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Did an Unnamed MIT Student Save Apollo 13?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the cut-your-hair-and-get-a-job dept.

NASA 258

lukehopewell1 writes "When the Apollo 13 reported an explosion on board, NASA started a marathon effort to get the three astronauts home. Several options were considered, but history tells how flight director Gene Kranz ordered a slingshot around the moon. The story stayed that way for over 40 years, until this weekend when an ex-NASA press secretary came forward and said that an unnamed MIT grad student came up with the idea to slingshot the spacecraft around the moon. NASA reportedly buried his involvement at the last minute when it was discovered that he was a long-haired, bearded hippie-type.' Now the internet has gone on the hunt to find out who this unnamed hero really is."

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GNU/Apollo (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894399)

Thanks RMS!

Re:GNU/Apollo (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894457)

heh that was the first thing I thought of too. But I just looked it up, Stallman had just entered Harvard as an undergrad (BA Physics '74). Apollo 13 was in 1970.

Re:GNU/Apollo (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894713)

He saved Apollo 13 as an undergraduate-wannabe? Wow, he sure is God!

Loop Around the Moon (5, Interesting)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894871)

I was 14 years old when Apollo 13 flew. I live in Huntsville Alabama and everybody here was keeping a Close Eye on the Apollo missions. But I remember the loop-around-the-moon plan was in place from the very beginning as a way to Bail Out of the mission and return to Earth without a Lunar Landing. After all, what other option is there. The unique part of the plan was to use the Lunar Module as a Lifeboat to get them back alive.

Re:Loop Around the Moon (0)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895313)

Yes, I was 15, and I remembered it too, as I posted below. I also remember that trajectories were planned to make this easy (from a delta-V sense).

By the way, the country is a lot better off. There are signs of sanity returning.

Hippies... (4, Funny)

Fuzzums (250400) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894405)

Always there to save the world.

Re:Hippies... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894587)

They can get there metaphysically without rockets.

The Onion, 10/4/68 "Hippies, NASA Race for Moon." (5, Funny)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894883)

The space race between NASA and the hippies is more heated than ever, with both of the astronautic super-powers vying to be the first to land a man on the moon. "NASA will win the race to the moon, and the world will see a United States astronaut, not a longhair, walk on the moon before the turn of the decade," Apollo 10 Mission Director Gus Lance said Thursday.

Despite NASA's confidence, hippie-space-program sources report that the moon will be within their reach in mere months. "Freakonauts have already outdistanced NASA in their high rate of success with manned missions throughout the Tibetan Book of the Dead and cosmic voyages Beyond Total Awareness," said Freedog Osmosis, head of the prestigious Haight-Ashbury Center for Astraldynamic Research.

"And current missions are flying higher than ever. Take me, for example. I'm sitting right in front of you. Yet, even as we speak, I'm orbiting at tremendous altitudes." "We are 12 to 16 weeks away from having all the vibes in place to launch, orbit and land a hippie on the moon," Osmosis said, "as well as to return him safely to a big oversized floor pillow after wear-off and subsequent crashpad re-entry burn."

Re:The Onion, 10/4/68 "Hippies, NASA Race for Moon (2)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895165)

you forgot the crystals

you can't make any transcendent voyages without crystals

and incense

and lsd

and mountain girl...

where are you mountain girl, i need your loving, help me touch the face of the stars baby

Time-traveler. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894407)

Probably Noah Wylie or Wil Wheaton.

The only question is...why did he want Nixon to win?

If True: Shameful (4, Insightful)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894415)

I hope NASA does the right thing and releases the fellow's name. Unless it is a young RMS, who at that time SHOULD have been in undergrad, not goofing around with NASA.

Re:If True: Shameful (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894515)

RMS wasn't even an undergrad yet. Learn your history before you make stuff up just to mention your little idol.

Re:If True: Shameful (0)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894673)

RMS wasn't even an undergrad yet. Learn your history before you make stuff up just to mention your little idol.

Have you heard him sing?

Re:If True: Shameful (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894537)

No, you've got it all wrong! NASA buried the hippie's involvement to protect him...

Do you know how awkward it would have been to return to his commune if the others learned that he'd been bailing out the military-industrial complex, man?

Betteridge's Law of Headlines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894573)

I hereby invoke Betteridge's Law of Headlines and answer the question with a resounding "No."

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894843)

Betteridge's Law isn't always true. Here is a counter-example (sorry for the German language...):
Question is answered with the affirmative in the subtitle [luxprivat.lu] .
Article of the print edition (couple of days later) lacks the question form [luxprivat.lu]

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895047)

But, in German culture, it usually is customary to ask questions that are presumed to have affirmative replies, yes?

Re:If True: Shameful (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894597)

I hope NASA does the right thing and releases the fellow's name. Unless it is a young RMS, who at that time SHOULD have been in undergrad, not goofing around with NASA.

Albeit shameful, I struggle to find a point here. If said "hippie" didn't care about obtaining credit for something this significant 40+ years ago, care to tell me why the internet masses care so much about this today?

I guess this is what happens when unemployment rises and people are left to sit at home to champion utterly pointless shit that not even the person they're desperately trying to identify cares about anymore.

Re:If True: Shameful (2)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894733)

I don't think this is utterly pointless.

The point is one of the counterculture persons they hated so much didn't get the credit for coming up with the brilliant solution. The name should come out and history should be corrected.

It's just a shame Nixon isn't still around to see it....

Re:If True: Shameful (4, Insightful)

Rostin (691447) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895081)

If said "hippie" didn't care about obtaining credit for something this significant 40+ years ago, care to tell me why the internet masses care so much about this today?

There are cultural norms about when it is and isn't appropriate to toot one's own horn. In this situation, if the guy had gone to the press and claimed credit for the idea or insisted to his superiors that NASA set the record straight, he would have looked extremely petty and not like a "team player." His reputation would have been ruined not only in the public sphere, but among many of his colleagues. You might argue that someone somewhere would give the smart young guy who saved Apollo 13 a chance, but I think that's a nerd fantasy. There are lots of smart grad students. A good personality (read: willingness to play by the rules) is usually as important as smarts.

This is also far from an isolated occurrence in the sciences. I understand that the grad students of a few Nobel Prize winners have been pretty embittered by the lack of official recognition of their contributions.

We never thought of that! [Re:If True: Shameful] (5, Interesting)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894785)

I hope NASA does the right thing and releases the fellow's name.

While I always love to hear stories where MIT students are the heroes, I find this story a little odd. The lunar-swingby return trajectory was always the abort option. So I'm not sure what this article is implying-- a MIT student said "say, why doesn't NASA implement their backup plan?" and Gene Kranz said "the backup plan! That's it! We never would have thought of that!" ?

With that said, it's worth noting that Apollo 13 had already modified their path from the initial free-return trajectory to one that required an engine burn to put them on the lunar-swingby return, in order to target the desired landing site. The important decision wasn't whether to make a burn to do the return; the real question was which engine to use, since it was not known (at the time) whether the explosion had damaged the main engine on the service module (turns out it had; and they made the right choice.)

It was, of course, actually more complicated than that. IEEE Spectrum has a more detailed timeline and analysis: http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/space-flight/apollo-13-we-have-a-solution-part-2 [ieee.org]

Re:If True: Shameful (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894859)

I worked there at the time. I remember it, like it was yesterday
It was a young mathematician, his name was Ted Kaczynski.

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894417)

Spock.

Re:Duh (4, Funny)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894473)

Spock time travels only rarely. It was obviously the doctor.

Re:Duh (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894487)

The Doctor only saves British space missions.

That's why no Englishman has ever died in Space.

Re:Duh (2)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894697)

The Doctor only saves British space missions.

That's why no Englishman has ever died in Space.

No true Scotsman as well.

Re:Duh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894793)

That means that it was either Bill, Ted or a young Dr. Emmett Brown.

Re:Duh (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895315)

As I said, it's somebody whose agenda was for Richard Nixon to be elected President.

The only question is...why?

The Book said it (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894419)

The way I remember the options at the time, the slingshot was always in The Book of plans. The path to the Moon for all Apollo flights was made in a way which tossed the craft back toward Earth unless the lunar injection burn was performed behind the Moon. I wrote about the main failure modes and options way back then.

Re:The Book said it (1)

bradgoodman (964302) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894483)

Yes - I don't think this was a "revolutionalty" idea. If they (pretty much) just left the craft as-is, it would do this. In fact, to NOT do this would be difficult. It would require a huge amount of fuel (possibly more than they had) to make such a drastic change in their trajectory which would allow for an immeidate return. I don't think that would have been even possible.

Re:The Book said it (5, Informative)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894525)

Exactly, the whole TLI and Lunar transit process was designed to maximize the chances that the spacecraft would return to Earth by default. Nobody had to 'invent' anything. Truthfully the family of orbits that arise naturally out of the low energy Earth/Moon transfer largely have this property. Assuming your TLI burn works at all you're pretty much guaranteed to come back on flip side. Maybe someone from MIT flagged that option Kranz, but it sure wasn't some thing someone pulled out of their ass at the last minute. The question was only which option made sense, direct abort or a swing around the far side.

Re:The Book said it (5, Interesting)

bwintx (813768) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894529)

Yes and no. The slingshot or "free-return" method was taken out of the default mission starting with Apollo 12 because it was believed that they could achieve a more accurate orbital path, and thereby lunar landing, that way. Remember that the Apollo 11 landing occurred roughly four miles off target, but it was the only one of the six eventual landings that didn't land where they'd planned. Getting back on free-return was always considered an option in case of an emergency, as occurred with Apollo 13. Working purely off memory, but I do know that getting on free-return was mentioned early on in the post-explosion hours. Oblig: Get off my lawn.

Re:The Book said it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894817)

Yeah, as I understand (from reading; I'm not of lawn-having age), Apollo 12 and forward still went to a free-return trajectory initially (to allow maximum safety in case things went wrong during the LM docking and such), then altered the trajectory once all was clear, and since the LOX tank incident was well after that, it would have fallen through to the new standard abort plan -- a direct abort (but there wasn't enough fuel to do this with the added mass of the LM-cum-lifeboat).

Re:The Book said it (4, Interesting)

bwintx (813768) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894983)

You are correct, and I should've been more specific. In Apollos 12 through 17, TLI put the S-4B/Apollo stack on a free-return trajectory; and, then, an early mid-course correction burn (perhaps MCC #1; don't recall) would put the Apollo CSM and successfully docked/extracted LM on the non-free-return trajectory.

Re:The Book said it (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895071)

What the hell is a "cum lifeboat"?

Pervert.

Re:The Book said it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894563)

Actually, the lunar free return trajectory [wikipedia.org] was used only up to Apollo 11. Apollo 13 was launched toward the Moon on a trajectory which would have fallen short of the Moon and returned to Earth (a different kind of free return). Once on the way, the trajectory was adjusted to reach the Moon... and after the accident it was adjusted again into a lunar free return trajectory, rather than the trajectory toward the orbit over their landing zone.

So Apollo 13's path was designed with a free return path, and all they had to do was keep in mind the free return option and readjust the path around the Moon to aim it toward Earth. The only hard part was calculating the different orbits and accelerations with the more primitive computing tools of the era.

Re:The Book said it (4, Interesting)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894641)

That was my first thought too, but maybe there is something behind this. The slingshot might have been in the book, but that was before the oxygen tank blew and the possibility that the astronauts might suffocate on their own CO2 before they made it back to Earth became an issue. It's fairly well documented that there was a lot of debate and slide-ruling over whether to proceed with the slingshot or that an abort and a quick return might be the only way to get the astronauts back before they ran out of air. My guess is that the MIT student, if they existed at all, came up with some math that proved that the abort/return approach simply wasn't going to work for some reason (unable to achieve a viable angle for a sucessful reentry, perhaps) and that at least with the slingshot there was a chance.

Laslo? Was that you? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894431)

Wondered where he'd gone off to...

what a load of bullshit (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894439)

0) Oh look, an opportunity to get hits while everyone's talking about the Mars landing;

1) Every academic was a "long-haired, beared hippie-type" in the '60s, the following decade being essentially the '60s until the rise of neoliberalism and the resultant Oil Crisis. And all the decent academics (there are a lot more academics today, but most of them are shit) still are;

2) The slingshot effect was well-known back then;

3) Why turn this into a conspiracy? It's more likely that some MIT guy commented on the idea, but NASA did the hard work of getting the slingshot to work. Ideas are easy - workable implementations of ideas are hard;

4) Thank goodness NASA is still around to do the scientific research. I was getting bored with stories about SpaceX doing a Boeing but giving the first hit for free.

Re:what a load of bullshit (5, Insightful)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894933)

...the rise of neoliberalism and the resultant Oil Crisis.

WTF are you blabbering about?

Re:what a load of bullshit (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895017)

Shhh, he is pretending to be old enough to remember.

Re:what a load of bullshit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895027)

WTF are you blabbering about?

You sound like an oaf confronted with words.

Is public school C20 history these days no more than, "WW2; communists; terrorists; patriotism!" ?

Re:what a load of bullshit (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895057)

Every academic was a "long-haired, beared hippie-type" in the '60s, [...] And all the decent academics (there are a lot more academics today, but most of them are shit) still are;

Oh please, shut the fuck up. Not every nerd conforms to your filthy standards.

Re:what a load of bullshit (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895121)

That's right. Many nerds are filthier, fatter, uglier, and smellier. For some reason these congregate around a site named Slashdot.

Re:what a load of bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895171)

You may simply be one of those people who would never have been regarded as a "nerd" in the past.

On second thought, since neither an academic nor a nerd would have such difficulty distinguishing the words "academic" and "nerd", you're neither.

Well, you might be one of those shit academics I was talking about. Awful lot of them.

Re:what a load of bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895241)

I figured you'd try to evade answering me rather than admit your idiotic use of a stereotype.

Re:what a load of bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895361)

(bet the next answer will be over whether "nerd" is a stereotype rather than you retracting your earlier statement)

OMG (5, Funny)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894445)

It was Bill Gates.

Think about it: They needed to cover it up, so he was made (against his will) to shave his beard and start wearing suits.

Gates vowed revenge for this, and what better way than to take over the world with computers and make the Curiosity rover run off a modified version of Windows Vista.

Re:OMG (1)

feranick (858651) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894547)

Gates was a undergrad (drop-out) at Harvard, not MIT.

Re:OMG (1, Offtopic)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894749)

Gates was a undergrad (drop-out) at Harvard, not MIT.

He could have been a double agent for MIT.

Re:OMG (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894681)

And Curiosity is running on a modified Mac - PowerPC G3/750

Re:OMG (1)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894687)

Gates vowed revenge for this, and what better way than to take over the world with computers and make the Curiosity rover run off a modified version of Windows Vista.

Thankfully no... VxWorks may not be great at a lot of things, but it's got a proven track record [wikipedia.org] with the rovers...

Re:OMG (1)

Fraggy_the_undead (758495) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894787)

Gates vowed revenge for this, and what better way than to take over the world with computers and make the Curiosity rover run off a modified version of Windows Vista.

Fortunately he failed, it runs on vxWorks [generation-nt.com]

Chronological issues (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894455)

said that an unnamed MIT grad student came up with the idea to slingshot the spacecraft around the moon

Now just wait here. The abort plan drawn up in '66 might or might not have been invented by a long haired hippy. Its hard to describe something that obvious as being "invented". The insinuation is the hippy invented it on the fly in '70 during the mission after the O2 tank blew, which is not entirely realistic. By the time the tank blew, the long haired hippy probably got a haircut and a job and a chevvy and maybe even a wife and kid (or two).

Or they may be massively misinterpreting the concept of "inventing". So the tank blows and they're all freaking the F out as you'd imagine, just barely on the sober edge of panic. Visiting hippy who's too stoned to panic says "wow man, just be cool, its early enough in the mission that a AOA is still cool and cosmic, man" plus or minus some weed consumption. Now thats making a valuable observation under severe pressure, not "inventing".

Re:Chronological issues (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894489)

Its hard to describe something that obvious as being "invented".

USPTO wants a word with you, terrorist!

Re:Chronological issues (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894591)

Back then my hair touched my collar and I was a hippie. Ostracized by society I came up with a theory of a sling shot to get myself to the moon since society hated me so much, so yes it was my idea but they used it for purposes I did not intend. I feel ripped off. I'm sire somehow they made a profit off my idea as well. hurp de durp

Re:Chronological issues (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894777)

fuck you and go back to living off the public tit, you fucking libural.

Re:Chronological issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895111)

Well it makes sense. All of the respectable pilot types get a Chewy (that's what the knowledgeable ones call a wookie) as co-pilot at some time or the other, unless they get a freaky Nien Numb as a temporary sidekick.

conspiracy! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894459)

Didn't you hear? These were all staged, no one ever went to the moon. Nonstory.

Sounds like revisionist bullshit to me. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894495)

I call bullshit on the "hippy thought it up" story.

A slingshot around the moon for earth return trajectory was a well known and well-studied tactic long before the first unmanned probe was ever even sent to the moon. Slingshots are an elementary part of Orbital Mechanics, the formulas are published in college textbooks of the 1950's and the topic is well-discussed even in sci-fi books of the 30's and 40's.

Re:Sounds like revisionist bullshit to me. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894535)

Re:Sounds like revisionist bullshit to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894683)

Dammit, I just came back to Slashdot to add this exact link back to my original post, and another A/C beat me to it.

lolz

BTW, all that the Apollo 13 slingshot actually was... was a modification of what they did with Apollo 8 thru Apollo 11. Excpe instead of decelerating to allow the spacecraft to "fall" into lunar orbit, they did an acceleration burn of the engine to do half an orbit and be going just fast enough to automatically exit Lunar orbit pointed back on a path that would intersect where the Earth's orbit would meet up with the craft at arrival time.

Re:Sounds like revisionist bullshit to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894555)

Your credibility is beyond reproach, anonymous coward

Re:Sounds like revisionist bullshit to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894809)

People love this kind of story, because the "underdog" wins - some rebel who shows those know-it-all NASA scientists and engineers they ain't so smart as they think they are.

(captcha: plebeian)

Re:Sounds like revisionist bullshit to me. (1)

StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895303)

It would not be the first time some establishment guys were steered in the right direction by some clear thinking individual, or an individual that was enough removed from the politics and dirty details to see that the current thinking was leading nowhere. Some minds get locked into grooves and need to be sling-shoted out of them
to get on a better track. This of course is not a new idea. Many mathematical minima heuristics will add a data jump to make sure the algorithm is not stuck in a local minima. These heuristics tend to operate better in some environments. Lets give credit where credit is due, eh. Regardless of length of hair or rigidity of ideologies.

More than 2 choices? (2)

dietdew7 (1171613) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894499)

Continue the path and slingshot back or fire the rockets and turn around, were there any other choices? I'm not sure for what they want to credit the smelly hippie. There is nothing marvelous about the solution, it was the decision that was risky.

Re:More than 2 choices? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895153)

I'm not sure for what they want to credit the smelly hippie.

Says the Slashdotter.

Re:More than 2 choices? (1)

Rational (1990) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895301)

There's also failure, but in this instance failure wasn't an option.

and steve jobs invented everything and da vinci (1)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894531)

every famous person in history has had lots of people working for him/her. Lots of da vinci's and Michelangelo's work was done by their students

Re:and steve jobs invented everything and da vinci (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894651)

every famous person in history has had lots of people working for him/her. Lots of da vinci's and Michelangelo's work was done by their students

Ahh, that's my problem. I do my own work!

Re:and steve jobs invented everything and da vinci (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894775)

You'll never be rich and famous.

Re:and steve jobs invented everything and da vinci (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894797)

do doubt. That's how the CEOs do it.

Urban Legend? (1)

Olmy's Jart (156233) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894577)

One of the comments in the post this links to claims that it's an urban legend and I think that maybe correct. I remember those times and was an avid follower. Even the earliest Apollo missions had a "go round" bailout if they aborted a landing. Not sure you would call that a "sling shot" but they did know full well the trajectories.

Re:Urban Legend? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894743)

It's is definitely an urban legend.

Slingshot procedures were well known and used by then and NASA had no need for a "long-haired bearded hippie" to explain it over the telephone (how did NASA know what he looks like?).

Free Return trajectory (5, Informative)

thomas.kane (2515292) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894589)

Every Apollo mission up to 13 that went to the moon was already on a trajectory to return it to Earth via slingshot if there was an issue (i.e. SPS engine failed to fire for LOI). Shortly after TLI for Apollo 13, a burn was made to take Apollo 13 off this trajectory in order to reach Frau Mora (their landing site) at a specific time of the lunar cycle to provide good visibility for landing. The Apollo 13 loop around decision was very probably already on the books prior to the flight for just such an eventuality, and while any number of engineers (or hippies) could have initially developed such a burn, it is the flight director's (in this case Gene Kranz and others) who would ultimately review the procedure and make the final decision to perform the burn to return them to their free-return trajectory. To say that an MIT student "saved" Apollo 13 doesn't meet with the facts of the mission.

Unlikely. Sounds like an urban legend. (1)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894603)

That sounds unlikely.

a) NASA and the Lunar program had some pretty smart people thinking about every option and outcome (Duh.). Given the way they maneuvered to and around the moon and other celestial bodies before, the 'slingshot' seems quite obvious actually. You might need an engineer with strong math skills to work out the orbit corrections to save fuel for later and come up with some ideas for the details, but the idea itself is quite straight forward. In fact I'm sure they didn't even consider any *other* option. I clearly remember a documentary where they mentioned that one of the problems early on was the power usage for calculating the math needed for the trip around the moon and back with the onboard computers. The engineers responsible had to promise they'd only need the power once to calculate the trajectory and wouldn't need it again thereafter. There had been a shortout and they were low on electricity after all.

b) I doubt that anybody at NASA was in the mood or mindset for answering random phonecalls back then. Or today that is. NASA has hundreds of engineers and specialists on site for every manned mission in case something goes wrong. They don't ask the public to call a hotline when a historic project is about to fail. Sounds like non-sense to me.

My 2 cents.

He was the guy (1)

kiriath (2670145) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894655)

Who, at the movie theater, was yelling "THAT IS NOT HOW IT HAPPENED" and then mumbling things like "all the glory to yourself" "selfish bastard" "starfish shirt"

I know his name. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894675)

Some one faced a problem and thought of using a sling as the solution. His name must be David.

Re:I know his name. (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894799)

This is real, not SciFi.

Sliders (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894721)

Clearly, it was Conrad Bennish, Jr.

Specious Reddit AMA Info (2)

tapspace (2368622) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894773)

What is this? Slashdot blogging Gizmodo blogging a weakly verified Reddit AMA? Get real. It's like information laundering. If enough hands touch the information everyone will have to believe it and they'll have forgotten the source anyway!

Re:Specious Reddit AMA Info (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894911)

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/xpy4w/ama_request_the_mit_grad_student_who_saved_the/c5op0dj

Re:Specious Reddit AMA Info (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894917)

Completely unverified you mean. It really is depressing that people are buying into this. I guess it appeals to some people but the notion that some MIT grad thought up the sling shot maneuver is just stupid. Slashdot you disappoint me today!

long haired freaky people (2)

zeroryoko1974 (2634611) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894813)

They need not apply

I have one question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894873)

if that "phone call" actually took placehow the hell was it able to go through? can random strangers call and just put through to the office where the NASA engineers try to come up with a plan to save the astronauts?

Retarded (0)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894879)

Ug this is stupid this came from an unverified AMA on Reddit. The entire thing is very suspect. I'm extremely annoyed that this has made it onto slashdot. You guys are helping to start a new urban legend/conspiracy. Just stop now please.

hippie, huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894881)

Seems NASA has dropped the straight lace attitude since then, as a fellow with long hair and beard can clearly be seen in a recent video...

Old men don't remember right (4, Informative)

paulfjeld (641367) | more than 2 years ago | (#40894925)

The linked story is a great example of why you should never listen to what old men remember about great events and their (often "heroic") part in them. At no time did NASA need some graduate student from MIT to help them with a Guidance 101 type problem on Apollo 13. The difficulty was in getting the Lunar Module prepped quickly enough to make a small burn that would get them on a free return trajectory, the same type used on the previous four Apollo missions to the moon. Apollo 13 was the first to use a less safe trajectory so they could visit a more interesting place, Fra Mauro. There were always many ways out of a pickle and abort guidelines had been carefully developed for different phases of the mission. At the point of Apollo 13's explosion, a direct abort going straight back was never possible, not least because their big engine was in the now dead Service Module. Free return was the only option. There *was* a very famous "hippy" type guy at the MIT Instrumentation Lab, Don Eyles, who was responsible for much of the Lunar Module's landing program. On Apollo 14 he was instrumental in solving a problem that would have prevented that landing and he did get official recognition for it and there are pictures of him with his long hair and mustache. So that's another part of the Gizmodo crap article that is wrong. As far as the photos of the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon go, there were about three pictures taken by Aldrin with Armstrong only incidentally in the frame. The shot with the flag is definitely of Aldrin, as you can see Armstrong taking the picture in the 16mm film taken from the Lunar Module window. Aldrin, unconsciously or deliberately, never took a proper picture of his fellow crew member and commander. It was only after Apollo 12 that a photo specialist at the Houston space center suggested red armbands for the commander to distinguish him in the photos and Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 commander, never got to show them off, alas.

Re:Old men don't remember right (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895015)

Really? This story is fun to pick on especially because its on slash dot and it really should not be. It goes to show you this site is really dying. That said why fall for this being real and pick on old men? Why be a jerk and take the bait?

Long haired hippy type? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40894991)

Like the guy that was center-frame during most of the mission control room shots last night? I'm a long haired hippy type, and I think people with short hair are small-dicked fattegs.

I was a long-haired, bearded MIT student then (4, Insightful)

yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895043)

There was certainly a lot of discussion of this among us at the time. I recall we wondered whether NASA would go for free return or be more radical and use more delta-V in cislunar space to get the astronauts home sooner.

But call up NASA? Be serious. Which of the 100,000 phone numbers would you call? The critical people were busy: they weren't going to talk to some random student. This was all elementary orbital mechanics, somewhat difficult to calculate and execute accurately, but not conceptually difficult at all. The flight team certainly knew this stuff. The real question was what the damaged systems could still accomplish, and that required information well beyond what we had access to. So it never occurred to anybody I know to try being a back seat driver.

Re:I was a long-haired, bearded MIT student then (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895291)

I bet the student worked at the MIT Instrumentation Labs (now Draper Labs), which designed the Apollo (and space shuttle) guidance systems. In that case, he knew who to call. Heck, since I started working there (but not for them, for MIT) in 1975, I might even know him.

not that unusual (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895061)

The typical fate of grad-student ideas are to be stolen by whoever hears them (and isn't a grad-student). The reward might be a job if the grad-student is supportive of professors and behaves confidently without arguing with anybody who counts.

Apollo 13? Doubt it. But Apollo 14? You bet... (5, Interesting)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895117)

The free return trajectory maneuver ("slingshot") was well known to NASA engineers, and was actually the default trajectory for all lunar missions before 13. The crew had to specifically fire the engines to enter lunar orbit. If the engines somehow failed to fire, the spacecraft was already on the proper trajectory to swing around the moon and return to earth . 13 was the first mission that was on a different initial trajectory, and required a change in order to get ONTO a free-return, but the "lunar slingshot" concept was obvious to all involved.

The "long-haired hippie at MIT" who saved an Apollo mission was named Don Eyles, and the mission was Apollo 14. Picture of Eyles as he looked in those days here:

http://pophop.tumblr.com/post/7532929166/m-i-t-programmer-don-eyles-posing-in-the-draper [tumblr.com]

When a loose ball of solder inside the abort switch threatened to cancel the lunar landing, Eyles was called on to write a software patch that would bypass the switch and allow the landing to continue. Full story at the "LM Tales" section of his website, which is largely devoted to his post-Apollo artwork, photography, and sculpture.

http://www.doneyles.com/supersymandala.html [doneyles.com]

Re:Apollo 13? Doubt it. But Apollo 14? You bet... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895277)

Man, that's not him. The blurb clearly describes him as bearded. This man has no beard.

thanks for not cREDDITING the summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895143)

no body seems to respect REDDIT around here, but as soon as something juicy and interestign comes out of an AMA or something all the InternetS start HERPing and DERPing about it...

Reddit > Slashdot....

Bullshit (4, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895255)

I am sorry, but this is BS as stated. The "Zond" direct return was certainly not unknown to the Apollo scientists. It's called a Zond trajectory because Zond 5 (launched 15 September 1968, returned 21 September) was the first spacecraft to execute it. (This would have been repeated with cosmonauts aboard if NASA hadn't have swapped the Apollo 8 and Apollo 9, putting men in lunar orbit in December, 1968, and thus upstaging a Soviet manned lunar flyby.) That was 2 years before Apollo 13.

I also remember the Zond trajectory was _planned_ as a failure mode option for Apollo. I am sure there is discussion of that in the Apollo planning. I knew about it, and I was in High School at the time so I would bet serious money that Gene Kranz knew of it. I am not sure what the grad student actually contributed, but it wasn't the idea of the trajectory. (If I had to guess, I would bet he worked at the Instrumentation Lab - now Draper Labs - and calculated the delta-V needed to reenter safely, which is not negligible, but not the same as coming up with the idea.)

Since many of the Apollo trajectory guys are still alive, if retired, I bet that someone will counter this in a day or so.

Another rumor on MIT students and Apollo (4, Interesting)

TwobyTwo (588727) | more than 2 years ago | (#40895287)

For what it's worth, I was a student at MIT in the early 1970s. I recall in the summer of 1972 hearing a story from other students that is surprisingly similar in general outline, but not in detail. Obviously, my memory from so long ago isn't perfect, what I heard at the time was a rumor anyway, and I haven't really tried to research anything that would corroborate it. That said...

The story was not about Apollo 13, but about another Apollo mission that had established orbit around the moon. Some sort of faulty sensor reading or stuck switch was preventing the system from preparing the necessary rocket firings to break the astronauts out of lunar orbit and send them home. According to these rumors, NASA identified the author of the control code as an MIT student working at the Charles Stark Draper laboratory, which is affiliated with MIT. An emergency call went out to find him, so that he could patch the code to ignore the faulty switch or sensor.

The claim is that the call was taken by friends, who were concerned by the fact that the student in question, whether long-haired or not, was either drunk or stoned out of his gourd at the time. Nonetheless, the student was alerted. He supposedly uttered the obvious "oh !$!$!" and stumbled off to Draper Lab, where in his reduced condition he patched the code and saved the astronauts.

Very much a rumor/urban legend, but suspiciously similar to the new story about Apollo 13. These certainly were the sorts of stories that floated around MIT at the time. I expect that at least a small percentage of them are true.

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40895357)

Grisly Adams saved the crew? Wow, thats impressive, wonder where Ben was at the time.

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