Carols at the end of Apollo 17


Apollo 17 groundtrack

Bernard Smith tells the story of “Az-El, Az-El”, and performs it for us. (External link to Vimeo.)

Audio-only version here.

See further below for two more carols:

Watch the video above, or read the story by Honeysuckle’s Bernard Smith:

“Before every Apollo mission we had a sim team from Goddard visit to exercise and checkout the ability of the station to support the mission. The team came in a NASA 421 Super Constellation spacecraft simulation aircraft which we had to track. One member of the team, and who later became the team leader was Evan Gull.

The 85 foot antennas at Honeysuckle, Madrid and Goldstone all had a problem with the X-axis angle encoder. It appeared to be caused by the earth’s magnetic field and X-axis daily movement. The effect was that the antenna zenith position changed minimally each day.

Before we commenced tracking each day we had to run the Station Readiness Test (SRT). When we had completed all the on-site testing we had to continue testing with Goddard. Part of that testing was the Computation and Data Flow Integrated Subsystem Test (CADFISS). Part of this test was with the USB section and involved VDNA and PosA tests.

During the tracking periods the equipment operators sat at their equipment and unless there was a problem on the station or the spacecraft there was very little to do. Jerry Bissicks and Laurie Turner wrote a lot of poetry. During Apollo 17 which was close to Christmas, Laurie Turner wrote a number of Christmas carols. To the tune of “The First Noel” he wrote

Az-El, Az-El, the angles did say
‘We’ve a forty thou offset in boresight today.’
We hope you’ll give a go on the VDNA,
In the mean time we’ll wait on your cue for PosA.
Az-el ! Az-el ! We wish you good cheer,
And a warm Christmas greeting from all of us here.

I recorded those words with a pipe organ accompaniment.

On the last day of Apollo 17, when we had completed the testing, we wanted to play that carol to the CADFISS people. Some of us thought we should and others thought we shouldn’t. We were discussing this when Ian Grant walked into the Ops room. He listened to the discussion and then said “You will”.

We called Goddard Voice and obtained approval to play it to the CADFISS group. After it had played they thanked us for the carol and playing it to them.

Years later when I was working in Defence department and Evan Gull was will a middle eastern oil company we just happened to meet up somewhere. Evan told me that he was with the CADFISS team when we sent the carol. CADFISS had operated during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. As there was no requirement for them after the Apollo program finished, this was their last day and they had no job after they finished our CADFISS test. They were all very depressed. When we called from Honeysuckle and showed appreciation for the work they had done and wished them a happy Christmas with our carol it lifted their spirits tremendously.

It was so wonderful, years later, to happen to meet Evan and be told the impact that our carol had.

Here it is.

Bernard Smith,
December 2022.”

Two other Carols

Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Tony Keiller once cried out, on the Feast of Stephen

Two Christmas Carol variations sung by Laurie Turner.

Alan Foster preserved the open reel audio recording. Digitised by Colin Mackellar, noise reduction by Bernard Smith, December 2012.