Skip to main content
Close-up of Fred Haise during training at the Cape

Meeting Fred Haise Apollo 13 – Failure Is Not An Option

Moving in the kind of galactic circles that I do, I’m off to meet another Apollo astronaut, Fred Haise.  The fantastic team at www.space-lectures.com have managed to persuade “Freddo” over to the UK and give his talk – Failure Is Not An Option.

Fred Haise served as backup Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 and was the Lunar Module Pilot on board Apollo 13 with its mission to land on the moon in a region called Fra Mauro highlands.  He later served as backup commander for Apollo 16 and then moved over to the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Test (ALT) piloting Enterprise in critical orbiter flight tests.

Astronaut Fred W. Haise
Astronaut Fred W. Haise

Fred Haise is most famous for Apollo 13 when on the 13th April 1970 while on route to the moon, the crew had just finished a live colour TV broadcast and were completing housekeeping activities, with Fred Haise and Jim Lovell doing a checkout of their Lunar Module Aquarius, and Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert was asked to flip the switch to stir the O2 cryo tanks. Approximately 90 seconds later, the crew felt and heard “a pretty large bang.”  That pretty large bang was the number 2 oxygen tank exploding, giving rise to the famous radio call to NASA, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

 

Seeing as Freddo, along with his other two Apollo 13 crewmates, hold the absolute altitude record at 248,655 miles from Earth,  it’s only fair that I place a fresh battery in my hearing aid for his talk and photo opportunity.  The place is packed and Freddo walks into thunderous applause.  I’m on the second row and he’s standing less than 6 foot away from me and at eye level.  I’ve done my best to put most of the transcript below.

Good afternoon!  How many people here have seen the film Apollo 13?  The movie, I could make some comments on but I won’t.  For Hollywood I thought it was a pretty good movie in the sense that one thing I think it carried very well was basically the story of Apollo 13, which is people in trouble, and we were certainly in trouble and the team that came together actually had a much larger team than they could cast characters.  There were a lot of people involved and more people involved working as a team at Mission Control, in some cases, throughout the country, involved in getting us back and we had a good Hollywood ending, we did get back.

The damaged Apollo 13 Command Module.
The damaged Apollo 13 Command Module.

One of the things I was really impressed with and it was actually probably two or three years ago, over 40 years after the flight, I finally got around to listening to some of the inter-room loops, all the public heard was the CapCom talking to the capsule, talking to us back and forth and there were a number of loops that with very specialties in the room, linked to another room out of Mission Control along the hallway that were some of their backs ups and knowledgeable about the system.  The unusual thing about our situation was that normally we would say we could handle anything and certainly when somebody like Gene Kranz, any Flight Director that we were go for launch, they had this team behind them that were trained through a lot of simulation to face what they had to do during the mission. So the phrase that was made by the Hollywood scriptwriter for Apollo 13, Failure is not an Option, is kind of the way we really felt.

For most things we had trained, possible failures, credible failures and we had one that was credible but the results and from the complexity and design said that if we ever had an explosion, you were going to lose the vehicle and lose the crew.  So we kind of gave them a problem, we were sat there still breathing.  Its a long way from set procedures. I know a lot of British air pilots are here today and they operate with a checklist, special steps even though you might feel very confident and knowledgeable about the airplane and even Mission Control did for most of the contingencies that applied to their systems, they could reach behind them and grab a book that would help them walk through to mitigate that problem.

Fred Haise (left), Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell pose on the day before launch. Photo dated 10 April 1970.
Fred Haise (left), Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell pose on the day before launch. Photo dated 10 April 1970.

Well there was no book for this set of problems that we had, so they were really having to do it on the fly.  As I listened to those voices and try to work through, in real time conversations, the knowledge they had in their heads about the systems and they were desperately trying to isolate the leak in the second oxygen tank.  If we had not had that leak in the second oxygen tank, we still would have not landed but we would have aborted still, we’d have come home fully powered up and been a fairly normal mission except the fact we didn’t land.  So they were working through things, pretty desperate in shutting off reactor valves, which is the flow to some of the fuel cells, they thought the leak might be backwards through one of the fuel cells that wasn’t producing electricity at the time and they finally had to give up the ghost.  I knew the people and I could tell the inflection on their voices that they had lost the battle and run out of ideas.

Glynn Lunney the Flight Director at that point, they shifted right in the middle of all this, Gene Kranz went off with his white team and Glynn Lunney had come on with his maroon team, he called them back to attention and said, hey, we’ve got to get this thing shut down fast, because at this point only one fuel cell was functioning and we were partially eating into the small re-entry batteries.  So anyway, that quickly, the voice changed and now they had another problem.  The Command Module, the mothership we called it, was never supposed to be shut down in flight, so there was no procedure.  They couldn’t reach behind and get the book on how to shut this thing down, they had to do it in a graceful way that wasnt going to damage something in that process.  that same thing went on, ad-libbing with their backroom experts, they worked through a sequence that they knew would allow shut off safely.

Fred Haise Apollo 13
Fred Haise Apollo 13

There was a story I had not heard about, they took a lot of heat, at least Sy Liebergot did, for at least 18 minutes, he kept telling Flight it was an instrumentation problem and there was obviously a real problem and we did not accurately report things we saw out the window, we thought we saw debris outside and it wasn’t until Jim Lovell happened to see…..

At this point in the talk, it becomes apparent that Fred’s microphone headset is not working properly, some people cannot hear and he is having to remove his jacket with some assistance to remove the cable so he can use the hand held mic instead, and in his own words…..We’ve had a problem.”

Anyway as I said, this was a story I had not known about until i listened to those inner room voice tapes, after 40 years, about two or three years ago.  But at any rate we did get back, I’d like to start a video now and I’ll do some narration of that story along with a couple of other stories.  This first portion is 13 minutes and its known as the Apollo 13 quick look.  Saturn 5 is the rocket that took us to the moon, there’s still 3 left and on display at Kennedy, Marshall and Johnson Space Centre.  This thing if you lay it on its side where they are on display, that’s virtually the length of a football field, that’s 365 feet plus 3 feet I think.  We suited up in a building at Kennedy called the operations and checkout building, we’re breathing oxygen out of those canisters, preparing ourselves, getting rid of the nitrogen in our bloodstreal because the capsules of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were all operated at 5 psi and 100% oxygen, to save weight on structure, to operate at that low pressure.

Jim Lovell leads Fred Haise and Jack Swigert to the transfer van.
Jim Lovell leads Fred Haise and Jack Swigert to the transfer van.

We climbed aboard this converted milk wagon that NASA had painted up fancy, we had benches we sat on, we could talk on the intercom through the suits as we went out to the launchpad.  Its kind of eerie the day you go out for ream, its normally a lot of workers up and down that stack, and the day you go, you’ve got the two suit techs and its 4 people waiting at the top to get you strapped in, get the hatched closed and the pressure checked and ready to go.  I was one of those 4 people on both Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 readying the capsule for the crew.

This is one of the firing rooms at Kennedy Space Centre that serviced Apollo launches.  Same room incidentally, newer equipment, newer people, that were used to launch the Space Shuttle. The Saturn 5 got cranked up, 5 engines producing 7.5 million lbs of thrust and were held down for a little bit to ensure you had stable chamber pressure in the engines.  You see it moves pretty slowly, if you were in a  fighter plane and kicked in the afterburner on the runway, that would be a bigger kick in the pants than our launches. Very slow accelerating mainly ‘cos the vehicle with 7.5 million lbs push, the vehicle weighed over 6 million lbs.  It slowly goes up but its burning tonnes of oxidiser and propellant every second and got appreciatively lighter as it went up so the acceleration and G’s you felt increased to about 4.5 G’s.

The third stage adapter is lowered into place over the Lunar Module during stacking in the Vehicle Assembly Building
The third stage adapter is lowered into place over the Lunar Module during stacking in the Vehicle Assembly Building

The fighters, in the vintage I flew, we pulled 7 G’s in combat maneuvering, today i think its 8 or 9 for most fighters, we only got to 4.5 G’s on the first stage, that was the max G level.  So it wasn’t a big deal when comparing to airplanes.  it did jerk you around quite a bit, we were still not quite in the digital age, so the smoothness of the gimbals, the gimbaling of the engines for steerage weren’t that smooth as it would be if you did it today so it jerked us around and the cockpit, remember we were way up on top of that stack, and the gimbal was magnified when the gimbal was way at the bottom of that thing.

We went around Earth orbit a couple of times, mainly to check out systems and the mothership to make sure nothing had broken during the launch and then the ground started the third stage engine to accelerate us to escape velocity about 25,000 mph which headed us outbound.  Jack Swigert is taking over the controls and he’s going back to dock into the probe that connects to the upper hatch of the landing craft.  There’s latches that can be fired when you dock that pull it tightly together and give an airtight seal.  You can open up hatches then on either side and have a tunnel to go between the two spacecraft.  On this flight for the first time, they vented the third stage and orientated it the right way to give it a propulsive kick so it would impact the moon and thereafter, did that on every flight using the big third stage to act like a meteorite hitting the moon to get data, on every flight we landed, we put seismometers on so you could collect substrata data on the moon.

Astronaut Fred Haise in the Command Module.
Astronaut Fred Haise in the Command Module.

We had a TV show that was done about two days out and it was really at the end of that TV show, the end of that work day, the cryos’ were stirred and we had the explosion.  So that ended up being a real long day.  I think Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell were off over 20 hours, I’d already gone up to try and get a cat nap in the command module, which was turned completely off, and after about 4 hours I’d come back and relieve them.  i was in the mothership which was shut down and I’d come floating down the tunnel.  One of the two most unusual things for me flying in space for the first time was being able to enjoy this zero g, its kind of euphoric and you play around.

You see Mission Control, real people under a lot of pressure, some of these people didn’t go home, they just lay on the floor outside of mission control and would be working though something and when they got so fuzzy in their heads, they knew they weren’t being effective, so they’d lay down and try and get a sleep period and go back to work.  Jim Lovell is rubbing his hands because by this time, it had been almost a day, had slowly cooled down because we were going down to a very low power level, 12 amps on a 30 volt system, that’s like having a 150 watt light bulb and having two of them on.  So we were not consuming much power, much below the design of the vehicle, it froze the water tanks of the mothership.  In fact they were still frozen after re-entry and recovered aboard the carrier. I expect we were probably;y in the mid  30’s, we had no temperature gauge in the LM.  We put on three sets of underwear, Jim Lovell and I had on our lunar boots, the boots we were going to wear had we gone out on the moon.

Deke Slayton (check jacket) shows the adapter devised to make use of square Command Module lithium hydroxide canisters to remove excess carbon dioxide from the Apollo 13 LM cabin
Deke Slayton (check jacket) shows the adapter devised to make use of square Command Module lithium hydroxide canisters to remove excess carbon dioxide from the Apollo 13 LM cabin

Deke Slayton, one of the original seven holding the canister they fabricated on the ground. They ran that with a human subject in the chamber at Houston to verify what they had put together worked before they gave us the procedure to do that.  We went around the moon and after about two hours past the low point on the dark side, we did a manoeuvre, the largest burn we did using the descent engine on the LM and that bought 10 hours off our return.  When I calculated the consumables, when Jim Lovell had asked me to, I had us running out of water, I had us in the box on electrical power, we had lots of oxygen, we had our two packs that we were going to use on the moon plus the emergency bottles on top of that.  After it got real cold, we, all three just stayed in the LM, we didn’t go up to what we called the ice box upstairs (Command Module).

Technology in that day, our big computer on board both spacecraft was about 1/10th of a Megabyte, so a lot of things were done manual.  (Video being played) That’s Jim there holding up a packet of Frankfurters, Jack spooning out wet packs, probably a thick beef stew.  we couldn’t heat the stuff so we really gave up on the powdered food entirely, you needed hot water.  So we ate a lot of cookie cubes, bread cubes and peanuts.

Emergency Rig Lithium Hydroxide Unit in the LM to remove carbon dioxide
Emergency Rig Lithium Hydroxide Unit in the LM to remove carbon dioxide

That’s the California Baja as we came in on re-entry.  Very unusual that re-entry, we got rained on.  A little light rain as we hit because of the water separating in the LM, that was the only vehicle operating, it wasn’t designed to operate at the temperature we were in the LM, much less this other ship.  Water had built up in the Command Module, Jack Swigert and I had to wipe off the instrument panel when we went to power it up to see the instruments, water was covering everything, it was behind the panel and when we hit G’s coming in, that water cascaded down on us.

But we made it back, almost want to call it a second miracle, if you look at the Apollo mission report covering re-entry and landings, we had the second most accurate splashdown of the program, only Apollo 10 did better.  We were retrieved by the Iwo Jima (aircraft carrier), it had came off a combat mission in Vietnam.  They had trained Navy SEAL’s that handled the pick up and save the capsule.  They actually open the hatch, they knock on the window and have a tool to let you out.  People at Mission Control celebrating, theres Tom Stafford, Kranz, Charlie Duke, Ken Mattingly shaking hands.  Unusually they had no splashdown party because everybody was so tired they went home.  So we uniquely got to go to our own splashdown party two weeks later.  Later we talked to President Nixon who flew Air Force 1 out with our wives to meet us at Hawaii.  Later on I backed up John Young as Commander on Apollo 16 and when I went into that I had Bill Pogue as Command Module Pilot and Jerry Carr as the Lunar Module Pilot and I had hoped we would get to fly Apollo 19.  At that time it was the last mission, we were in training for about 5 months and they cancelled.

Mission Control during the Apollo 13 splashdown

I went off to Harvard Business School and when I came back I went into the Orbiter Project Office, I eventually wanted to get into program management. While there I did some sport flying, did airshows, we inherited some aircraft, we got them cheap from 20th Century Fox, they had used them in the making of the film Tora, Tora, Tora, the attack on Pearl Harbour.  With these aircraft we would stage the opening act, couple that with a B17 and P40 Tomahawk, a little smoke and fire on the ground with explosives.

One day I was ferrying the aircraft and I had an engine fail at 300 feet, I got around to what I thought was a dirt field but turned out to be the start of a housing project.  there were no houses yet but they had started digging ditches, this was a fixed gear airplane, I couldn’t retract the landing gear and one of the wheels went into a ditch and flipped the wing, dug in, rotated upside down backwards and I was trapped for a while and received burns over 65% of my body.

I went in the University of Galveston Texas hospital.  This is to tell you another team work story with the goal of getting back to flight status.  I had a medical team that was a mix of the Shriners doctors who serviced the adult burn ward at University of Texas.  They were going to do the grafting and that kind of thing.  I was in hospital 3 months and it really took 14 months with the physical therapy I had with the one knee, one elbow and my wrist that I had to work through to get back to flight status.  We did one thing different, I had grafts all the way around my legs and normally they put a pin through your ankle and hoist your legs up to keep you from having a pressure point.  We were worried having left a gap in the bones, I’d have problems flying with the pressure differential with the gaps, the voids.  So the suit techs worked up a pair of sandals with velcro on the bottom and built a board at the end of the bed so I could just rest my foot onto the velcro.

Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise chats with Guenter Wendt and other members of the pad closeout crew in the White Room following a countdown demonstration at Launch Complex 39A.
Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise chats with Guenter Wendt and other members of the pad closeout crew in the White Room following a countdown demonstration at Launch Complex 39A.

The accident was in 1973 and in 1976 I left the Orbiter project office to go back to the astronaut office, I was named to command Crew One of two crews that were designated for the Approach and Landing Tests at Edwards in 1977.  Gordon Fullerton and I were crew One, Joe Engle and Richard Truly were Crew Two, so only 4 of us got to fly on top of the 747.  There were 8 flights, Gordon Fullerton and I flew 5 of them, Jo Engle and Dick Truly flew 3.  The first time we were going to release from the 747, we flew 3 flights to perfect the launch point, to worry about the load cell data we had from the stanchions.  We knew if we’d got to this point and separated we’d go straight up, would drift back into the 747 tail which we’d worried about.

Gordon Fullerton and I climbed aboard before dawn and taxied out.  Very unusually when you are in the orbiter up there, looking out the windows, you cannot see the 747 so its like a magic carpet climbing up to about 30,000 feet with us on top of the 747 to set up a rectangular pattern from Edwards Air Force Base to get set to the right point.  When it got to launch ready I’d fire the pyrotechnics to we’d go cleanly up and away. In reality, we dropped the 747 because we were generating lift and when we cut free they lost that lift so they had a tendency to pitch over and go down further.

Space Shuttle Enterprise rises from NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) during Approach and Landing Tests
Space Shuttle Enterprise rises from NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) during Approach and Landing Tests

On any first flight you don’t do too much daring, we flew basically and initially pushed over to get pre launch and do a big pull out to make sure I could get to a zero sync rate, flew a box pattern and then on a final.  We landed, the air speed was about 270 knots and you normally started to pull out at 2000 feet, waited till 800 to put down the landing gear because that constituted drag, you don’t want to lose too much speed, these are called high energy approaches that were perfected during the X15 program.  You don’t have engines so your excess speed is what you have to play with to modulate and work your final landing.  We worried a lot of about ground effect, it’s the one thing you cannot find out in a wind tunnel, ground effect is basically how the aircraft is going to behave when you get within about one wing width of the ground.  Turns out the vehicle was a natural, if you were set up right and scooting along, you could let go of everything and it would land.

Apollo to me was a very big program, there were a lot of things that aligned to allow that to happen and be properly mapped through national interests, through congress, the administration and John F Kennedy’s declaration to be properly supported and funded to make that program happen.  The things that people considered and studied after to say why did Apollo happen?

There were several things, one of the things was the threat from the Cold War and the Soviets, they launched Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin to concede a gap in technology.  So this was chosen by the right leadership, John F Kennedy wanted to do something that declared what technology capability was in the US, and understand they offered a number of projects, personally I don’t think he was a space fan or had not studied astronomy but had looked at this as the right thing to do the job in that regard to express America’s capability in that sense. Another thing you have to have, and its been a continuing problem, is there cannot be something going on that draws on large amounts of your national budget, what ended up cancelling Apollo 18 and 19 was the cost of the Vietnam war and the budget to support that. The last thing is you can dreal about something but you need the technology to be able to pull it off, so you need all that stuff to pull it off and we have not really aligned since.

Space Shuttle Prototype Enterprise Approach and Landing Tests
Space Shuttle Prototype Enterprise Approach and Landing Tests

Space Shuttle was turned on while I was in the Orbiter project office and in the first 3 years of Shuttle, we got half the funding of our program plan.  When you have a program situation like that, similar to what they are facing today, you have to try and make do and hold schedule, so you start taking content out of the program in various ways.  In our case we deleted  the backup to Enterprise, we cut one out which is not a good thing to do in a test program, like to have something in case something didn’t turn out exactly right.  We turned one test orbiter vehicle, OV99, into a flight vehicle by only doing load tests up to 80% loads and mathematically extrapolating, so OV99 became Space Shuttle Challenger.  That way we bought another airframe without having to build one.  We deleted a lot of test orbiters, so there was great risk. Finally we ran out of ideas and what we could throw out.  Now what happens is that the schedule is going to go, that happened but another compounding factor was the early tile problem.  We missed the first launch date Shuttle by two years.  On Approach and Landing Test we only missed our first flight by two weeks from a schedule that had been created about four years before.

One of the other things that was reflected in a different way is a change in administration, in the case of Shuttle it was President Nixon and about the time we were getting ready to first fly Enterprise, President Jimmy Carter had come in.  It was pretty obvious that NASA and the space program wasn’t on his top 10 priority list in what he had campaigned for, he cancelled the B1 bomber program to months after he came into office which to us was an indication of his failings about aerospace in general.  It was reflected by the ground crew in a different way.  That morning we climbed aboard Enterprise to get in our operating seats, there were two Polaroid pictures, one each side of the ladder, with characters in blue suits like we were wearing with our helmets on, visors down and masks on so you couldn’t tell who they were.  They were sitting on this huge sweeper, the kind that clean big city streets and the sign said, if you follow this up, this is your next job.  So the workers were worried about their jobs, it would have taken us a year and a half to two years to regroup if we had crashed Enterprise.

(L-R) Gordon Fullerton, Fred Haise, Joe Engle and Richard Truly pose in front of the prototype orbiter Enterprise
(L-R) Gordon Fullerton, Fred Haise, Joe Engle and Richard Truly pose in front of the prototype orbiter Enterprise

In light of the changing administration, that could have been the end of the program.  Theres not been anything the same way since, the Space Station had to limp along with less funding.  In 1987, had one vote shifted in our House of Representatives, there would be no Space Station today.

If I look back on my personal standpoint, I just feel very fortunate with my career.  Beyond NASA in 1979 I joined the Grumman Corporation, headed space programs, some initial classified satellite projects with the DOD (Department of Defense), manufactured the Shuttle wings for the remaining shuttles that were being built.  got to start a subsidiary company with Grumman and ended up with Northrop and Grumman merged. A very lucky and interesting life, particularly of being around at the right time for Apollo.  I just happened to magically end up in a flying career, I was going to be a journalist and the Korean War is what turned me, I decided to go into service and ended up as a naval aviation cadet and became a pilot and loved flying. That put me on the right path go and get an engineering degree and become a test pilot for NASA for 7.5 years before I went into the astronaut program.  I arrived at the right time with the right experience, background to be qualified, apply and be accepted within that Apollo program.  There are many people today who have the same credentials but there is no program, so I truly feel very fortunate and lucky to get the chance.  Thank you.

Fred Haise during his talk Failure Is Not An Option 25 October 2014. Photo Nick Cook
Fred Haise during his talk Failure Is Not An Option 25 October 2014. Photo Nick Cook

To compliment Fred’s talk, he’s ready to take some questions from the floor.


 

  • Everyone knows about the oxygen explosion on the way out to the moon, but there was a potentially serious problem you had just after launch, the pogo effect.  Could you tell us about how bad that was and how it affected your operation in the Command Module?

The pogo effect was on the second stage which had 5 x J2 engines, smaller that the F1 engines on the first stage.  The centre engine failed and the reason it failed, this pogo effect, fluid flowing stability, so it ended up basically chugging.  But the chugging was of a degree that it was causing a pogo effect like being on a jack hammer.  It really wasnt that severe in the capsule, we could feel this chattering and then a light came on.  We had an array of 5 lights and the centre light went out telling us that engine had quit.  I talked to Dick Smith, the program manager at Marshall later, he said it probably wouldn’t have taken too many more cycles before it would have broken the structure.  It was sitting on a cross structure in that centre stage and we’d have had a much bigger bang right there.

The critical issue then was though, to get to orbit, we had to use just the four engines and burn them longer, including the third stage portion of that because it was ignited then after you separated the second stage to really get you fully in orbit.  We had the longest time of launch to insertion of any of the flights, but it didn’t take long.  The people on the ground did the calculations on the propellant and figured we had enough margin to ignite it again to accelerate to 25000 mph and get on our way.

Apollo 13 lift-off
Apollo 13 lift-off
  • I believe you had a little trick you used to play when coming from the LM to the mothership which, when the real explosion took place initially, the crew thought it was you playing up again. Would you care to explain what it was and how it worked?

This was not a trick I played just doing it on my own.  Through the LM activation, our shutdown normally on a test run, there was a repress valve, and when you cycle that valve, it made a bang.  Which you can imagine, we are in metal structures it tended to echo and magnify.  Jim Lovell thought I’d played that trick in both the chamber test and one other test on the ground and not informed them I was fixing a throw of the repress valve.  So Jim I think was hoping that’s what I had done again.

  • You were CapCom on Apollo 14 EVA 2, that must have been a bittersweet experience in a way because it should have been you up there.  Could you share your thoughts on that?

I volunteered, I would not normally have been a CapCom. I lined up with the team that was going to be on duty at that time, Gerry Griffin’s gold team and worked the normal sequences through the mission.  There’s 4 team cycles for every mission, 4 flight directors.  They actually had 3 flight directors in their teams that are normally dedicated to real activity times, launch, entry etc and the 4th team is kind of a floater that fills in here and there to give some relief and rest time to the other teams.  So I lined up with Gerry’s team, I knew I’d cover the second EVA. They landed at the same spot, Frau Maura, basically the same traverse that I had trained to do, same kind of sampling protocol, about the only thing new they had was a thing they had to drag behind them, which at time ended up being an impediment trying to get up the slope to Cone Crater.  But at any rate I figured I might be able to help in executing that EVA.  Yeah it was bittersweet, it was bittersweet every time someone landed, not just Apollo 14.

Fred Haise practices use of the Apollo Lunar Surface Close-up Camera
Fred Haise practices use of the Apollo Lunar Surface Close-up Camera
  • During Apollo 13 once you realised that mission’s original goals were going to be scrubbed, not going to be a landing, how did it feel not going to be on the moon against the gravity of the situation?

I guess what you’re asking me what my emotions or feelings.  There was somewhat of a change as time went by but initially at the point of explosion, I was still in the landing craft.  We had done a TV show, we pulled out some equipment that had not been talked about in previous flights, i was still putting away stuff that we had pulled out of storage, and that happened.  By the time I had drifted up the tunnel and got into my right seat which is where all the problems was, had all the electrical systems, cryogenics, fuel cells and communications, when I looked at the meters, had scanned very quickly, it was clear we had lost oxygen tank 2, those 3 meters were down at the bottom of the gauges for tank 2.  You wouldn’t consider that you were that unlucky to have 3 sensors fail all at the same time and so I knew we’d lost that tank without referencing mission rules, knew that was an abort.  So, I was stick to my stomach, I knew the show was over and had to come home.

It was not life threatening, I thought we still had that second tank, tank 1.  It took a little time for it to manifest itself that it had some slow leak and eventually lose it.  By that time we got very busy with ground, trying to give them a lot of readings, trying some system changes, they figured out this may well stop the leak, so we worked for that for about 1.5 hours before Jim and I knew it was all over, they’d run out of ideas, we went to the Lunar Module to power it up and left Jack alone.  Mission Control for almost 18 minutes, they didn’t think it was a real problem, thought it was instrumentation, rightfully so, they way the warning lights came on. You have a panel, called a caution warning, it has lights, some are red which are warning lights, that means something bad, and then you have some that are kind of orange/yellow and those are caution lights, which are also bad but not as bad.  We had seven of those on at once, plus the Master Alarm, plus a blue computer restart light.

Apollo 13 CSM in Assembly and Test.
Apollo 13 CSM in Assembly and Test.

The trouble was that they were cross systems that were not interrelated.  The vehicle was a very simple vehicle, there was no integration through the computer.  the only thing the computer did, it wasn’t much memory, guidance nav and control that was all, everything else for all systems was manual. So there was no way a problem even with the fuel cells would affect the RCS system.  Just no way, they are not interconnected.  Yet we had this cascade of lights across systems that shouldn’t happen at once. That was the confusion factor, more so for the ground ‘cos they’d not felt the big bang and the vehicle motion caused initially and seen the debris out the window which we didn’t report.  So for 18 minutes they thought this was not a real problem, going to work around the caution warning and electronics assembly and just press on with the mission.

Before Jack Swigert showed up in the LM, it was over 2 hours.  So at no time was it like you’d lost control of a car and about to skid off the road, it was a very slow evolving situation. Mainly trying to fight to a way to buy some time and eventually ran out of time and end up losing the vehicle. So now it was just living out the LM for 4 days instead of the 2 days it was intended to be active.  I really felt remorse obviously, mostly from missing the moon landing.

View of the Moon out of the Aquarius Lunar Module window
View of the Moon out of the Aquarius Lunar Module window
  • During the mission , was there any time you ever thought you weren’t going to make it?

No, we had no discussion but Jim Lovell did after we did the very first use of the LM descent engine. It wasn’t too long a burn (fire the engine), it was done all automated through the computer, Jim asked me to calculate consumables, oxygen, water, electricity.  I didn’t think, Jim didn’t think of the LiOH cartridges that cleanse the air of CO2, we didn’t think of that as a consumable, which was the most critical as it turned out.  I did not calculate oxygen, we had oxygen in the descent stage, the ascent stage, plus we had two full back packs from what we were going to use when we landed on the moon to go outside.  So I knew we had an abundance of oxygen, at that time it would have been a 150+ hour flight, we had cut that off by 10 hours.

Then the next thing I figured was electrical power.  We had four batteries, 1600 amp hours in the ascent and descent stage.  At an assumed power down I did from just looking at the books we had, and the amperage per component, I figured, to limp along we ended about 18 amps on a 30 volt system.  Water I ran out of, primarily water for cooling, even though we got so chilly, you had to provide something for the electronics, it ran out about 5 hours before the then reentry point.  I didn’t worry about the because Apollo 11, we had the rew turn off the water valve and we watched their LM die, it was the only one we left in orbit.  Later LM’s were later de-orbited, again used to make a meteorite impact.  But we turned off their water valve and watched each component that failed under various systems and the first critical component failed at about 8 hours.

Just like being in a fighter squadron, you’ve got no guarantee of getting back on any given day. Jerry Carr was my designee.  Before the launch, Jerry came to the house where all the insurance papers and all the things he might need to get out and help the wife and family, should I not make it back.

Navy divers pose with the Command Module before it is hoisted aboard the Iwo Jima.
Navy divers pose with the Command Module before it is hoisted aboard the Iwo Jima.
  • Was there any concerns in firing the LM rocket it erms of connection between the Command Module and LM, using in that configuration?  Clearly in the Apollo 13 film theres portrayals of you guys getting thrown around, did that happen in reality at all?

One thing that was not a concern, was Apollo 9.  Apollo 9 that Jim McDivitt, he decided to stay with the Lunar Module for first flight.  If he had not, he would have flown Apollo 8, so Pete Conrad and that crew would really have been first to land on the moon. He decided to stay with the LM because he had a lot of early investment and development of the first LM and they shook it out, did a number of firings both with the descent engine and ascent engine.  They made it with the Command Module, so with the automated system,it was smooth.  Now in our case we didn’t have computers for the last 2 burns we did which were highly exaggerated in the movie.  They showed us doing the burn with a stopwatch to run the engine on and off, the Earth going up and down in the window.  If you look at the data, we did 2 short burns, about 18 seconds on one and 21 on the other.  One using the descent engine, one using four jet RCS, the 100 lb thrusters on the LM and we did not deviate even one degree in any axis.  So that’s Hollywood adding a little drama. Incidentally, Jim had roll and I had pitch, the greatest deviation 0.9 degrees was in Jim’s axis.

The original Apollo 13 crew, Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly. Ken Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert 3 days before launch over fears that Ken Mattingly may develop measles.
The original Apollo 13 crew, Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly. Ken Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert 3 days before launch over fears that Ken Mattingly may develop measles.
  • One point in that movie there is a kind of fight between Jack Swigert and you, some Hollywood thing.  Can you tell us something about the way 3 people in that dangerous situation live and the role mission commander  Jim Lovell?

First of all is wasn’t true.  if I had not been putting away stuff in the LM, I would have been in my normal right seat position, I would have been the one to throw the switches to stir the cryo. There was nothing you could look at on the instrument panel that you were going to have an electric shock running through that switch, so no, never an argument.  I think the training you go through, which was a very intense 6 months, Jim Lovell and I had been in 2 crews before, he was the prime crew on Apollo 8 but as a backup you work together a little together each day, and then Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly were the backup on Apollo 11 for another 6 month cycle. You are just intimately close to the people that you have around you.  The skills are spread by your training and your knowledge base.

For instance, Jack Swigert couldn’t apply a lot of utility in the LM because he didn’t know the LM. He’d never been in a LM until flight, he was the Command Module expert.  You were trained to do your component.  The Command Module pilot had to know the whole Command Module, he had to operate it alone because he was going to be in lunar orbit but also may have had to come on home alone.  If we didn’t get off the moon, he would have to come back and do re-entry on his own.  In the LM, we both knew the whole LM. For similar reasons, if one guy has a suit pop on the surface, one guy was going to have to come home alone with the LM.  So that’s the way we trained and spread the breadth of knowledge we would need  cover.

Overall view of the crowded Mission Operations Control Room during during post-recovery ceremonies for Apollo 13 aboard the USS Iwo Jima
Overall view of the crowded Mission Operations Control Room during during post-recovery ceremonies for Apollo 13 aboard the USS Iwo Jima
  • You said about hearing the full mission tapes 3 years ago, does this affect the way you look back at the mission and whether there was anything there that didn’t tie in with your memory from 40 years ago, how it changed your feelings on what happened?

No, when I listen to the tapes, it made we want to applaud because they really handled it in real-time and ad-libbed the situation, solely on what was in their brains.  There was not a procedure to go grab us.  Normally when you have a problem that can’t be solved by grabbing one of those books, and this time they handed off as a chip on the discrepancy report to the Mission Evaluation Room, which is located in another building, and there is a room full of more in-depth experts.  There is a sign over double doors going into that room and the sign said ‘God is welcome, all others bring data.’  Behind them they had communication links to all the prime contractors who in turn could call on their sub contractors, so you had an army to cover.

That army was pretty and that was one of the complaints I had with Ron Howard, about just how many people were involved, directly and indirectly.  At the peak of Apollo, which was before Apollo 11 flew, we were at over 400,000 people on the program, by the time we flew 13, we were probably down to a  1/4 million people.  There was a vast brain trust and the program drew some really talented people, to challenge through people.  The challenge of making it happen and go to the moon, people could have earned more money in a different way but they wanted to be a part of this.

A superb lecture from Fred Haise, a photo shoot and a signature.  I’ve heard a lot of new stuff, never had any idea before about his engine failure and flipping the plane on landing causing his burns.  The Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests is a great insight to the Shuttle program. The next lecture in April 2015 is for Colonel Eileen Collins, the first woman to command and pilot a US Space Shuttle.  I’ve already got my ticket.

You may also like:

Meeting astronaut Ken Mattingly

Meeting the moonwalker Alan Bean

Sy Liebergot Apollo 13 EECOM – The Longest Hour

 

Nick Cook

Amateur astronomer, space, history, nerd, extreme dog walker, cat slave, severe tinnitus sufferer. 13.7 billion years in the making - not that much better for it.

7 thoughts on “Meeting Fred Haise Apollo 13 – Failure Is Not An Option

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: