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Young engineers Space program Story Empty Young engineers Space program Story

Post  Dick Russ Wed Jun 15, 2022 12:37 pm

As you may recall I mentioned we had just finished our CDDT (Countdown Demonstration Test) on July 2, 1969 which was our full dress rehearsal prior to the actual Countdown. We then progressed to the Dry test where the Astronauts would actually climb aboard the Apollo 11 Spacecraft. At this time there was no propellants on board the Saturn V. It was just to allow our Astronauts the opportunity to perform sequence tests as in the actual launch. At the completion of the dry test we went into our countdown which was scheduled for a July 16 lift off. All of the Launch team was assembled in the control Center on July 15 to start the countdown. It was now around 9:00AM and Boeing had just finished loading the S-1C Saturn V first stage with the RP-1 Fuel and oxygen. George Knudsen and I were on our consoles in the control center loading the Hydrogen Propellant and Oxygen when I noticed a rise in the pressure above our limit and I had to terminate the countdown. This was not a pleasant task since NASA considers that we are ready for launch and to scrub the launch a day before Launch was serious since we had a window for launch and to put a hold on the launch costs over a Million dollars a day and if we didn't launch on July 16, we would not have another window until September. I advised the Launch Conductor that we had a roughing regulator failure in our SDD 181 system and we needed to pull the regulator and replace the failed seat. Our down time would be at least 6 hours before we could come back on line. So everyone in the control center was put on hold.

I contacted our technicians and quality control and we headed out to PAD 39A to start the removal of the regulator. Now appreciate that the regulator is deep inside the SDD181 and requires removing plumbing and components just to gain access to the 25 pound regulator. From start to finish we were looking at least two hours. It was now around 11:00AM when the technicians had the regulator removed and we all left the launch tower and headed for the clean room in the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building). When we arrived at the clean room which has a dressing room for donning the clean room coveralls which we had to wear prior to entering the actual clean room. We all had to change into our white nylon suits and be Vacuumed off individually. There was actually four of us; two technician, one quality control inspector and myself the engineer in charge. The technicians immediately started disassembly of the regulator and sure enough the Kel-F-90 seat(seal) was cut. Prior to this I had sent a technician to the parts department for a replacement seat. The technician came back and advised me that we had no seats in stock. In theory this was an actual catastrophe. With no replacement seat the launch to the moon would be scrubbed (terminated). I did not want to scrub the launch or even tell the Launch conductor we did not have a replacement part. Remember I said I had the new VESPEL seat that VACCO Industries gave me to show my superiors what we were going too once NASA signed the Engineering Approval form. Unfortunately that had not been done prior to launch.

I told everyone in the clean room to standby and I would be right back. I left and headed to my office where I removed the new VESPEL seat from my desk and headed back to the clean room. Once in my clean suit I presented the technicians with the new seat. The Quality inspector ask for the paperwork. I responded that there was none and this was the new seat we would be using in the future. He than said we could not use it. I then responded that as the responsible engineer we were gong to use it and instructed the technicians to clean the new seat with Freon and install the seat in the regulator. Now appreciate everything has to be covered by paperwork. So I wrote up an engineering order form authorizing the new seat installation. This also had to be signed by the QC who immediately wrote on the form that this was an unapproved installation and signed the form which would go to the Quality Control office when we were done
The installation was made and we all headed back to the pad 39 for reinstallation of the repaired regulator in our SDD181 console. It was now 4:00PM and I contacted the Launch Conductor and advised him the repair had been completed and I was heading back to the Control Center. Upon arrival everyone got back to work and we continued with the Countdown. Everything was going great and when 6:00PM arrived our night engineers came on board and George and I briefed them on what had occurred and we headed home.

The next morning We reported back to the Control Center and continued our duty as part of the launch team. The astronauts were on their way to Pad39 for climbing aboard the Apollo 11 Spacecraft. We loaded the SII stage with Hydrogen and Oxygen, Pressurized the stage for launch and the countdown continued. As we were approaching ignition everything was perfect. At T-6 seconds we had ignition. As the Saturn V F1 Rocket engines came up to power we were all excited and at T Minus Zero the Gantry Arms retracted and we had lift off. My job was complete for the day and it was now up to Houston Control to take the Astronauts to the moon for a July 20 Moon Landing. This date was a significant meaning for me. Not only was I part of a very significant time in History; it was also my 31st Birthday!

Following every launch we have a post launch meeting to go over the launch and discuss any problems we might have had. Immediately the Quality Control Supervisor brought up the problem we had with the stage pressurization Roughing Regulator and that the engineer Mr. Russ had authorized the installation of an unapproved part prior to launch. I was then addressed to explain my actions. I went into the specifics of what had transpired and the new seat was approved by SII Engineering and the only thing that had not been accomplished was we had not received the NASA approval prior to launch. Had I not made the decision to install the new seat the launch would have been scrubbed which would have cost Millions of dollars as well as disappointed millions of people from around the world.  Lyle Bjorn, Launch operations Vice President said he understood my reasoning and even though the launch was 100% success, That was  no excuse for my action and it would be noted in my file that I had performed a task uncalled for in my position. I briefly responded that as the Stage Pressurization and Grounds Pneumatic engineer responsible for the safety and launch of the Apollo 11 it was my decision which is what they paid me for. Nothing more was said and the meeting continued with how great the launch went. On July 24th I received a letter from Al Martin, the president of The Space and Information Systems Division congratulating me  for being part of the Lunch team stating that without my dedication and engineering experience the Launch of Apollo 11 would not have been possible.

On August 1, 1969 I left the Cape on a vacation for the first time in four years. I was in Blackwell visiting my wives folks when I received a Call from Lyle Bjorn our Vice President of Launch Operations. He said that while I was in Oklahoma I might want to stop by Aero Commander in Bethany and visit with Al Moore. They need a project engineer and since I was near by I might want to visit with him about their need for an engineer. I responded with the question; "Did I not have a job when I returned to the Cape"? He said that was not the problem, but with my aviation background and interest he just thought I might like to consider it.

I did visit with Mr. Moore and it just didn't seem like a job I was interested in pursuing and turned the offer down. After my two week vacation was over I returned to the Cape in preparation for the launch of Apollo 12. No sooner had I returned I was called into Mr. Bjorn's office. He said he heard back from Mr. Moore that I had turned down the offer and wanted to know why. I explained i was very happy to be a  systems Launch engineer. He immediately came back with a response that I really should take the job and that is all he could say. When your Vice President makes a statement like that he is telling you something.
This was a Monday morning. I called Mr. Moore and told him I had decided to accept his offer and would be there as soon as I sold my home and packed up. I placed a sign out in front of my home the next morning and by noon I had a firm offer from a cash buyer. The following Friday over 5000 were laid off from the Saturn V Program which became know at the Cape as Black Friday. Mr. Bjorn was trying to tell me something that he couldn't say at the time. If he had not tried to help me, I would probably not have been able to sell my home nor have a job.

I did take the job in Oklahoma and later transferred to California as a flight test project engineer for Sabreliner and later transferred to the NASA Space Shuttle Program as Senior Engineer on the Enterprise where I stayed until retirement in the NASA Space Program in 1978 ending my Life as a Aerospace Engineer.


Last edited by Dick Russ on Thu Jun 16, 2022 5:17 pm; edited 9 times in total
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Post  balogh Wed Jun 15, 2022 1:50 pm

Dick I admire your courage and willingness to take an engineer's  responsibility for the replacement of that seat in the regulator...without you the Apollo 11flight would have fallen into a jeopardy...I also believe that a decision, even if sub-optimal, may be better if taken than the lack of a decision...

Congratulations to you for your grand role and responsible actions in the Apollo 11 launching, a major milestone in human history and space exploration..
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Post  rsv1cox Wed Jun 15, 2022 2:10 pm

What Andras said plus, as we are of a certain age I admire your recall.

Bob
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Post  getback Thu Jun 16, 2022 9:02 am

Thank You Dick , and this has been a privilege to have gone down the road you have taken in life and the personal achievement of your skills. A job you will never forget as a life experience.
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