Ed Smylie, former Chief of NASA’s Crew Systems Division
Apollo 13's Unsung Heroes Receive First GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering Award
On Tuesday, April 19th, the GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering Award was presented to NASA's Crew Systems Division (1970) at the Space Center Houston.

This April marks the 35th anniversary of their heroic efforts to bring the imperiled Apollo 13 safely home. The Crew Systems Division showed engineering ingenuity and quick thinking under extreme pressure to conceive and implement an in-flight modification to the environmental control system in order to utilize the Command Module carbon dioxide absorbers in the Lunar Module.

GlobalSpec President, John Schneiter, PhD, presented the award to former Chief of Crew Systems Division, Ed Smylie. "This award and the event it recognizes epitomizes the Crew Systems Division's history of rising to challenges that required immediate time critical response as well as those that require sustained effort over months or years," Smylie said.

Fred Haise, Apollo 13 astronaut was on hand to celebrate the Crew Systems Division's outstanding achievement. "The issue involving carbon dioxide on that flight was a show stopper for us," said Haise. "But Crew Systems Division found a way to fix it. That's why I'm able to be here today and thank them."

TK Mattingly, Apollo 16 astronaut, also shared his personal thoughts with the more than 125 people in attendance, "Crew Systems division is being honored today not only for their great achievement during Apollo 13. But in my mind, also because American astronauts never had a suit failure during all of our missions," Mattingly said.

Schneiter said, "The GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering award will, each year, honor those responsible for a specific moment of ingenuity or inventiveness which in some significant way improved all of our lives." He continued, "GlobalSpec understands how important time, efficiency and ingenuity are to an engineer. We believe the world would do well to gain a sense of just how much the profession brings to our daily lives. In particular, we think it's important to point out those great moments in engineering - the story behind the story - where an individual or group accomplished something extraordinary, where in fact the world became a different place as a result. This award helps us do just that."


About the Honorees
In the predawn hours of April 14, 1970, an emergency which was unfolding in space was producing an equally extraordinary series of engineering decisions on the ground. Thousands of NASA employees and others in Houston and around the globe rose to meet the crisis aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft, enabling the safe return of three astronauts a harrowing 90 hours later.

Engineering teams of NASA's Crew Systems Division had far less time. Carbon dioxide absorber capacity in the Aquarius lunar lander, being used as a lifeboat, was insufficient to last through the closing days of the aborted mission. In a great moment in engineering, Crew Systems Division personnel labored three hours to conceive a reconfiguration to lithium hydroxide canisters which would lead to a successful resolution to the limited absorber capacity aboard Aquarius.

Over the next 31 hours, CSD would fabricate a modified canister, test and improve it and develop in-flight construction procedures to be followed by the crew. The switch to the new configuration enabled unused carbon dioxide absorbers from Odyssey, the crippled command module, to be used aboard Aquarius. Carbon dioxide concentration, which had climbed to a threatening 7.5 mm Hg before the switch to the new configuration, dropped to 0.3 mm Hg just 30 minutes after the cutover.

Apollo 13 splashed down in the Pacific two days after the life-saving modification and more than 142 hours in space on April 17, 1970.


About the Award
The GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering award is presented annually to a person or group whose singular moment of engineering ingenuity produced a significant turning point for the application of technology and resulting benefits to people, science or industry.

Read about this year's winner:

  • 2008 award winner - General Motors Engineering Team (1973-1975)

  • Read about previous winners:
  • 2007 award winner - DynaTAC Engineering Team from Motorola
  • 2006 award winner - Jason Jr. Engineering Team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • 2005 award winner - NASA's Crew Systems Division (1970)