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests as FIDO and designing the mating of the Shuttle and 747, “the neatest job I ever had.”

Chuck Deiterich discusses the Apollo 13 flight profile.
Chuck Deiterich discusses the Apollo 13 flight profile.

An interesting talk from Chuck, with his view from the Trench at Mission Control.  As RETRO flight controller, he was worried about vehicles running into each other.  On Apollo 10 when they jettisoned the ascent stage, which didn’t land on the moon, they forgot to depressurise the tunnel between the two spacecraft, when they separated, they popped off.  That would become important to remember. In the simulator, Fred Haise confirmed there wasn’t a problem, but in real life, when they jettisoned the LM, the sun blinded you and you lost sight of the ascent stage.  You had to do a push/pull to ensure the service module was on a separate trajectory.  This was particularly important for the docking of the Apollo Soyuz Test project due to the difference in pressure between the two space vehicles.

When he was over in Russia for training Apollo-Soyuz docking, he had a sore throat so went to the American embassy for medicine and on the way back went on the subway, couldn’t read the signs, nobody spoke English, fell asleep and someone woke him up and told him he was on the wrong subway.  “He was my KGB guardian angel, he put me back on the right subway back to the space centre at Star City.”

Space Shuttle Enterprise mated to the 747 for the Approach and Landing Tests.
Space Shuttle Enterprise mated to the 747 for the Approach and Landing Tests.

“There was always a discussion about whether this was hoax and the flag waving on the moon etc.  Turns out the engineer who had to build the flag and the pole didn’t have a lot of time and it didn’t work perfectly, it didn’t extend all the way out, that why it looks like it’s waving, not because the wind is blowing  Besides, we couldn’t keep our simulators up long enough to fake a lunar landing.  Couldn’t get through a whole afternoon without failures.”

“Apollo 13 lifted off at 13:13 Central Standard time can anybody guess what my console number was?”

“On the Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion, had they not done any maneuvers, in 3 days, they’d go round the moon, and in 6 days would come back but miss the Earth by 2600 miles, in 15 and 25 days, they’d miss the Earth by 1600 miles.  By this time, the crew wouldn’t have survived as all the consumables would be gone, oxygen, battery power, food etc. Eventually, 39 days later, they’d have come round and entered at around a 7 degree flight angle, they’d have never survived reentry.  We had to get them on a free return trajectory, we used the descent stage to do burns, and because they were drifting around, had to do several burns, manually on mid-course correction 5 with Jim Lovell controlling two axis and Fred Haise the other axis using the hand controllers, using the Lunar Module looking down at the Earth to do a retrograde burn to increase the flight path angle because there were looking shallow.  The LM was venting, there’s no such thing as a non propulsive vent. This vent changed the trajectory.”

Chuck Deiterich in Th Trench at mission Control during the Apollo 11 landing.
Chuck Deiterich in Th Trench at mission Control during the Apollo 11 landing.

You can read more about Chuck Deiterich in The Trench at Mission Control in his book; From The Trench of Mission Control to the Craters of the Moon.

The event with Chuck Deiterich was organised by www.somethingastro.com

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Sy Liebergot Apollo 13 EECOM Controller: Apollo 13 The Longest Hour

Nick Cook

Amateur astronomer, space, history, nerd, extreme dog walker, cat slave, doorstep daytripper, severe tinnitus sufferer. 13.7 billion years in the making - not that much better for it. Knows more about swords than is probably healthy for a man.

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