Apollo 11 Lunar Landing : A personal account by Vince Fleming
(Former Grumman Flight Controller, LM Propulsion Group, LM Systems Branch)

Vince Fleming was a member of the Flight Control Team, inside the Vehicle System SSR, Mission Control Center, Houston, TX, for the first lunar landing.

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    "I was one of a group of 5 LM propulsion Flight Controllers in the LM Systems Branch of the Flight Control Division. There were 2 NASA guys, 2 Air Force guys and me. I was being paid by Grumman, but worked for NASA. My job on Apollo 11 was to monitor and plot RCS propellant utilization during the landing. We all knew this was a singular moment in human history and were proud to be a part of it. Although we had shifts set up none of us left the SSR after undocking from the CSM for very long. I tried to get some sleep in the bunk room but finally gave it up. If you listen to the landing audio tape, you will hear someone say "60 seconds" and later "30 seconds" This not time to landing, but time to aborting the mission due to propellant depletion. Later we calculated that there was 42 seconds of propellant remaining. Gene Kranz had it right when he said there were a bunch of guys turning blue. I was one of them."

View of the Vehicle System Staff Support Room at Houston MCC.
Credit : Vince Fleming, All rights reserved.


A view of the LM/Agena Propulsion Group (1967) (From left to right) Front : Bob Nance (NASA), Jerry Sisk (USAF), Larry Strimple (NASA) and Glenn Watkins (NASA) - Rear : Bob Carlton (NASA, GNC on Apollo 11), Hal Loden (NASA), Bruce Stach (USAF), Vince Fleming (Grumman), John Wegener (NASA) and Caroll Hopkins (USAF).
Credit : Vince Fleming, All rights reserved.

    "Our biggest concern in the LM Propulsion group was not as much the landing as the liftoff from the moon. On the landing you had the Ascent engine to get you back into orbit if something went wrong. However, we weren't so sure about the Ascent engine starting after a stay on the lunar surface. On top of that it happened behind the moon and out of radio communication. We were very happy when it lit of without a problem. I was also one of the guys waving the flag in the MCC after splashdown."

The MCC Vehicles Staff Support Room during Apollo 10, with the Grumman Flight Control Support Team. (From left to right) (Front) Charlie Whitmore and Hank Kessler - (Rear, seated) Don Clark, Floyd Page and Vince Fleming - (Rear, standing) Jim Hannigan (NASA LM Systems Branch Chief), Frank Edelin, J.O. Saylor, Jack Neubauer, Fred Frere, Harry Smith, Jim Nelson and Hank Otten.
Credit : Vince Fleming, All rights reserved.

    "On the 25 anniversary of the first landing the LM Systems Branch had a picnic in Houston. I attended. At that picnic we were listening to the audio tape of the landing. I was standing next to a guy named Steve Bales. He was the guy who made the go decision when a 1201 computer alarm was happening. 25 years later you could see the emotion on his face when he heard it again. 

(Picture 1) Vince Fleming and Gene Kranz at the Apollo 11 25th anniversary picnic • Former Apollo 11 flight controllers at the 25th anniversary picnic.
Credit : Vince Fleming, All rights reserved.

As we found out later the crew had left the Rendezvous Radar switch on after undocking from the CSM and the computer was overloading trying to process the Rendezvous Radar and Landing Radar data at the same time."

A LM Propulsion Group anecdote...

    "Speaking  of computers, just before the first landing. the LM Propulsion Group got a new state of the art desk top (?) Olivetti programable computer to calculate propellant utilization. We used to wheel it back and forth between the MCC and Bldg 45, where our offices were, in a shopping cart. It wouldn't fit in the cart so we sat it on top. On one trip the two young NASA guys were pushing it over to the MCC when they hit a crack and the computer fell to the sidewalk. I think those two nearly had a heart attack. Luckily the computer was not damaged badly."


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© 2002 Marco Cecotti for the layout. All rights reserved.
Those photographs and this account are the property of Vince Fleming, all rights reserved.