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Journal Preparation and Structure

Copyright © 1995 by Eric M. Jones.
All rights reserved.
Last revised 12 June 2002.


The only major difficulty in putting the lessons of Apollo to work - other than a chronic shortage of funds - is the simple fact that, during the twenty-plus years since Apollo ended, most of space community's energies have been devoted to the Shuttle and Space Station programs and, consequently, collective memories of the Apollo experience have begun to fade. Information that will be of importance in the lunar base program - and of interest to historians and future lunar workers and settlers - is becoming less and less accessible.

Constant use, alone, keeps experience fresh and, by now, relatively few people remember much more about the Apollo missions than where they were when they watched Neil Armstrong step down onto the lunar surface for the first time. Outside of the small cadre of people who were actually involved in the conduct of the missions and, as well, a small band of people who have been dedicated to lunar development throughout the long hiatus that continues into the 1990s, the detail of what was done is little remembered. The first steps and other highlights of the missions are well recorded; and the astronauts themselves are still much in demand as public figures. Rubbing elbows with an astronaut, particularly one who has been to the Moon, has never lost its appeal. But when, eventually, earnest work does begin on lunar base designs, it will be the details of the Apollo experience that will matter to engineers and planners trying to decide how best to design equipment and procedures. They will need to know what worked, what didn't work - and why. And they would do well to pick up where Apollo left off.

Apollo was, above all, a learning experience. On Apollo 11, Armstrong and Aldrin only had the hatch open for two and a half hours and never ventured more than about sixty meters from their spacecraft. Their job was to land and then return home safely. It was a bonus that they were able to collect forty-four pounds of rocks and soil, deploy a few scientific instruments and, in the process, prove beyond a shadow of doubt that it was possible to do useful work on the Moon. Tentatively and cautiously, from mission to mission, NASA increased the demands placed on the astronauts and their equipment; and, by the end of Apollo 14, for example, enough was known about walking on the Moon that, during each of the three remaining missions, the crew could drive several kilometers away from the LM and be confident that, in the event of a Rover failure, they could walk back to their landing craft long before their oxygen and cooling water ran out. Mission by mission, NASA and its contractors learned how to design equipment and procedures appropriate to lunar conditions. As Gene Cernan notes in this Journal, there is always an easy way to do things in one-sixth gravity and sometimes it took a bit of trial-and-error and a bit of adaptation to lunar conditions before the easy way became apparent.

The NASA archives are full of reports, manuals, transcripts, photographs, audio tapes, and video tapes vital to an understanding of the Apollo missions. Each year, as people clean out their desk drawers, storage cabinets, and garages, the central collection grows more and more complete. However, because memories fade with time and people retire and die, by the time we start lunar base planning in earnest, putting the Apollo experience to work will be no easy task. To illustrate the effort involved, after a couple of years of half-time work, and with considerable help from Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, I acquired a fair working knowledge of what happened during their three-day visit on the lunar surface. Six years into the preparation of the Journal, many of the spacecraft systems are still something of a mystery to me but, with regard to the EVAs, I am probably as alert to important details as anyone can be without having been intimately involved with the missions at the time they happened. And, clearly, anyone with an eye for detail could also spend a couple of years of digging through the archives and get up to the same level of expertise. However, as a practical matter, few lunar-base design engineers will have the time or inclination to make a thorough search for relevant detail and even fewer will have ready access to the astronauts and/or knowledgeable members of the support teams.

With the needs of lunar-base design engineers in mind - and with the interests of historians, space enthusiasts, and future lunar citizens in mind as well - ten of the moonwalking astronauts and I have prepared an annotated transcript of the communications recorded during their time on the lunar surface. We have been conscious of the role that such "journals" have played in the past and note the example of Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian polar explorer who was first to sail the Northwest passage in 1905 and then was first to reach the South Pole in 1911. Amundsen approached polar exploration in much the same way that NASA approached the lunar missions. He spent many years in preparation, learning the art of polar-region survival from the native peoples of Greenland and Northern Canada, learning about clothing and especially about handling dogs. And yet, although he was by far the best prepared of the early Antarctic explorers, during the months he spent voyaging toward the ice and during the months he spent waiting in winter camp for the arrival of the Antarctic spring, Amundsen and his companions spent endless hours reviewing, critiquing, and discussing the accounts of previous expeditions, searching for insights or, at the very least, circumstances to be avoided.

There is, of course, at least one important difference between the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and its historical counterparts. Entries in the journals of Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott, Lewis and Clark, Captain Cook and the others were usually a few paragraphs of summary written at day's end. On some days, there was little to record but the routine of the journey, little more than a series of events familiar to anyone who had spent much time at sea or on an extended overland journey. For such days, the journal entries usually were only a few lines to record the weather and the progress made. In preparing the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, we have had, of course, almost an embarrassment of riches. Except for intervals when the astronauts were inside the Lunar Module with their microphones turned off, virtually every word they spoke on the Moon was broadcast to Earth and recorded. Similarly, television cameras were deployed on all of the missions and, therefore, a substantial proportion of the astronauts' activities were recorded on video tape. Never before in the history of exploration has there been so detailed a record. But then, too, never in the history of exploration has so much expensive and unfamiliar activity been crammed into so short a span of time.

Because of the Kennedy deadline and the overall cost of the project, NASA necessarily designed the sparest set of spacecraft that would let astronauts land on the Moon and then return safely to Earth. When, in the early 50s, Wernher von Braun and his colleagues described their vision of the first lunar landing, they imagined a fleet of three vessels carrying a total of fifty people and nearly three hundred tons of cargo. There was equipment enough for the assembly of a permanent lunar base and, indeed, von Braun had the members of the first expedition spend six weeks on the Moon before returning to Earth. Clearly, Von Braun and his colleagues were a bit optimistic about the scale of operations that would be possible on the first lunar voyages and, at least in the context of Apollo, all that was really possible was a series of one-day, two-day, or three-day visits by crews of two. Although NASA had hopes of developing an unmanned, cargo-only version of the Lunar Module, a vessel which would have permitted the accumulation of supplies and equipment at a base camp, political realities prevented Apollo from developing into a lunar base program and short stays were necessarily a fact of life. Except for the hours the astronauts spent resting and trying to sleep, they were constantly working, trying to maximize the return from these all-too-brief opportunities for exploration. In all, the Apollo crews spent about 24 man-days on the Moon and, although some activities were repeated from day-to-day and from mission-to-mission, the learning curve was steep and the frequency of novel experiences was high.

Consequently, we have decided to incorporate the entire transcript in the Journal; and, indeed, as we have reviewed the transcript and tapes, we have found the series of sometimes similar events to be helpful in jogging memories and in establishing the richness of the experience. Many things were done at one geology station that had been done at others and, certainly, the preparations for the EVAs were, in considerable detail, repeated from day to day. But always the context was different. A couple of days of experience, a few hours of hard, fatiguing work, or the excitement of an unexpected discovery could make a world of difference in how the "routine" went and, as a record of a work experience and as a tutorial in lunar operations, we believe the Journal benefits from completeness. The relatively recent development of the World Wide Web and related technologies also permit a level of completeness that would have been impossible to achieve - at a reasonable cost - in print.


Preparation of the Journal


During each of the Apollo missions, NASA recorded all of the audio and video transmissions and, virtually in real time, prepared transcripts for use by reporters. According to Brian Duff, then with the Manned Spacecraft Center's Public Affairs Office, a crew of typists was stationed behind the curtain in the main auditorium - the only spare room available at the time - and, as segments of recorded conversation were delivered, they prepared typescript for immediate distribution, usually within an hour.

Given the circumstances, it is not surprising that the original typescript contains errors. Mis-identifications of speakers are common errors in the original transcript; and the reason for such errors is simple. The quality of the recorded transmissions are generally good but, because the crew's microphones picked up high frequencies better than low frequencies, some distinguishing voice characteristics were blurred. Indeed, during our reviews of the tapes, even the astronauts occasionally had trouble figuring out who was speaking. Usually we were able to come to agreement on an identification, using context, speech patterns, and word choices to guide us. We believe that relatively few mis-identifications remain. We also believe that most of these occur during the periods of EVA preparation in the cabin and are relatively unimportant to an understanding of the missions. The original typescript also contained errors in the transcription of what was actually said and the cause of these errors is also easily understood. The astronauts were performing complicated tasks under tight time constraints and were talking either with each other or with another member of the Astronaut Corps serving as Capsule Communicator (CapCom). The natural tendency to use professional jargon was heightened; and there are passages full of what might be called "tech-speak". The astronauts also tended to speak rapidly, cramming a great deal in information into short periods of time. Under the circumstances, the frequency of mis-transcriptions is surprisingly low.

The original transcripts form the core of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and, as a first stage of preparation, an optical scanning device was used to convert the typescript into computer files which could be manipulated with word-processing programs. After the scanning was complete, I then compared the transcripts with copies of the original audio tapes in order to correct obvious errors. In addition, I added a "mission elapsed time" at the start of each utterance. For the first five missions, NASA had included such timing information throughout the transcripts; but, for Apollo 17, NASA included only occasional time marks. Because time marks are useful for cross referencing and for analyses of work efficiency, the addition seemed warranted. And, finally, for those parts of the missions for which video records exist, I also reviewed the TV tapes and added commentary about crew actions.

When I began my review of the tapes and transcripts, my ignorance of mission details was nearly complete; and, consequently, background material supplied by the astronauts, by Janet Kovacevich, Joey Kuhlman, and David Portree of the Johnson Space Center's History Office, and by Judy Allton of the Lockheed Engineering and Science Company was essential to progress. References of particular importance are included in the Bibliography

With these documents and a selection of photographs at hand to fill in gaps in memory, I met with the astronauts to review the tapes and transcripts. Preparation of the Journal began with Apollo 17, primarily because Jack Schmitt and I lived only two hours apart in Albuquerque and Los Alamos, respectively. Preparation of the Apollo 17 Journal was typical of the process. At intervals through 1989, 1990, and 1991 I met with Jack for a day or two at a time. Usually, we were able to complete about three mission hours per working day. Jack and I started our review in May 1989, before I had acquired copies of the video tapes or the majority of the background material. Consequently, it took us about 13 working days to complete a review of the first 2 1/2 days of the lunar stay. Gene Cernan and I started working together in January 1990 and, having the video tapes and a significant amount of background material available when we started, were able to complete our review of the first two and a half lunar days in only ten working days. For the review of the third EVA and the launch, the three of us met in Santa Fe in mid-September 1991 and finished in two additional days.

In helping me prepare the Apollo 11 Journal, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent three days with me in Santa Fe in September 1991. A few weeks earlier, Pete Conrad and Al Bean spent a week with me in Santa Fe reviewing Apollo 12. The Apollo 14 review was done in a week's time at Ed Mitchell's home in Florida; and the Apollo 16 review was done in two week-long sessions at Charlie Duke's home in Texas. In conducting the Apollo 15 review, Dave Scott and I met in Santa Fe at intervals during 1992 and 1993. In all, we spent ten days reviewing the mission. Prior to Jim Irwin's death, he and I spent three half days at his office in Colorado Springs reviewing a portion of the first Apollo 15 EVA. This work was done in 1989, a time when I had not yet acquired all the necessary background materials and was still painfully ignorant about the mission details. One of my great regrets about this project is that Jim and I were unable to get together again prior to his death in 1991.

As the astronauts and I worked, we each had a copy of the rough-edited transcript and, as we listened to the audio tapes or watched the video tapes, we recorded commentary designed to give the uninitiated reader a good chance of understanding exactly what was happening, why it was happening, and what - from the perspective of a lunar base engineer - the consequences of a particular action or set of circumstances might have been. Later, I transcribed and edited these comments for inclusion in the Journal. In addition - and with the permission of the crews - I did a small amount of editing of corrected mission transcripts. Usually, I added (in parentheses) words and phrases needed for easy readability. In some places, unimportant verbal stutters were removed without note; in other places, verbal stutters were retained where they are important in illustrating thought processes. To improve the visual appearance of the Journal, I have modified all capitalized word in the original NASA transcripts - excepting acronyms like "NASA", "PLSS", etc - so that only the initial letter is a capital. Thus, "NOUN" has become "Noun".


Structure of the Journal


The body of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal consists of the corrected, edited transcripts together with interpolated comments. Each transcribed statement begins with an estimated mission elapsed time. Usually, this is the time elapsed since launch from Earth. However, in the case of Apollo 17, launch was delayed by 2 hours and 40 minutes. During the trip outbound from Earth orbit, the crew performed trajectory corrections so that they arrived in lunar orbit at the originally scheduled time and, in conjunction with those maneuvers, all mission clocks on board and in Houston were reset to show time elapsed since the planned moment of launch. On Apollo 14, launch was delayed for 40 minutes 3 seconds because of weather; however, in this case, transcript times are given relative to the actual time of launch. For each utterance, we include the hours, minutes and seconds of the elapsed time and identify the speaker. Because these times are estimated by those who prepared the original transcript or, in the case of Apollo 17, were interpolated between the occasional times given in the original NASA typescript, they are subject to such errors as those introduced by the slightly different operating speeds of the copying and playback tape machines. Readers should also note that there are obvious discrepancies in some of the times given by NASA - for example, sudden jumps of ten or even twenty seconds between sections of the original transcript. These jumps probably represent shifts from one typist to another; and I have made some adjustments in the times to smooth over these discrepancies. Over short intervals of the transcript - say a few minutes - I believe that relative timing errors are no worse than two or three seconds. Generally, the times of major events - hatch openings and closings, for example - agree with times given in the mission reports to within ten or twenty seconds.

Commentary by the astronauts is indicated by enclosing brackets and quotation marks and are printed as italicized, indented paragraphs. When appropriate, the commentary is sometimes inserted between two halves of what was originally a single utterance. All sentence-length and paragraph-length editorial comments are also enclosed in brackets, but without attribution or quotation marks. Some brief editorial comments - particularly those indicating laughter and conversational pauses - have been inserted into the dialog and are indicated by enclosing parentheses.

With regard to breaks in communications, a pause of ten seconds or less is indicated by the insertion "Pause". "Long Pause" indicates a break of ten to sixty seconds. "Comm Break" indicates one to three minutes of radio quiet. "Long Comm Break" indicates a hiatus of three to ten minutes. And, "Very Long Comm Break" indicates a radio silence of more than ten minutes.

Conversational overlaps are a normal part of human dialog, particularly so when one adds the effects of the two-and-a half-second, round-trip communications delay between the Earth and the Moon. Readers should note that the transcripts represent conversations recorded on Earth and, therefore, while comments by the CapComs were recorded virtually as they were spoken, anything the LM Crew said was recorded after a one-and-a-quarter-second delay. For readers of the Journal, I have tried to capture the flow of the conversation by using ellipses to indicate either a break in thought or the start and/or continuation of an overlapped remark. In the following example, we imagine CapCom Bob Parker giving Gene Cernan instructions on parking the Rover. Before Cernan hears Parker, he starts to make a comment about where he is parked. He then stops talking, listens to Parker (who doesn't stop talking), responds, and then continues with his comment.

Parker: Gene, just a reminder that we want a Rover (garbled)...

Cernan: Bob, we've stopped next to...(Hears Parker)

Parker: ...(heading) of 045; and, when you get out, we'll need readouts.

Cernan: (Responding to Parker) Okay, Bob. We've parked next to one of the fresh craters that shows up on the map.

Generally, when someone's utterance ends with ellipses and his next utterance begins with ellipses, the reader should infer that the speaker kept talking under the overlapping remark. When someone's utterance ends with ellipses but his next utterance does not begin with ellipses, the reader should infer either a break in thought or a pause to listen. Unintelligible dialog is indicated by the editorial comment "garbled". Unintelligible dialog is often associated with overlapping conversations and in this illustration, on the continuation of Parker's utterance I have indicated the likely missing word.


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