Apollo 8 Recollections



Here are some personal recollections of Apollo 8:

 

Mike Dinn – Honeysuckle Creek Deputy Director

Apollo 8 – A personal memory by Mike Dinn.

Apollo 8 was an enormous event for Honeysuckle, and me.  Up till then, we had only one manned mission under our belt – Apollo 7, and that
was earth orbit only. At short notice, we were thrust into critical, lunar communications support. However, we had done all the planning, testing, and training we could think of, and had enough time for.

This era of mostly analog electronics required each individual to skilfully operate their equipment. And everybody knew success depended directly on them. We did not fail.

In all of this, we should not forget engineering and all the other support. The necessity to change the cone at Honeysuckle was a major challenge.

And of course – Tidbinbilla, HSKX, wing, DSS42 was a major participant. It was the sole antenna whilst Honeysuckle’s cone was being repaired.

Then, there were  other Australian supporting elements – Carnarvon, Deakin switching centre, PMG, and OTC. All absolutely vital to mission success.

And personally it was the  highlight of my career to this point. And in many ways equal to Apollo 11. My job of leading the operations was daunting, but I was confident we’d done all needed. My previous experience at Tidbinbilla running ops for a Surveyor was a great confidence contributor.

Mike Dinn
21 December 2018.

(More about Mike here.)

 

Bruce Window – USB Supervisor, HSKX

For us at Honeysuckle’s Wing Station, this mission was a lot more organised than Apollo 7 where we had seemingly be dropped into it at the last moment.

Daily operations at the Wing was shared between me and Tony Keiller who had been in Houston for Apollo 7. Don Gray was STADIR.

Our DSN experience on the Surveyor missions gave us confidence that we could handle anything that a Lunar mission might require of us. With two teams to cover the 24 hours, there was an element of rivalry, not only between ourselves, but also with Honeysuckle. 

Our confidence was demonstrated when we were the prime antenna for uplink/downlink for the two days that Honeysuckle’s feed cone was removed to correct arcing in the waveguide.

Daily ops became fairly routine, even at the Lunar orbit phase. Eating a Christmas meal at our workstation showed our commitment and dedication. A highlight of listening to the downlink was the reading from the Bible by each of the Astronauts.  I did not expect that.

The post-mission invitation to the US Ambassador’s Reception – Buffet was unexpected and something extra-special.  It was a nice “thank you” for our efforts over Christmas.

Bruce Window
22 December 2018.

(More about Bruce here. More about the arcing, on Day 2 of Hamish Lindsay’s essay, and more about the US Ambassador’s Reception here.)

 

Bill Wood – Goldstone Apollo Lead USB Engineer

Apollo 8 for me was cut short by a Flu infestation that hit at least half of the station crews.

At the time I took care of the USB System Monitor at the Prime Apollo station. My job was to monitor the strip chart recorders during signal acquisition, handovers and any time the CSM uplink or downlink signals did not look right.  I would make suggestions to the receiver and exciter techs to help them get back on two-way track.

I lasted until just before the CSM went into lunar orbit. I spent the rest of the mission in bed watching Walter Cronkite on a 4-inch Sony Micro TV on the bedside table.  

The thing that impressed me the most was tracking the CSM from TLI until 14 or 15 hours later when the CSM set in the west and HSK had taken over the track for the first day.  My USB crew was relieved while GDS was still tracking.

On the way back to Barstow we could see the moon with Apollo 8 on the way to it.  We were on the way to the Moon and that I was part of it!

Bill Wood
21 December 2018.

(More about Bill and Goldstone here.)

 

Tom Sheehan – Houston Track

As everyone probably recalls, Apollo 8 became a lunar-orbital mission while we were deep into the Apollo 7 planning and simulation activities. By the time planning for Apollo 8 filtered down to my level, I let my deputy, USAF Captain Rod Reining, continue with the daily whipping of the Apollo 7 trackers and I went off to have fun.

The gutsy decision to go lunar for Apollo 8 came at a time when lunar trajectory capabilities resided only in the off-line Mission Planning and Analysis Division (MPAD) computers & software. Many procedures for MCC’s lunar mission operations were in an equal state of un-readiness. 

Even worse, we had no mechanisms for assimilating the lunar operational expertise from our colleagues at JPL.

We had a few people in MPAD that had either worked with/for JPL or associated contractors. Bill Wollenhaupt, for example, had worked on the Lunar Orbiter Project and was the Houston guru of MassCons. Given that we knew how to do earth orbit operations and that the 26 meter stations were prime for cislunar and lunar ops, coverage by these sites became our focus. 

Once MPAD had a reasonable trajectory established, I requested look-angle data for (at least) these stations. Having some understanding of stations being located in valleys, but not having a clue as to line-of-sight rise-rate, I asked for a 1 sample per 10 second printout. A courier showed up at my office door with a handcart and 5 or 6 full boxes of computer paper. Talk about lessons learned!


At some point in this exercise, a distinct lack of overlap in coverage between Honeysuckle Creek and Madrid got our attention. Our Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) counterparts were up to their ears with reference geoids, inter-center trajectory coordination, acquisition data formats, etc. and were not very interested in working “terrain masking” issues. I’m not certain when we finally began conversations with the real experts; i.e. the stations. I do know that Honeysuckle and Tidbinbilla personnel taught us as much about that subject as we could handle! 

Since we were not yet ready to send out acquisition data, we had to get raw masking data from the stations, examine the printouts for AOS/LOS data and send this info back to the stations for verification. This activity confirmed our concern over uplink handovers and left me with a problem of convincing our management that this was a real problem. Our Real Time Computer Complex (RTCC) station-characteristics implementation had provisions for reflecting keyholes (both east/west and north/south) but nothing else. IBM’s first response to a request for masking implementation stated a two-year lead-time. After a battle fought all the way to (at least) our directorate chief, I think it happened by Apollo 10. In the interim, we forced acq data for the 26 meter stations and asked for a report of AOS/LOS times, etc.

As soon as Apollo 7 flew (and we survived our first splashdown party in two years), we began ‘integrated’ simulations for Apollo 8. The crew had been training for some time in the “standalone” configuration. We focused on key events such as launch, trans-lunar injection (TLI), lunar orbit injection (LOI), etc., so we still did not get much of a feel for long-duration station view periods or handovers. We did enough lunar orbit sims, however, to understand that phase. 

As Eddie Pickett said, “We sim’d Christmas 47 times before we actually had it.”

When launch time came, the whole team was excited about the mission, but nervous about the "real world". We had already learned enough about the limitations of our simulated network to be concerned. After all, those hard-working troops didn't know any more than we did about operations beyond earth orbit! And the limited Network Simulations, conducted by our GSFC cohorts, did not provide much opportunity for interaction with the stations. But by December 21, 1968 we were "GO FOR LAUNCH".

Everyone held their breath during the first manned flight of the Saturn V, but it was perfect. Werner von Braun's team deserved all the praise they received. TLI came quickly, the SIVB did its thing and we were off to the races. Then we began to learn about trans-lunar operations for real!

(Also on this page, which has more about Tom.)

 

Alan Foster – Honeysuckle Receivers

“I just made a normal acquisition as they came over the lunar horizon – it was a good signal, clean and sharp, no fading at all – one of the easiest acquisitions I had ever done because there was no antenna searching around as we could see the crescent Moon on the boresight TV. 

I was relieved, I can tell you. I have always remembered Network saying on the loop, ‘That was a beautiful acquisition, Honeysuckle’.”

– from Hamish Lindsay’s Apollo 8 essay.

 

 

Bob Allen – Tidbinbilla (HSKX)

I was a 1218 operator in the Tidbinbilla wing and have very fond memories of eating Christmas dinner at the 1218 console that remarkable Christmas day.

Certainly a wonderful experience.

 

David Shaw – Tidbinbilla (HSKX)

I was at Tidbinbilla for all the Apollo missions as well as the Mariner mars missions, surveyor moon landings, pioneer missions and more.

I remember Apollo 8 vividly as we were first to acquire the spacecraft when it reappeared after seeing the far side. [Editor’s note: HSK and HSKX worked together, and were simultaneously tracking the CSM as it came around the front side of the Moon.]

 



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