ARIA Stories

ARIA stories from Stan Anderson:

Stan writes: Doc (Weaver) was the Officer in Charge of the Aircraft Operations Control Center (ARIA Control) and I was his Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge.

Fried Chicken Fixes

The stories that came back from some of the ARIA missions are the stuff of legend; talk about bailing wire, gum and paper clips!!!

One such example. During one of the Apollo missions, every time the antenna operator took the antenna out of the “stow” position it would blow a circuit breaker so that there was no control over the antenna. After going through every spare circuit breaker on the plane, in desperation, the antenna operator went to his in-flight lunch (fried chicken wrapped in aluminum foil), took some of the aluminum foil and wrapped it around a pencil and jammed it into the circuit breaker slot. Problem solved.


High speed maintenance

Another example: On the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7 an orbital mission, we had two ARIA flying out of Perth. One of the aircraft, scheduled to cover Revs 134 and 135, called that he was unable to take off because the generator drive shaft on his #4 engine sheared. Normally it would have been a simple task to replace the drive shaft as the generator was gimbal mounted held by three pins. But one of the pins was corroded so it required a maintenance man to climb in through the back of the engine and pull the drive shaft and replace it with a new one. Normally this would have taken three people 5 hours (15 man hours) to do this, according to our Maintenance Control at Patrick, but two men did the job in 1 1/2 hours (three man hours). The plane took off and although unable to cover Rev 134 they did cover Rev 135. My job as Aircraft Status monitor at ARIA Control at Patrick (thanks to Doc, I will forever be known as “Stanley Status”) was to report the aircraft status to Houston. So I did: “ARIA 4 is Red Can Not Support due to #4 generator drive shaft sheared.” Apparently the Houston Controller (an Air Force Major named Mike) didn’t understand what I was telling him and called Doc, our ARIA Controller, for clarification to which Doc replied, “His motor’s broke, Mike.” Other than the humor of Doc’s response, what I am pointing out, however, is the work of the Maintenance team at Perth, with their commitment and sense of urgency to get the mission done that they could work at the speed they did to fix the problem.


Stu Roosa’s message to ARIA Control

For each Apollo mission, we would make up mission badges for the ARIA Control team and an extra three badges for the Apollo Crew would be sent to the Cape through internal mail. We were never sure if they received them except in the case of Apollo 11 when I had a chance to give them to Mike Collins personally. He had parked his aircraft right outside our building at Patrick AFB after a proficiency flight and the astronauts were in and out of our building all the time.

In ARIA Control we had two sets of consoles: the back console where the ARIA Controllers and “higher-ups” sat was raised about 8 inches while the front “support” console was lower. My console position was at the right end of the lower console next to the message window so I could pass messages back and forth. Next to my position was the DOD Rep’s console. Our DOD reps were civilian contractors (PANAM, I think but they could have been RCA) who filled several functions, including sim team and also serving as the ARIA Rep at MCC Houston; most had been in space biz since the Mercury days.

On Apollo 14, the DOD Rep was Jim Plaisted, a retired USAF major. During a lull in one of the Apollo 14 sims, Jim and I were chatting when we noted that the Apollo 14 crew consisted of Navy RADM Alan Shepard, Navy Captain Ed Mitchell and Air Force Lt Col Stu Roosa. Interservice rivalry being what it is, not only was Col Roosa “outmanned” by two Navy types, he was also the junior ranking man on the crew. So we decided to send him a “morale booster” to keep his spirits up on the mission when I sent the mission badges; but not knowing if the crew would ever receive our badges, we decided to keep things quiet.

So Apollo 14 takes off and shortly after TLI between Carnarvon LOS and Guam AOS, Houston made contact through one of our ARIA aircraft. As noted elsewhere, ARIA was critical at filling the Carnarvon–Guam gap because voice relay and telemetry recording were critical during and after the TLI burn. CAPCOM radios, “Apollo 14 this is Houston through ARIA”. The response come back (from Command Module Pilot, Roosa), “Ah roger, Houston. And would you tell the folks at ARIA Control I received their message and it is taped to the panel in front of me.” That took everybody in ARIA Control (and elsewhere) completely by surprise, except for Jim Plaisted and me who collapsed in gales of laughter and high fives. Within 15 seconds, we had calls on three different circuits (MCC Houston, Houston ARIA and I think Dominic was the third one) all asking “What’s he talking about? What message?” Of course, from Jim and my reactions, Lt Col Larry Brown, who had replaced Doc as ARIA Controller, looked over his console and says, “Okay you two, what did you do?” So we told him. When I sent the mission badges up to the Cape, the “morale booster” we sent along to Col Roosa as a 4" x 6" Air Force flag. When Col Brown passed it on to USAF Major Mike Monkvic at MCC Houston, his response was “Way to go, guys. Way to go.”

So while there was always a lot of stress during the Apollo missions, there were lighter moments too.


See also: ARIA saves the day for Apollo 5.