(p. 29) On July 20, 1969, moments after mission control in Houston had given the Apollo 11 lunar module, Eagle, the O.K. to begin its descent to the moon, a yellow warning light flashed on the cockpit instrument panel.
“Program alarm,” the commander, Neil Armstrong, radioed. “It’s a 1202.”
The alarm appeared to indicate a computer systems overload, raising the specter of a breakdown. With only a few minutes left before touchdown on the moon, Steve Bales, the guidance officer in mission control, had to make a decision: Let the module continue to descend, or abort the mission and send the module rocketing back to the command ship, Columbia.
By intercom, Mr. Bales quickly consulted Jack Garman, a 24-year-old engineer who was overseeing the software support group from a back-room console.
Mr. Garman had painstakingly prepared himself for just this contingency — the possibility of a false alarm.
“So I said,” he remembered, “on this backup room voice loop that no one can hear, ‘As long as it doesn’t reoccur, it’s fine.'”
At 4:18 p.m., with only 30 seconds of fuel remaining for the descent, Mr. Armstrong radioed: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Mr. Garman, whose self-assurance and honed judgment effectively saved mankind’s first lunar landing, died on Tuesday outside Houston.
For the full obituary, see:
SAM ROBERTS. “Jack Garman, Who Saved Moon Landing, Dies at 72.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., SEPT. 25, 2016): 29.
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date SEPT. 24, 2016, and has the title “Jack Garman, Whose Judgment Call Saved Moon Landing, Dies at 72.”)