If you're a space nerd, like we are, then you are very familiar with the 1201 and 1202 alarms that Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Pilot Dr. Buzz Aldrin encountered about 5200 feet above the Lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
Apollo is what makes America great. We are the only country to make Humankind's greatest leap from our planet to the stars. And if we can do that, then there isn't anything- pollution, global warming, disease, hunger, poverty, traffic on U.S 1 in the mornings- that we cannot solve. America doesn't need to be great again. We've always been great.
5200 feet above the moon, Neil Armstrong, seeing only large boulders and enormous craters in his landing path, took controls of The Eagle. A team of American scientists and engineers had his back. Thousands of hours of simulations and planning for everything that could go wrong came into play. Loss of signal from Houston? Back up-plans in place. Loss of landing engine- abort button firing ascent engine was ready to go. Every possible contingency had been planned for and simulated.
Except a 1202 alarm. And of course, that's what occurred.
Here's how it all went down 48 years ago this past week in July, and why two American heroes- one whose name is known to all of humanity, and one whose name is not, saved the day and allowed us to land on the moon.
The Dramatis Personae are Astronaut Charlie Duke- Cap-Com at Houston- the astronaut who was communicating with the Eagle. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the Eagle with Michael Collins orbiting above the moon in Colombia. And a twenty-four year old unknown engineer named Jack Garman. Times are in mission elapsed time. Much of the discussion is the loss of communications between Houston and the Eagle, with Houston telling Collins on Colombia how to move various antennae to help Houston acquire the Eagle. So at 04 06 28 22 (read 4 days, 6 hours, 28 min and 22 seconds into the mission) Houston tells Colombia that the Eagle is "GO FOR PDI" and that they've lost communication with the Eagle. PDI is Powered Descent Initiation- the command for Armstrong to fire his descent engine and drop the Eagle out of Lunar orbit. Collins tells the Eagle they are go for PDI.
04 06 34 24 Eagle: descent looks good.
04 06 36 18- Eagle: Our position checks downrage shows us to be a little long. (Armstrong is noticing that their computer is taking them on a descent path that will be beyond their anticipated landing area. At this moment he is just monitoring the situation.)
04 06 37 18 Houston: Eagle, Houston, you are GO to continue powered descent.
Now, the first problem occurs...
04 06 38 26 Eagle: PROGRAM ALARM...it's a 1202
Twenty two seconds later, an eternity as the Eagle is plummeting towards the lunar surface- totally unfamiliar with that alarm and having never trained for it or seen it or handled it in a simulation, Armstrong and Aldrin ask Houston for a status report on the alarm:
04 06 38 48 Eagle: Give us a reading on the 1202 Program Alarm.
04 06 38 53 Houston: We got...We're GO on that Alarm.
What happened in those twenty-two seconds that saved the moon landing? Everything.
Enter Jack Garman, a twenty-four year old engineer who saved Apollo 11. Garman was hired at age 21 by NASA and worked with the MIT team that built the guidance systems. Legendary Flight Director Gene Kranz, famous for his "failure is not an option" credo, had instructed Garman during training to write down every possible error code with the computer guidance systems, which Garman did.
A complicated set of facts explains why the alarm occurred. Basically the on-board radar and the on-board guidance computer were powered at the same moment and didn't go into an aligned phase which caused the computer to divert about 15% of its resources dealing with about 12,800 interrupt requests per second- which in turn caused the guidance computer to run behind on its other tasks. When the backup exceeded limits, the computer issued an alarm which essentially said it was running behind.
Garman recognized the problem and told Steve Bales, who was Guidance Officer that the computer could be relied upon if the alarms weren't continuous. Bales now had to decide if he could trust Garman, which he did and gave the GO to Krantz. As Flight Director, Gene Krantz then had to decide if he could trust Bales- his guidance officer- which he did. And twenty-two seconds after the 1202 alarm Krantz gave the GO to continue which Charlie Duke communicated to Armstrong and Aldrin.
Garman was later given an award by NASA. Bales, his boss recalled: "Jack had memorized these things (alarm codes) and said 'that's okay' even before I could even remember which group it was in. His quick reactions and in-depth knowledge led others on his team to nickname him 'Gar-Flash' ".
Jack Garman, a true American Hero, worked at NASA until 2000 and died in 2016. His name is not often mentioned in the history of the Moon Landing, but there would never have been a landing on the moon in July, 1969 without Jack Garman.
Having received a GO on the 1202 and subsequent 1201 alarms, Armstrong takes control of the Eagle and now, running low on fuel, looks for a place to land.
04 06 42 10 Houston: Eagle, Houston, you're GO for landing.
04 06 42 17 Eagle: Understand. GO for landing. 3000 feet. PROGRAM ALARM ...1201
They get a similar alarm but Houston is now ready and eight seconds later gives the Eagle the GO on that alarm:
04 06 42 25 Houston: Roger. 1201 Alarm. We're GO. Same type. We're GO.
Fast forward about a minute and half, and now the second emergency is beginning to occur, and only the skill of the greatest pilot in the world at that moment- Neil Armstrong- could save the space program. 100 feet off the lunar surface, and still hunting for a clean landing spot, Houston tells Armstrong he has only 60 seconds of fuel left:
04 06 44 45 Eagle: 100 feet, 3 1/2 down, 9 forward.
04 06 45 02 Houston: 60 seconds. (This is Charlie Duke telling The Eagle they have only a minute of fuel left and if they don't land it they have to abort).
04 06 45 21 Eagle: (this is Aldrin calling out the altitude and movement while Armstrong concentrates on landing the Eagle) 30 Feet, 2 1/2 down, faint shadow.
04 06 45 31 Houston: 30 seconds
Thirty feet off the ground- 30 seconds of fuel. One problem never before faced in the history of humanity: trying to land on another planet and running out of fuel (relax- we know that the moon is technically not a planet, but you get the idea).
One Problem. One American Hero. Nine seconds later- Problem solved.
04 06 45 34 Eagle: CONTACT LIGHT...Okay. ENGINE STOP. .. ACA out of DESCENT...MODE CONTROL both to AUTO. DESCENT ENGINE COMMAND OVERRIDE OFF. ENGINE ARM- OFF.
Armstrong and Aldrin had a check list to run through to power down their craft so that they didn't mistakenly take off before they were ready to. Charlie Duke in Houston is anxious...
04 06 45 57 Houston: We copy you down, Eagle.
And now, perhaps, the greatest words in the history of humanity, announcing our greatest achievement as a human race:
04 06 45 59 Eagle: Houston, Tranquility Base here...
04 06 46 04 Eagle: THE EAGLE HAS LANDED!
If you've ever wondered about Charlie Duke's strange reply to Armstrong and Aldrin in which he congratulates them and tells them that they had "a bunch of guys about to turn blue down here" it's Duke's reference to the drama of the landing, the Eagle only having thirty seconds of fuel, and everyone holding their breath.
It's a uniquely American comment during A uniquely American moment. A combination of training, expertise, camaraderie and humor all wrapped up in arguably the moment of the greatest achievement of humanity (excepting of course the current launch of Pokemon Go 2.0).
It's why America was and is great and doesn't need some bloated, ignorant buffoon to tell us we need to be great again.
From Occupied America, which was great and is great and will soon be great again once we expel this virus of incompetence and deceit in our midst, Fight The Power!
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