Another Ozark Countian shares memories of his role in the lunar landing 50 years ago
With a population of fewer than 10,000 people in a remote and rural section of southern Missouri, it seems unlikely that two Ozark Countians would have been directly involved in the 1969 Apollo 11 project that first landed a man on the moon, but that’s the case.
After seeing the story in the July 31 edition of the Times describing Theodosia resident H. K. Silvey’s work 50 years ago as a Boeing quality control employee working on the Saturn V booster rocket that launched Apollo 11, Gainesville resident Jack Stone offered to share with the Ozark County Historium his original copies of the final Apollo 11 flight plan, which he had used in his work with NASA. Stone also worked on the Apollo 8, 9 and 10 missions.
Stone, a native of Tyler, Texas, graduated in 1968 with a math degree from the University of Houston and “went right to work at NASA as a programmer,” he told the Times Monday. He worked in the “Consumable Analysis Group,” which had the responsibility of making sure the spacecraft would have sufficient electrical power throughout the mission and the astronauts would have enough drinking water.
Electricity for the spacecraft was generated by combustion of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that generated drinking water as a by-product. In a report he wrote for the Times, Stone said his job was to account for all the electrical power that would be used during the eight-day, three-hour, 18-minute flight and then make sure there was enough fuel (hydrogen and oxygen) to power the fuel cells for that amount of consumption and time.
“Some of the components that required electricity were the burners used for course corrections and the heaters and fans used to keep the pressure and temperature of the hydrogen and oxygen in the tanks at desirable levels,” he said.
Doing his job required him to go through the 400-page flight plan minute-by-minute to analyze fuel consumption and water generation.
The computer that processed the data he collected and entered via punched cards was a Univac 1108, which was about the size of “a medium-size house,” he wrote. That computer had 4 megabytes of memory – about 8,000 times less than a modern-day 32 gigabyte thumb drive.
And the computer onboard the spacecraft itself had even less memory – only 2 kilobytes. “Today’s smart phone can have 4 GB, which is 2 million times as much memory as the Apollo computer,” Stone wrote, adding, “programs then had to be much more efficient than those written today.”
Apollo 11 launched with 600 pounds of oxygen and 60-something pounds of hydrogen, Stone said. “We made constant updates to our models using ‘live data’ received from space during the eight-day mission.” When the flight ended, the data showed that fuel consumption had been 95 percent of what the group’s computer models had predicted.
Stone especially likes to point out page 362 of the Apollo 11 flight plan, which precisely predicts how the spacecraft’s arrival on the moon would play out.
A year after the first lunar landing, Stone went to work for Tenneco, a conglomerate, where he helped with a computer project termed “Corporate Planning Model,” which became the forerunner of today’s computer spreadsheets. He returned to college to earn an accounting degree, and after working at various programming jobs and owning his own company for a while, he returned home to Tyler in 1981 to teach computer science courses. He also earned a master’s degree as well as his CPA credentials.
In 1988, he and his wife, Sandra, moved to Mexico to work with a missionary they had met in London. They stayed in Mexico 10 years, and then, shortly after returning to Texas, they moved to Ozark County in 2009. Stone said his brother, Robert, had moved here a year earlier and he “strongly recommended the area.”
His copies of the original flight plans for Apollo 8, 9, 10 and 11, are on temporary display at the Historium, where Sandra Stone works as a volunteer. This may be one of only a few collections of all four original Final Apollo Flight Plans displayed together, Stone said, adding that visitors may ask to have them taken from the display case so they can examine them.
“I ask that you be careful with them,” he said. “They are 50 years old!”
The Historium is open to everyone, free of charge, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.