Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
How the Apollo Fire Propelled NASA to the Moon (arstechnica.com)
109 points by NaOH 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments

Space flight is essentially a systems engineering enterprise. You live or die by your systems engineering expertise.

The fire forced NASA to become a systems engineering center, probably the best such team ever assembled. The fact that they were able to land on the moon on schedule, with no schedule margin, given where they were in 1966, is astounding.

I do think that the systems engineering culture led to the program's success, but that it was in place before the fire. For example, Joe Shea, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office before, and for some time after, the fire, had come from a systems engineering role in missile development [0].

[0] 'Apollo: Race to the Moon', Murray, Cox.

The Murray, Cox book really is the best book on this topic. Criminal that it's out of print.

I believe it was republished in 2004 with a new forward by the authors under the shorter title Apollo.

It is available as an ebook:


There is a ton of really detailed technical books about Apollo and the Space Shuttle. Have people stopped writing this kind of book or are there any on the market that look at more modern technology not just from the people's angle but go into the tech? I was deeply disappointed by the Steve Jobs book because it didn't really give any insight how Jobs influenced product development. I would love to read about how the iphone was started and how it was developed and what technical decisions they made. I don't'really care about the people that much.

It's interesting that today they can't even build a rocket like the SLS from already tested components in a comparable time.

To be fair, the political will today isn't comparable to what it was during the Apollo program.

Also, way, way more of the design and production process is farmed out to aerospace/defense contractors than it was during the early space program. The extra layers of bureaucracy between teams is a big problem, and the profit motives of the contractors almost always influences solution design and delivery in a negative way.

There's way more political will today, it's just directed at maintaining jobs programs in perpetuity instead of at a worthwhile goal like going to the moon.

Totally agree. Still pretty sad.

It might be (at least in part) because they're trying to build a hodge podge rocket out of existing .gov contracts rather than a new cohesive system for an unwavering goal.

I personally think that they have taken the defensive and with every political flip-flop have stopped dumping money into new projects for a single presidency and then dealing with them getting ditched next. To an approach that is building a bit at a time and not exactly telling the rest of the government so that they don't keep getting projects dumped.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the film, Mission Control, which focused on the mission control staff during the Apollo missions, rather than focusing on astronauts and scientists. Fascinating lessons in "ops management" embedded in the collective experiences of that staff. The film also has amazing production quality for reliving the struggles and successes of those missions, and especially how the suspenseful moments felt "on the ground".


You would probably enjoy Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz.

Second this recommendation. Really opened my eyes up to the entire mission control teams who are just as involved as the astronaut in getting to the moon.

Agreed, this movie was excellent

If you're interested in the Apollo program, you'll find no better telling of it than A Man On The Moon by Andrew Chaikin.


The book was adapted into the excellent miniseries From the Earth to the Moon by HBO.

'A Man on the Moon' is a terrific book focused on the astronauts. Consider also reading 'Apollo: Race to the Moon', Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox for more of the engineering perspective. They cover everything from building the F-1 engines used in the Saturn V first stage, to the lunar module, to the vehicles used to transport the assembled rockets to the launch pad, to the organization of mission control and the project overall. My favorite book on the Apollo program.

This is one of the few DVD sets I've ever bought. The episode documenting the fire and its aftermath is in my top 3 episodes (Spider and Apollo 11 being the others). The hearing at the end where Frank Borman offers a look at the three dead astronauts and then tells Mondale and the other panel members to stop the witch hunt and let us go to the moon is perhaps the most satisfying scene in the entire episode. Great show and great series.

Second this recommendation for the book and miniseries. Jeff Kluger and Jim Lovell's Lost Moon (retitled Apollo 13 after the movie based on it) and Kluger's Apollo 8 are also good reads.

For podcast listeners, these episodes of the Omega Tau podcast cover the Apollo hardware at a very high level of detail:

http://omegataupodcast.net/239-the-saturn-v-launch-vehicle/ http://omegataupodcast.net/83-how-apollo-flew-to-the-moon/ http://omegataupodcast.net/97-how-apollo-explored-the-moon/ http://omegataupodcast.net/167-the-apollo-guidance-computer/ http://omegataupodcast.net/218-a-life-in-apollo/

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact