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Apollo 11 “Mission Rules Summary” Flown to the Moon by Buzz Aldrin
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NASA’s summary of GO / NO GO points that would determine the safety and success of the historic first moon flight.

According to NASA, Mission Rules “provide flight control personnel with guidelines to expedite the decision-making process… designed to minimize the amount of real-time rationalization when non-nominal situations occur.” Dryly acknowledging the possibility of catastrophic failure, these steps are relevant “if a system failure occurs, and a choice is available.”

The points outlined in this Mission Rules Summary start right after lift-off, and include: TLI (trans lunar insertion) vs EO (Earth orbit flight); Eagle undocking for lunar phase; powered descent; Program 64 (lunar approach protocols developed by Margaret Hamilton’s flight software team); gate to touchdown; ascent from the moon; re-docking with Columbia; and maneuvers resulting in their TEI (trans earth insertion) and safe return.

*Annotations in red added by SKI*

[NASA]. Printed Document. “Mission Rules Summary” Apollo 11 Flight Data File, June 30, 1969. Two leaves, each signed and inscribed: “Flown to the Moon on Apollo XI / Buzz Aldrin / Apollo XI LMP” (Lunar Module Pilot); with Aldrin’s Typed Letter Signed, providing background and authentication.

Inventory #25876       Price: $115,000

Historical Background

The Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, with Commander Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, and command module pilot Michael Collins aboard. After three days, they reached lunar orbit. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin moved into the Eagle lunar module, while Collins remained aboard the Columbia. After the two craft separated, the lunar module fired retrograde thrust to slow down and change position to be mostly upright. In the tense minutes surrounding the switchover from Program 63 to P64, the busiest for both the crew and the computer, alarms threatened to abort the landing. Apollo 11’s computers had only a fraction of the power a typical calculator of today, much less a phone. Given only seconds to evaluate the situation, the astronauts and Houston made the right decision, and continued to the moon.

The text below is from NASA transcripts of audio recording, interspersed with points from the Mission Rules:

 

079:49:21 Collins: We is there. [Also see Star Chart for this]

079:49:27 Armstrong: Okay, I think I got Denebola in sight…

079:49:44 Aldrin: Let’s burn.

079:49:45 Armstrong: That’s Manual and Zero - Zero and Manual.

079:49:51 Collins: We done paid our debt to society. We done made a star check. …

079:50:16 Collins: And we’re not going to do any Verb 41, Noun 91, any of that stuff...? …

 

[Verb 41 means ‘coarse align Coupling Data Units’. These are the interfaces between the optics and the rest of the guidance system. In short, they keep track of the angles to which the optics are aimed. Noun 91 yields the current angles for the optics.]

 

080:23:18 Aldrin: Man, I sure hate to say it based on looking through this monocular, but there’s a white spot that’s just like a crater - looks like an awful lot under these small fresh ones in the bottom of this rather old crater, but right in the center of it, it looks like instead of there being a crater, looks like it’s a rock. [Garble] my eyes deceiving me…

 

080:28:02 Collins: Alright, where are we? We’re pitching down. Gee, it’s too bad we can’t stop right here and observe the Earth come up. You know, we ought to get that picture one time.

080:28:20 Armstrong: We probably can do it. You could stop it right here if you wanted to spend the gas.

080:28:25 Collins: Yes. That’s the only trouble, the doggone gas. What are you on? …

 

080:28:42 Collins: A picture looking out over the LM as well.

080:28:45 Armstrong: Yes.

080:28:46 Aldrin: Shouldn’t be a bad picture. Why don’t we stop it? ...

080:29:22 Collins: Are we at a good enough attitude? I hope so. We are out this window, babe, but we’re not out that one. If the Earth is right there, that’s where it’s coming up, huh? Better be. …

081:48:51 Aldrin: There’s one that’s got mission rules in it - but I can’t place - at the moment, put my hands on it. [Garble].

081:50:10 Aldrin: It’s a No-Go - Go/No-Go - the one - one I’m looking for. Hey, that’s beautiful…

….

102:38:42 Armstrong (onboard): (To Buzz) What is it? Let’s incorporate (the landing radar data). (To Houston) Give us a reading on the 1202 Program Alarm.

102:38:53 Duke: Roger. We got you... (With some urgency in his voice) We’re Go on that alarm. ...

102:41:12 Duke: Eagle, you’ve got 30 seconds to P64.

102:41:19 Aldrin: Roger. (Pause)

102:41:27 Duke: Eagle, Houston. Coming up 8:30; you’re looking great. (Pause)

102:41:35 Armstrong: P64.

102:41:37 Duke: We copy. (Long Pause) …

 

Armstrong began visually scanning the surface for the upcoming landing site through his window, while Aldrin monitored a number of readings about descent rate, altitude, horizontal velocity, fuel state, and other variables.

1201 and 1202 alarms went off warning of problem with the rendezvous radar (needed to allow the lunar module to reconnect with the Columbia in the case of an emergency abort) and lunar landing radar. Later analysis revealed an electrical phasing mismatch had caused cycle stealing; the computer could not process data from the rendezvous and landing radars at the same time.

The problem had been that the Rendezvous Radar Switch was on (in the Auto position), as the astronauts had been trained to do in their procedures manual and simulations. However, the Rendezvous Radar system was designed for the ascent from the moon’s surface and reunion with the Command module; it played no role in the descent. Because it was on, the computer kept looking for radar data, causing it to slow the guidance computer and to return the 1202 error message. Because the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team led by Margaret Hamilton had designed the software to prioritize tasks and skip non-essential ones in response to real-time conditions, the lunar module landed safely.

Computer engineer Jack Garman in Houston told Guidance Officer Steve Bales that it was safe to continue. CAPCOM (Spacecraft Communicator) Charles Duke relayed that to the Eagle. In a post-mission press conference, Armstrong said, “In simulations we have a large number of failures and we are usually spring-loaded to the abort position… In simulations, someone’s training you to give a certain response… When it’s not a simulation, you want to do the right thing to get the mission done.”

 

102:42:08 Duke: Roger. Copy. (Pause) Eagle, Houston. You’re Go for landing. Over.

102:42:13 Armstrong (onboard): Okay. 3000 at 70.

102:42:17 Aldrin: Roger. Understand. Go for landing. (To Neil) 3000 feet.

102:42:19 Duke: Copy.

102:42:19 Aldrin: Program Alarm. (Pause) 1201

102:42:24 Armstrong: 1201. (Pause) (onboard) Okay, 2000 at 50.

102:42:25 Duke: Roger. 1201 alarm. (Pause) We’re Go. Same type. We’re Go….

 

Armstrong may have first seen the West Crater at 102:42:32 (P64 + 57 seconds), but at 102:43:10, he says, “Pretty rocky area.” He takes manual control and flies the Eagle over the West Crater before saying, “Okay. Here’s a… Looks like a good area here.” at 102:44:02 (P64+147 seconds)

 

102:42:41 Duke: Eagle, looking great. You’re Go. (Long Pause) Roger. 1202. We copy it. ....

 

Looking out his window, Armstrong saw that P64 was leading them to an inhospitable landing site. At 102:43:10, he reported “Pretty rocky area.” Twelve seconds later, he took over manual control, going into P66. He changed the angle of the lunar module’s pitch from about 18 degrees to about 5 degrees to slow the descent and overfly the West Crater. Armstrong then tilted the lunar module back to slow it down. He found “a good spot” and began a more vertical descent at 102:44:29. Sixteen seconds later, Aldrin said “Five percent [fuel remaining]. Quantity light.” At 102:45:02, Duke reports “60 seconds” before a “Bingo” fuel call would give them 20 seconds to land or abort.

 

102:45:40 Aldrin: Contact Light. [Landed]

102:45:43 Armstrong (onboard): Shutdown

102:45:44 Aldrin: Okay. Engine Stop. ...

102:45:58 Armstrong (onboard): Engine arm is off. (Pause) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

 

If the Eagle had been at an altitude of 100 feet or more at “Bingo,” they would have had to abort the landing. The crew and mission controllers believed they had enough fuel for another 25 seconds of powered flight before abort would be necessary; later analysis showed that they may have had enough for 50 seconds.

Six and a half hours after landing the Eagle, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the surface of the moon, with the words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joined Armstrong, and they collected samples, took photographs, and planted an American flag on the surface.

After nearly a day on the moon, the Eagle ascent stage lifted off. On July 21, Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins aboard Columbia and jettisoned the Eagle. After a three-day return trip, the Columbia splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Recovered by a helicopter and Navy divers, the astronauts were in quarantine for three weeks.

Buzz Aldrin’s Typed Letter Signed, included with the original document, reads:

This certificate of authenticity certifies that the accompanying “Mission Rules Summary” pages, MR-1/2 & MR-3/4 from the Apollo 11 Flight Data File, Part #SKB32100080-201, S/N 1001, were flown to the Moon and used aboard the command module “Columbia.”

On July 16th, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and I lifted off from Pad 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on our journey to perform humankind’s first landing on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility. As part of the Flight Data File that we carried on the flight, the “Mission Rules Summary” was essential to our decision-making capability in the event of an anomaly in flight.

Briefly, Mission Rules were our procedural definitions which provided us with guidelines to control whether we could continue with our flight, switch to a preplanned alternative mission or return to Earth. The accompanying two leaves were a summary of the critical rules that would determine our next course of action in the event of a failure of equipment at a certain point during the mission.

These four pages summarized the significant segment of flight during our journey to a lunar landing. Each event title is underlined with the reasons behind each decision to terminate the primary mission and either switch to an alternate mission or end the flight, starting with issues that occurred within “EARTH ORBIT.”

These pages were our “failsafe” that allowed both Mission Control and the crew to work as a team. Mission Control received spacecraft telemetry and had the expertise and experience to analyze any unusual occurrence aboard the spacecraft. We, as the crew, in the spacecraft and were in a firsthand position to observe the phenomenon. Using the “Mission Rules” allowed us to work together to complete our mission objective of being the first humans to land on the Moon.

In 2012, Congress allowed Apollo Era astronauts to keep disposable items like the Apollo 11 Flight Data File from their mission as personal mementos. This historic page has remained a treasured part of my private space collection for 50 years, ever since NASA presented it to me after my return from the Moon in 1969.

These Mission Rules Summary pages numbered MR-1/MR-2 and MR-3/4 are some of the few objects used in lunar orbit and is also a rare example of an astronaut flight certified object used on the first landing on the Moon.

Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin (b. 1930) was born in New Jersey and graduated third in his class from the United States Military Academy in 1951. He was commissioned into the United States Air Force. As a jet fighter pilot during the Korean War, he flew 66 combat missions and shot down two enemy aircraft. Aldrin earned a Sc.D. degree in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. He was selected as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Group 3, making him the first astronaut with a doctoral degree. In his first space flight in 1966 on Gemini 12, he spent more than five hours in extravehicular activity. Three years later, he was the Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 11 mission. He and Neil Armstrong were the first two humans to land on the moon. Aldrin set foot on the moon nineteen minutes after Armstrong on July 21, 1969. He left NASA in 1971 and became commandant of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School before retiring from the Air Force in 1972. Aldrin wrote two autobiographies, Return to Earth (1973) and Magnificent Desolation (2009), which recount his struggles with clinical depression and alcoholism after leaving NASA. President Richard Nixon awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.

References

NASA. Apollo 11 Stowage List. Mission AS 506 CM 107/LM-5. Houston: Manned Spacecraft Center, July 15, 1969, page 82

For abbreviations: https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11fltpln_final_reformat.pdf

“Meet Margaret Hamilton: The woman who wrote software that put mankind on the moon.” https://youtu.be/k1Tuwvq86YA (interviewed by Christie’s)

Apollo 11 Transcripts: https://history.nasa.gov/afj/ap11fj/14day4-loi2.html

Apollo 11 Final Mission Rules: https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/A11MissRules.pdf

https://www.space.com/26593-apollo-11-moon-landing-scariest-moments.html


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