Nico (vilakins) wrote,

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I'm a steely-eyed missile woman!

Last night at Apollo 13 - Mission Control was absolutely wonderful--better even than I'd hoped!

First we went to the Middle East Cafe which has been there for ever (well, since 1980 according to their sign) and still makes the best falafels in town. It's a tiny place you have to go to early to get a table, but it's worth it: absolutely delicious falafel and salads. And lots of camels; the owner has been collecting them since the place opened, and they had carved ones, plushies, crockery, puzzles, two large Rinconada ones, jade ones, huge ones on their on shelves, tiny ones--and a biplane. Of course: it was a Sopwith Camel. :-D We even had camel-shaped biscuits with our coffee.

Apollo 13 - Mission Control

For those wanting to know more about Apollo 13 - Mission Control, there's a review here, along with a photo of our Gene Kranz in his mission waistcoat. I wish I'd got a photo of him and Ashley the junior flight director. They were great!

We got to the theatre early, and it was worth it. The foyer was full of interesting stuff like photos, diagrams, plans of rockets and modules, mock-ups of consoles, a spacesuit with a hole in the head to put one's face through (and I did!) and a screen showing old NASA quarterly review films which Greg now wants to get hold of.

Before we went in, they said that one of the astronauts was down with measles and they needed another one; who was qualified? They interviewed five volunteers, and "Jim Lovell" picked Chris, a young woman from Cambridge.

Then we went in and took consoles. We grabbed two interesting looking ones, Fuel Cells for Greg and Oxygen Tanks SM (which stands for Service Module) for me; I thought they'd get some action--and I was right. We had to all do a pre-launch check in with Kranz and the junior flight director Ashley (who'd left his countdown sequence in the canteen and had to rush off to get it--the play really was very funny) then it was go for launch. Man, they had every subwoofer they could put in the theatre, and the place rumbled and shook and you could feel it inside. Wow, that was a cool experience! (Even if you'd never feel a thing in Houston, but hey.) The three astronauts were shown on a large screen (and on small ones on consoles which had them) and they way they depicted zero gravity was very effective--and made us laugh each time: a pencil would move slowly past the camera so close you couldn't see it being held, and later on float by again, and once it was a pair of earphones. It really was so well done, I wish I could go again. Walter Cronkite, only ever seen on screen, reported the launch, interviewed the astronauts and a couple of Mission Control members, and Kranz and Ashley ran about egging people on to react to things. People were kept busy doing things, like the girl on the end of our row at the EECOMS console who had to answer her phone when it lit up and call other people, and we had to work out simple formulae for the amps needed for various things. To the press sitting in the galleries around the theatre it must have looked as if we were involved. So clever.

When the explosion went off, the console lit up with flashing lights and alarms, and, as I'd half-expected, I had to report on oxygen levels and say that they had to close off the remaining tanks. Lovell asked "You mean that, Nico? Really?" (He must have been listening in on Kranz and me.) I said yes, and as this put the moon off the menu, he sat there expressionless for about a minute before acknowledging; nice piece of deadpan acting which cracked me and others up. Then when the CO2 levels rose, Ashley came and got me and said I had to solve the problem of the square and round LiOH (lithium hydroxide) canisters which had to be connected and said I had to get two volunteers to help. BWAHAHAHA! YESSSS! I got Greg and a girl from my row and we had to find stuff in Mission Control: duct (really masking) tape, a hose, and a plastic bag I pulled out of Gene Kranz's coffee cup, all sticky from old coffee. :-D

Then as the CO2 levels rose, Kranz and Ashley both "happened" to leave. The astronauts were calling desperately for a solution ("Houston? Is anybody there?"), and someone had to grab a pair of earphones and explain our kludge. It took the poor guy longer to tell the astronauts what to do than we took to make it!

The play was very funny and a huge amount of fun, but some of it was quite dramatic, like when Kranz returned and said he'd been talking to his wife about how he was never going to send a wife around to the widows if it all went wrong the way they did for Apollo 1, and during re-entry when Ashley's attempts to contact the module grew increasingly desperate until he was almost in tears.

At the end the astronauts came running down the aisle as we cheered, and there was a lot of congratulatory hand-shaking for Mission Control from them and Kranz and Ashley. We all left with grins all over our faces. It was an amazing evening out and I'd do it again if I could, but that was the last night.

On to some photos (all pretty small).

See me on the moon! See my console! See what I made!

Even the notice directing us to the theatre in the Aotea Centre was in character!

You could also hire lab coats and black-rimmed geek glasses, but I just bought three buttons. And hey, I now feel entitled to the top right one.

How could I resist? You can just see the earth behind me, and the flag's for the StarDome, our planetarium.

They even put footprints on the "moon" surface!

There was a moon suspended over the entrance where the Missions Control people went in. I think it belongs to the StarDome.

Ha! We were a few rows back but I decided this was a good console which would give me some action. (And I was right!) Greg had the fuel cells one to my left.

View of Mission Control forward of my position. This screen showed the actor playing Walter Cronkite doing reports or interviews, the launch pad, and transmissions from the astronauts.

And to the right. This screen also showed technical data like what was happening to the CO2 levels, which was my concern. :-)

The three astronauts, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise (played by a woman with a fake moustache) and that night's guest astronaut, Chris.

A photo I took after the show of our kludge connecting the square and round LiOH canisters using a plastic bag, duct tape (actually masking tape) and a hose. Bwahaha! It worked! WE GOT THEM HOME!

And Gene Kranz said we rock[et]ed! Of course he says that to all the teams. :-)

I really should read Kranz's book now. Greg has it, a signed copy even.

Tags: apollo 13 mission control, cool stuff, outings, photos, space
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