Apollo 13’s Unsung Heroes Receive First GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering Award
NASA’s Crew Systems Division of 1970 honored
TROY, NY – (BUSINESS WIRE) – 4/19/05 – The team of NASA engineers whose ingenious, ad hoc air scrubbers sustained lives aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft as it limped home received the first GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering award today, April 19th, marking the 35th anniversary of their unsung heroism.
Award recipients were veteran and retired employees of NASA’s Crew Systems Division of 1970, who, after the explosion aboard Apollo 13, had only hours to conceive, fabricate, test and debug the makeshift system, then devise in-flight assembly procedures for the crew. The Division has never been singled out and honored for its achievement.
The first-ever outer space construction project enabled the Aquarius lunar module to work in “lifeboat” mode throughout the entire 142-hour flight. If the small team of engineers had not been able to design, construct and fully test the modified system in time, the three astronauts would have survived in the tiny Aquarius for only about 36 hours. They would have died of carbon dioxide poisoning soon thereafter and two full days before the return trip could be completed.
GlobalSpec, the leading specialized search engine for the engineering community, was host to a breakfast and award ceremony on Tuesday, April 19, at Space Center Houston, near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. President John Schneiter, PhD, of GlobalSpec presented the award.
On hand to extend their thanks were Fred Haise, Jr., Apollo 13’s lunar module pilot, and T.K. Mattingly, Apollo 16’s command module pilot. Mattingly, who was originally slated to fly on Apollo 13, contributed ideas for test versions of the modified lithium hydroxide canister. The crude-looking device was conceived and a mock-up was fabricated during the predawn hours of April 14, 1970, as the crisis unfolded in space and engineering teams on the ground struggled to ensure that the crew could return alive after the aborted mission.
Robert E. “Ed” Smylie, retired chief of the Crew Systems Division, accepted the award on behalf of his fellow employees. A duplicate copy of the award will be displayed for viewing by current employees and visitors at the Crew and Thermal Systems Division, located at the Johnson Space Center.
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.
According to Schneiter, 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.”
“When it came to safe return of Apollo 13, each employee of NASA’s Crew Systems Division of 1970 was an unsung hero. They rose to the test. GlobalSpec is pleased to be the first to single out and formally recognize this small team for its singular great moment in engineering. They had so little time, yet displayed solid engineering discipline and produced not just an innovative idea but one that would perform well throughout that perilous journey home.”
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