Apollo astronaut Fred Haise may be best known as the lunar module pilot on Apollo 13, the “successful failure” of the space program, but he’s done a lot more than the one mission indicates. In his live presentation to those attending “An Evening with Fred Haise” in Picayune, MS on Feb. 19, 2016, he shared moments of his life and career with attendees.
John Wilson introduces Haise
John Wilson, Director of the Infinity Science Center in Pearlington, MS, introduced Haise with several anecdotes about the astronaut, including this one: Following Hurricane Katrina, Haise had three feet of water in his fishing house in Gautier, MS. He found a snake swimming in the living room. When asked if he had ever been afraid during any of the adventures he’d experienced during his life, Haise replied, “Well, I was glad when the snake left the living room.”
Haise laughs during Wilson’s story
“When facing a challenge, don’t panic early, and once the situation is resolved, celebrate the good stuff,” says Wilson, quoting Haise’s philosophy. This perspective helped when facing the snake in the living room and when dealing with the problems on Apollo 13.
Actor Bill Paxton portrayed Haise in Hollywood version
The movie “Apollo 13” took some dramatic liberties with the actual events of the 1970 mission, says Haise. He asked producer Howard why he didn’t used more of the actual words of the crew in the movie. He said Howard replied that although he knew what the participants were talking about, many of the people watching the movie wouldn’t understand the technical terminology. Also he observed, “I listened to all of that and I could never tell you ever had a problem.” Haise notes they were only doing routine troubleshooting throughout the mission.
Picayune, we have a problem
“Picayune, we have a problem” quipped Haise when the clip-on microphone he was using failed. His humorous handling of the problem and parody of the historic message delighted the audience. With a laugh and quick switch to a handheld microphone, he continued the program.
A quick switch and the evening continued
Haise began as a test pilot, and he learned an important about problem solving. When choosing a course of action, don’t make a problem worse or get into a posture you can’t back out of, recommends Haise. This analytical approach stood the crew of Apollo 13 and the staff on the ground in good stead as they considered fixes to the situation on the ship.
A real problem…
Testing on new vehicles included rigorous testing of all systems and components for every conceivable failure and changes made as necessary to address any problems found – except explosions. The theory was, in the event of an explosion both the vehicle and the crew would be lost. “We gave them a real problem,” says Haise, “because we had this explosion and we were still around…There was no plan B.”
Haise described the important work of the ground crew
Many years after the mission, Haise was able to hear the “inner loop” recordings of what went on in Mission Control while the crew was in space. He came to appreciate even more the work put in on the ground to save the lives of the astronauts. The heads of the departments had access to about a quarter of a million people around the country and could call on them for help.
BSA Trefoil projection helped to dress the stage
The Boy Scout credo of “Be Prepared” fit well with the outcome of Apollo 13. Haise credits the success of the ground crew efforts to the vast knowledge base and rigorous training of everyone involved. There was no procedure on the books for shutting down the command capsule, but it had to be shut down and shut down in a manner which would allow it to be restarted.
Apollo 13 astronauts stride confidently toward the vehicle
Thousands of hours in simulators with highly accurate reproductions of instrumentation and visual cues helped to prepare the crew for the mission. Haise credits the high degree of simulator training on a variety of failures with giving the astronauts confidence to handle whatever came about on the mission. This training contributed to the calm demeanor on the audio tapes which so surprised Ron Howard.
Apollo 13: NASA’s High-Stakes Learning Experience
Forty-five years after its fateful flight, Apollo 13 is still seen as “NASA’s most successful failure.”