ENGINEER RETELLS HIS STORY OF APOLLO 13

Phillip VanDerSlice

The Brazosport Facts

ALVIN - It would never sell in Hollywood. A sci-fi script about some astronauts who get in trouble in space and through a remarkable, unbelievable chain of events make it back to Earth. Okay, perhaps it would sell in Hollywood, but it would be a B-script that movie-goers would scorn upon leaving the theater because of its overwritten coincidence.

But, if it really did happen, if the 13th mission left Earth in the 13th hour on the 13th second then two days later, on the 13th day of April, faced certain death and won - if it really happened - well that's a different story altogether. That's called a guaranteed Hollywood blockbuster.

Jerry Woodfill calls it something else, however. He calls it unbelievable, unimaginable. He says it could not have happened the way it is said to have happened.

And Thursday he spoke for the 559th time about what really happened to Apollo 13 when he spoke at the First United Methodist Church in Alvin.

On April 13, 1970, Woodfill was sitting in his chair at Houston's Space Center. Just 27, Woodfill had heen working for NASA for only four years after graduating from Rice University. Incidentally, Woodfill graduated 11th in a class of 13 electrical engineers (the mission look off on the llth). He had been a sophomore when President John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech at Rice Stadium, "We choose to go to the moon," he had said.

At 9 p.m. on April 13, Woodfill was paying close attention to a TV screen which would flash the Master Alarm signal if there were any problems on the ship 200,000 miles from home. As warning system engineer, Woodfill had actually led the design of the system. And around this time, he saw many of the signals go off simultaneously. Astronaut Jack Swigert called in from the ship, "Houston, we have a problem."

At first it looked like a malfunction in Woodfill's warning system. There was no way so many of the ship's systems could fail, but they had.

An oxygen tank had exploded ripping and burning vital portions of the command module. The unbelievable chain of events had begun.

The fact that the tank had exploded at that particular time, instead of on the launch pad or while astronauts were in the lunar module on the moon was the first coincidental event that saved their lives, Woodfill said.

A hatch that wouldn't close, that saved precious time for the crew after they abandoned an idea to lock themselves off from the lunar module, that was number two. That module ended up as their life boat.

An engineer had built a system to "jump" a battery a year before, but it had never been used. He was called while sleeping. The system hadn't even been written down, and it was not a part of any NASA simulation ever run. This unused system gave the lunar module's batteries the power they needed to re-enter the earth's atmosphere, Woodfill explained.

A fourth coincidence Woodfill cites: another engineer had developed a system to navigate based only on the earth, moon and sun.

The coincidences go on and on. And Woodfill can't believe that they are just that. Not even NASA and all the adaptability of man could have made a key for every problem on the mission. Woodfill believes that all these unbelievable facts lead to only one conclusion, a greater power was protecting the astronauts. He attributes worldwide prayers to saving the 13th Apollo mission. And every chance he gets, he travels to clubs, churches and organizations to tell people what really happened.


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