27 November 2010

R.I.P. Joe Gavin ~ Out on the Edge of Technology

Sad to hear MIT alumnus rocketry engineer Joe Gavin passed away. Phil Davison writes in the FT obit about this Engineer who took control when Houston had a problem...
"Joe Gavin played a crucial role in enabling Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 to become the first men to land on the moon and come home safely. [...] Gavin was in charge of the 7,500-man team from the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation on New York’s Long Island that had won the contract to build lunar landing modules for the Apollo flights. From the original estimate of $350m, the cost would eventually soar to $1.5bn. [...] that first successful moon mission was one of high drama, it was not the most dramatic Gavin would work on. Less than a year later the command module of Apollo 13 did explode. It is a moment known to many of us from the film Apollo 13 [...] Back on earth, Gavin and Kelly were able to reprogramme the landing craft to tow the crippled command module 300,000 miles round the moon and earthwards. The three astronauts survived in the landing module for four days before using the command module to splash down safely in the Pacific. “That was the tensest episode of my career,” Gavin said later. “The team at Grumman developed a personal relationship with every one of the astronauts in the Apollo era. We were building machines that our friends would operate -- not some faceless individuals unknown to us.” In 1971, Nasa awarded him its Distinguished Public Service Medal for his part in saving the astronauts’ lives." [...] Speaking of his lifetime’s work, he once said: “There’s a certain exuberance that comes from being out there on the edge of technology, where things are not certain, where there is some risk, and where you make something work.”
Beautiful and bold. Rest in peace, Joe.

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