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Apollo 13 - A Field Engineering Triumph!

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To save the astronauts of Apollo 13, engineers on earth had to overcome many obstacles. Here is one of them.

NASA and Apollo 13

I recently watched (again) the movie Apollo 13. I also watched the A&E version of the story. These two videos proved to me that this space flight was indeed a FIELD ENGINEERING TRIUMPH! Engineers on earth devised a filtration system and told the astronauts what to use to build a system that would save them from suffocation from the CO-2 from their own breath! Read on.

On April 11, 1970, NASA flight Apollo 13 lifted off from Cape Kennedy for the moon. Coincidently, this was my 28th birtday. Two days later (Friday, April 13th no less) the famous explosion occurred. "Houston, we have a problem," said commander Jim Lovell. The rest is history. The three astronauts on board were forced to "live" in the Luna Module to survive, while they were whipped around the moon like a "sling shot" and sent back to earth without accomplishing their mission.

There is a famous scene in the movie when the flight director, Gene Kranz, on earth walks into a conference room and tells the engineers therein that they had to build a filtration system from the items he tossed onto the table. That's all they could use. They had a square filter where a round one was needed (square peg, round hole dilemma), a hose, some cardboard, and, of course, duct tape. That's all the astronauts had on board the spacecraft so that's all the engineers could use. The astronauts would die of CO-2 suffocation if these "earthly" engineers didn't come up with useful filter.

This was a TRIUMPH of field engineering. Using what you have "on site" to make something work. Something out of the TV series called "McGiver," I'm sure. That's what we do.

We field engineers usually have to "make work" what someone else at GE designed and manufactured. We don't have the luxury of having something new to replace "what's there." This movie demonstrated FIELD ENGIEERING in perhaps its finest hour.

No, Apollo 13 was not a disaster. It was a TRIUMPH to bring those three heroes home alive. A tribute to field engineering!

Recollections of Dave Lucier (FEP-1968)

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Last modified Sunday, Mar-12-2006 08:40 AM
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