NASA Update

I received interesting information from Frank Buzzard, a former chief systems engineer at NASA, who I met while cruising a couple of years ago. He attached an email from John Neely, a NASA cohort who had attended a preview of a movie on Mission Control. We have lots of information about the MERCURY, GEMINI, APOLLO, and SPACE SHUTTLE programs. However, it focuses on flights and astronauts without emphasizing the importance of the people on the ground end of the data links from the space craft. I have John Neely’s edited email below with the comments of Frank Buzzard following.

“Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo”

Last Tuesday, April 11th, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the invitation only screening of the new movie “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” in Space Center Houston. The movie will be released soon. The whole affair started about 4:00 pm with about an hour long question and answer session involving the four Apollo Flight Directors: Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney, Jerry Griffin, and Milton Windler. Also present for questions was astronaut Walter Cunningham. Several news and scientific publications people asked questions. I was the guest of Milton Windler, a close long-time friend. At about 6:30, we all headed over to the SCH IMAX Theater for film screening. The theater was full, and I recognized many faces from my 34 years at Johnson Space Center (JSC) including my old boss, John Aaron. Chris Kraft gave John a very nice compliment during the post screening question and answer session, which included Chris, the flight directors, and the film’s director. Chris said he thought John was the brains of the whole thing – WOW! Of course John had made serious contributions to the success of both Apollo 12 (lighting strike) and Apollo 13 (electrical system).  

Everyone I talked to thought the film (about an hour and a half in duration) was very well done. The film’s primary theme was the story of Apollo and personnel in the Mission Operation Control Room (MOCR), although references to personnel in the various SSR’s (back rooms) were also made. Many first hand interviews with key players and a good summary of events leading up to the Apollo era were also included in the film. In the near future, a condensed version of the film will be shown regularly at Space Center Houston.

The film does not whitewash pitfalls and problems that NASA encountered and had to overcome such as the Apollo 1 fire and Apollo 13. I believe the film is a great documentary of many events that led to the many JSC mission success stories.  
The film brought back many fond memories, and I’ve always remembered my early days at JSC as like being on one of Columbus’ ships!!  

John Neely

Frank Buzzard’s Comments

Thanks for the inside story, John. I do plan to watch the movie when it is released. It was my great honor to have served in Mission Planning and Analysis Division (MPAD) with you on Space Shuttle guidance and trajectory design in the middle 70s. I, of course, missed the Apollo NASA team participation and came to NASA in 1976 for post-Apollo and early Shuttle mission planning. I was busy flying Chinook helicopters for the US Army 101st in Vietnam and later in Germany during Apollo. But NASA’s great achievements inspired me and convinced me to be a part of America’s Space Exploration team. I am glad and forever grateful that I did exactly that.  

John Aaron was and is one of my all-time Space Exploration heroes. A “steely-eyed rocket scientist” indeed! What a gifted system engineer and leader of engineers. And a humble man to this day. A great American who I salute. What a gifted system engineer and leader of engineers. I worked for John Aaron several times during my NASA career. He taught me by example to be the system engineer and leader that I believe I am today.

John Aaron, Mission Control Center(MCC) EECOM (Electrical, Environment, and Communications Manager), was absolutely critical to the Apollo 12 mission success and lunar landing after the Saturn 5 liftoff lightning strike that took out the data stream and dropped all three electrical fuel cells off line from the Command Module. The Command Module switched to batteries which were inadequate to handle the ascent flight power load. He recognized and corrected the issue to first MCC Flight Director, Gerry Griffin, bringing the Apollo 12 command module back to data life with the life-saving call, "Try SCE (Signal Conditioning Equipment) to aux." John had seen a similar and confusing data issue in an earlier Flight crew and MCC simulation with a related electrical and data system failure. Astronaut onboard Apollo 13, Alan Bean, also remembered that training simulation and was the only person to know where the switch was to try and correct the problem and flipped it to auxiliary position. The command module data came back to life and Alan Bean, Lunar Module pilot and system engineer for the crew, got the fuel cells back on line saving the mission to earth orbit. The crew and ground team checked out all systems after safely reaching earth orbit because the ascent guidance and Saturn V control was continued by the booster systems rather than the Command Module systems. A very important lesson learned is separation of critical functions. If the command module had been controlling ascent flight, the mission and likely the crew would have been lost. I hope the new NASA Space Launch System engineers remember this very important lesson learned from Apollo 12. Another lesson learned for me was the great value of mission simulation of many different failure scenarios that brought the flight crews, engineering teams, and MCC team to the pinnacle of excellence in the ability to deal with inevitable failures in exploration. These lessons are still valid and relevant for American to return to the Moon and on to Mars. 

John Aaron and his important back room EECOM team also provided the rationale to continue the lunar landing mission after safely reaching low earth orbit and checking out all electrical systems. Legendary Flight Director Christopher Columbus Kraft told John and the Flight Control Team, “Young man, we don’t have to go to the Moon today.” (FTB note: I wasn’t there, but John shared this with me when I worked for him). John and Flight Director Gerry Griffin and the team felt the Command and Service Module were fully functional and convinced the MCC team to continue the mission. The great success of Apollo 12 lunar landing and crew exploration proved them to be correct.

John also led the electrical budget team incredibly painful power down decision team that made the lunar lifeboat option a success to safely return the Apollo 13 crew to Earth. The NASA Mission Control, Flight Crew, Engineering, and Operations Teams had no finer moment than saving the crew of Apollo 13. And I say that knowing and acknowledging the world changing NASA moment that brought the entire world the first human landing on the moon and the safe return of the Apollo 11 crew.

There are many of you I worked with at NASA. Well done my friends. I leave for a lecture cruise this Wednesday on Viking Ocean Star from Barcelona to Stockholm. I will be telling this story as part of my “Race to the Moon” lecture and Man in Space series. I will tell it with great pride my friends and encourage our passengers to see “Mission Control: The unsung Heroes of Apollo.” You are not unsung to me having been part of the great Space Shuttle and International Space Station MCC and Engineering team.

God Bless this Easter.  He is Risen. We have much to be thankful for.  

Frank Thomas Buzzard

Having the final word, visit  for an adventure in space.

Red Tolbert                                                                            Posted: 15 April 2017

The Flying Chicken 

The story of the "Chicken Gun" is too funny not to share! Sometimes it does take a rocket scientist! 

Scientists at NASA built a gun specifically to launch standard 4-pound dead chickens at windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all traveling at maximum velocity. TThe idea was to simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl, to test the strength of their windshields. 

British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made, and a gun was sent to the British engineers. When the gun was fired, the engineers stood shocked as the chicken hurled out of the barrel, crashed into the shatterproof windshield, smashed it to smithereens, blasted through the control console, snapped the engineer's back-rest in two, and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin, like an arrow shot from a bow.

The horrified Brits sent NASA the disastrous results of the experiment, along with the designs of the windshield and begged the U.S. scientists for suggestions.

NASA responded with a one-line memo:  "Defrost The Chicken!" 

(True Story)

Angelo Semeraro                                                                    Posted: 2 May 2017
     Historic Event: Part I – “Old Ironsides.” Overview

    The United States declared war with Britain on June 18, 1812. The War of 1812 had begun. USS Constitution was at sea. On August 19, she sighted the British frigate HMS Guerriere off Halifax and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and chased after her. Captain Isaac Hull surprised the British with his heavier broadside firing and his ship’s sailing ability. Adding to their astonishment, many of the British shots had rebounded harmlessly off Constitution’s hull. An American sailor reportedly shouted “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron.” Constitution thus earned the nickname “Old Ironsides.” When the ship arrived back in Boston on August 30, Captain Hull and his crew found that the news of their victory had spread fast and they were hailed as heroes.
    Launched in 1797, Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the U.S. Navy. She was named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States. The ship is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat.  
    Constitution was one of six original frigates authorized by Congress to begin forming the new United States Navy. Shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be capital ships so they were larger and more heavily armed than frigates before. She was built from the resilient Southern live oak from Georgia. Her three masts were made from the strong white pine of Maine. Humphreys designed her hull at 22 inches thick at the waterline. He added copper sheathing below the waterline to protect it against ship worms that could damage the wooden hull. Constitution was built in a shipyard in the north end of Boston.
    Her first duties were to protect American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France and to defeat the Barbary pirates. She is most noted for her actions in the War of 1812 when she captured numerous British merchant ships and defeated five of their warships, most notably HMS Guerriere. The public admiration for “Old Ironsides” has repeatedly saved her from being scrapped.
During the Civil War, she served as a training ship for midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy.  
    The ship was retired from active service in 1881 and served as a receiving ship for naval recruits until designated a museum ship in 1907. She sailed under her own power for her 200th birthday in 1997. And sailed again in August 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her historic victory over HMS Guerriere. 
    As a fully commissioned and U.S. Navy ship, her crew of 60 officers and sailors participate in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events. All the crew is on active duty. Their assignment is considered to be a special duty honor. One crewman said he had an incredible feeling to be on Constitution, a ship that is 219 years old. Sam Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, noted that “Constitution was among the best designed ships in the world, she could outrun anything she couldn't outgun and outgun anything she couldn't outrun."  
    Berthed in the former Charleston Navy Yard, she is open to visitors year round. Undefeated in battle, Old Ironsides remains today in service to her country, sharing the history and heritage of the United States Navy.

Mickey Gussow                                                                      Posted: 3September 2017

Historic Event: Part II. “Old Ironsides.” Onboard Ceremony

    As the sun rose over the Boston harbor, one could see clearly a majestic heavy frigate ship with three conspicuous tall masts tied up alongside pier 1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard. It was “Old Ironsides,” nickname for USS CONSTITUTION. Flying from her tallest mast was the United States flag, flapping in the light breeze from the northeast. Having recently completed a two-year restoration, she looked as formidable as when she defeated the British frigate HMS GUERRIERE in the War of 1812. Launched in 1797, “Old Ironsides” is America’s oldest commissioned ship.  
    It is August 25, 2017. The ship has been readied to host the ceremony for the annual George Sirian Meritorious Service Award to an active duty Chief Petty Officer for distinguished service in the surface forces of the U.S. Navy. The award is made possible under the auspices of the Surface Navy Association (SNA). 2017 marks the 15th consecutive year that the award has been presented on board “Old Ironsides.” It is very appropriate that the ceremony be conducted there because George Sirian is the only man to have served on “Old Ironsides” for three separate tours of duty during her prime years as a ship of the line ready to fight. George Sirian was an extraordinary sailor, joining the naval service at age 8 on “Old Ironsides” in 1827 with the rank of “boy,” and retiring in 1880 after 53 years of continuous and distinguished service as master gunner with the rank of warrant officer.
    The award was established through the initiative of my friend, Captain Tom Forbes (U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1965), whose great-great-grandfather was George Sirian.
    The award ceremony began at 11 am. CAPT Bill Mauser, President of the SNA USS Constitution Chapter, announced that Chief Gunners Mate (GMC) Roger A. Schnepf earned the 15th George Sirian Meritorious Service Award while serving aboard USS Chung Hoon (DDG-93), a guided missile destroyer home-ported in Pearl Harbor. Mauser cited that GMC Schnepf “perfectly personifies quality leadership and professional excellence in today’s Navy.” He presented him with a replica 19th century naval cutlass inscribed with his name as the 2017 George Sirian Awardee. CAPT Bill Erickson, SNA Executive Director, remarked: “As expected from the Surface Community, there were a lot of hard chargers nominated. Congratulations on being selected from a very competitive group.” To the Chief Petty Officer selectees in ranks, “Remember what you learned from the Chiefs who inspired your career success.”
    A special plaque was then unveiled inscribed with the names of each annual George Sirian awardee on permanent display on board “Old Ironsides.” CAPT Mauser quoted from the inscription: “These Chief Petty Officers exemplify the historic spirit of a man who in his half-century career and multiple tours on board “Old Ironsides,” set the standards for leadership, technical expertise and devotion to duty in today’s Surface Navy.”
    GMC Schnepf attributed his career success to the support of his family and the hard working sailors he has had the privilege to lead. He emphasized a three-step recipe for success:
    •“¾ cup hard work
    •¼ cup opportunity
    •a dash of failure while you learn.”
His commanding officer in his nomination letter stated: “Chief Schnepf is the most impactful enlisted surface warrior on the waterfront, and the surface warrior we all want to emulate….the perfect model for any sailor.”
    After the ceremony concluded at about 12:30, the Chapter hosted a luncheon ashore for Chief Schnepf, his family, and dignitaries from fleet commands. Following his visit to Boston, he departed to return to his ship in Pearl Harbor.

Mickey Gussow                                                        Posted{ 6 December 2017

Historic Event: Part III. Old Ironsides. George Sirian

    This article is about the epic journey of George Sirian from orphan to rank of Warrant Gunner in the United States Navy.
    It is July 1824. The Ottoman Turks are murdering the citizens on the Aegean Greek Island of Psara because they are rebelling to gain independence. At age six, George Sirian witnessed the massacre of his countryman. His mother rescued him by placing him in a small boat and shoving it out to sea. From the boat, Sirian saw his mother being murdered by the Ottoman troops. He was rescued reportedly by the crew from "Old Ironsides" (nickname for USS CONSTITUTION), which was patrolling the area close to the port of Psara.
    For the next three years he served as either a cabin boy or powder monkey whose role was to ferry gunpowder from the powder magazine in the ship’s hold to the gun. By assigning him this role, the crew could keep Sirian aboard with unofficial duties until he reached the legal age to enlist in the U.S. Navy. The ship’s captain had orders not to interfere with the Greek’s war for independence from the Ottoman Turks and not to shelter refugees. The only way that Sirian could remain onboard was to join the U.S. Navy. So, on May 14, 1827, while “Old Ironsides” was patrolling waters off Greece, he was entered at age nine on the ship’s roll with the rank of Boy. 
    Within a year, Sirian was promoted to Ordinary Seaman. On July 4, 1828, the ship completed its Mediterranean deployment and arrived in Boston harbor. Later that month, he left Old Ironsides for his next assignment.
    Lieutenant Robert Randolph, an officer aboard “Old Ironsides,” took the young boy under his wing for training. The Randolph family sponsored his education during the early 1830’s. He was taken by Randolph to Gunner George Marshall, a native Greek from the island of Rhodes, for further naval gunnery training. Marshall later became his father-in-law when Sirian married Eleanor Marshall in 1840. Of the couple’s seven children, three survived to adulthood into the 20th century. One living Sirian relative is his great-great-grandson, retired Navy Captain Tom Forbes, Naval Academy class of 1965.
    On April 20, 1837, Sirian was appointed Acting Gunner while serving on the sloop USS Fairfield, operating in the Brazil Squadron. President John Tyler signed his official appointment as Warrant Gunner on January 14, 1843, to date from 1837. It was a remarkable achievement to be promoted to Warrant Gunner retroactive to 1837, the year Sirian was only 19 years old.
     George Sirian is the only man ever to serve on “Old Ironsides” on three separate tours of duty, including his second tour on the ship’s epic voyage around-the-world cruise of 1844-46.
    His third tour of duty aboard “Old Ironsides” began while it was moored in Annapolis, serving as the gunnery training ship for the Naval Academy midshipmen. Sirian distinguished himself as their gunnery instructor. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Navy, fearing a threat by the Confederacy, relocated both the Academy and the ship to Newport, RI.  
    Sirian retired in 1880 as Warrant Gunner. He served in the Navy for 53 consecutive years, reportedly the longest term of enlistment in U.S. history. 
    During 37 successive tours in the Navy, he served on 20 different ships and in every squadron of the Navy. He had duty in seven shore stations, most notably, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA. During his career, Sirian received three commendations for exemplary performance.
    He died in Portsmouth on December 21, 1891, at age 73. Sirian had witnessed first-hand the growth of the U.S. Navy from small squadrons in the age of sail to the beginning of its birth as a large, modern ocean-going battle fleet. His achievements are recognized by (1) his posthumous induction into the Surface Navy Hall of Fame in 2007, and (2) his being named for the George Sirian Meritorious Award, presented annually in ceremonies aboard Old Ironsides to an outstanding Chief Petty Officer serving in the Surface Navy. 
    George Sirian’s legacy of technical excellence, dedication, and leadership remains an inspirational model to all who serve in the United States Navy.

Mickey Gussow                                                                 Posted: 6 December 2017 

Historic Event: Part IV. “Old Ironsides.” Cessation and Recreation of U.S. Navy

    It is August 1785. At the Merchant’s Coffee House in Philadelphia, USS Alliance, a 32-gun frigate which had served well in the American Revolution, was auctioned off for $26,000. The costly Revolution against the British was over. The sale of Alliance marked a notable historic event - - the Continental Navy ceased to exist.
    There were a few who sought to maintain a sea service to protect our merchantmen from the Barbary pirates of North Africa. Within a week of Alliance’s sale, two U.S. ships were seized in the Mediterranean: Maria, out of Boston, and Dauphin of Philadelphia. These acts of piracy, surprisingly, prompted no national commotion in the United States.
    During October-December 1785, 11 merchantmen were seized by pirates and more than 100 crewmen were held for ransom. Now Americans understood why a navy was needed.
    There were several unsuccessful legislative efforts by the Third Congress to recreate a navy. Finally, when it reconvened on December 2, 1793, President George Washington sent Congress a message about piracy together with a report on foreign trade by the State Department. On January 2, 1794, the House adopted by a small margin of votes the following three resolutions: “(1) appropriate additional monies for diplomatic expenses; (2) provide a naval force sufficient to protect American commerce from the Algerine corsairs; and (3) establish a committee to determine the size and cost of this force.”
    The Select Committee was composed of six Federalists and three Republicans. Most were pro-shipping advocates. Its report was delivered on January 20th. The committee recommended that four 44-gun (18- and 9-pounders) and two 20-gun ships be constructed for the sum of $600,000.
    Opponents to this report debated that the proposed force was too expensive and constituted a threat to democratic government. Additionally, they stated that development of a naval force could upset the British and cause more expense in cost negotiations with the pirates to prevent seizure of U.S. ships. 
    In contrast, the proponents argued that this naval force would cost less than the inflated insurance rates being paid by the merchant marine and that a defenseless government was in grave danger by being overrun. Furthermore, they argued that the proposed force was just adequate to protect merchantmen from piracy and thus less of a financial burden than a full-blown navy and less of a threat to civil liberties.
    Heated debate was ongoing for about a month when President Washington sent over more supporting documents. Proponents received more help when the British prohibited all neutral trade in the French West Indies.
    The House passed the complete bill 50 to 39. Senate action in passing never was in doubt. President Washington signed the “Act to provide a naval armament” on March 27, 1794. Nearly nine years had transpired between the time the navy ceased to exist and then recreated by an Act of Congress. It was that Act which authorized the construction of USS Constitution whose nickname became “Old Ironsides.” 

Mickey Gussow                                                                        Posted: 6 December 2017