The real Apollo 13 observation

Mon, 16 Feb 1998 08:12:07 -0600

The account of the Apollo 13 observation is not quite as described. I was
working as a NASA contractor at JSC at the time only a couple of years after
landing my first job, and was tasked with programming satellite ephemeris
data to support Apollo tracking. I suggested to my NASA contract monitor
(I.Saulietis) that we attempt to use the 16-inch (not 14-inch)
Boller-Chivens cassegrain telescope atop building 16A to point at the S-IVB
for that particular flight. That telescope still exists but is seldom used.
In the evening hours, we did spot the S-IVB. We used a vidicon camera with
image tube. In the course of observation I noticed the white dot that
appeared on the screen and pointed it out to the others. We took a few
Polaroid images of the monitor. I still have one, but the dot represented by
the oxygen cloud has faded out since then. We were not waiting for a water
dump and did not have communications with the MCC which is about 100 meters
away. When the white cloud was noticed Andy Saulietis used the phone to call
over to the MCC. Yes, we did have a black and white TV.  

The others in the dome were Dr. G.W.Hoffler an MD and amateur astronomer now
working at KSC and one other person (Pete Peterson) who since died in a
motor boat accident (unrelated to the Apollo 13 event, of course).  I might
comment that Andy Saulietis was no government hack. He retired over a year
ago from NASA is one of the most talented optical engineers I have ever met.
He is an esteemed telescope builder having constructed instruments as large
as 32-inches aperture, and now resides in Cloudcroft, New Mexicom
temporarily renting a house from comet hunter Howard Brewington.  He and I
built an observatory between Houston and Austin in 1975 (destroyed by a
tornado in 1980) and we had a number of satellite tracking adventures over
the years. We employed a 32-inch instrument with a CCD camera to capture the
first Galileo probe earth flyby which at the time we believed was a distance
setting record. Since then that record has been surpassed by Jim Scotti. 

I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

Paul D. Maley
United Space Alliance
DO5/Cargo Operations
NASA Johnson Space Center
Houston TX 77058 USA

tel. 281-244-0208
latitude 29.6049 north, longitude 95.1086 west