Watch Those Amps!

  
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I sent an email to some of my friends about my favorite passage in a book that I'd recently read.  I decided to post it here for the enjoyment of everyone.  For those of you who are not amateur radio operators, Field Day is an exercise that is held every year to test emergency skills.  It's held as a contest in which points are awarded for various things, including running off of emergency power like a generator or batteries.  Not surprisingly, I'm the generator guy for our club.


I was reading Jim Lovell's book "Lost Moon" which describes the journey of Apollo 13 and the efforts to bring the crew back alive after a major explosion in one of the oxygen tanks which subsequently vented all the oxygen in the Command Module. (This book was the basis for the movie "Apollo 13".)  I read a passage in the book yesterday that really impressed me and that I just had to share with you all.  I'll be following these procedures at Field Day next year as we run off of batteries.  :-)

To give you the backdrop, the crew of Apollo 13 was attempting to power up the Command Module for the first time in a couple of days.  Up until that point it had been shut down completely and was subjected to near-freezing temperatures.  In order to bring the system back online, they could only draw a certain amount of power, and in order to make sure that they didn't draw too much, the decision was made to power up the system, bring up the telemetry system just long enough to verify that the readings were as expected, then to shut down telemetry to save power.  It was the job of the EECOM (Electrical, Environmental, and Communications officer) on the ground to monitor electrical usage.

So here's the story...

    ... If it turned out that Odyssey [the Command Module] was consuming juice above the 43-amp level, even for a short while, there was a real chance its batteries would be exhausted before it ever hit the [Pacific] ocean.

    When Lovell sent Swigert up into Odyssey, Aaron, Liebergot, Dumis, and Burton leaned over their EECOM console expectantly.  For twenty minutes, almost no communication came from the ship.  Finally Lovell passed the news to the ground that the last of the switches had been thrown, including the telemetry switches.  Slowly, the screen at the EECOM station began to strobe to life.  When the amp readout materialized, the four EECOMS recoiled as if burned.  The number that appeared was 45.
    "Shit," Aaron spat out.  "What the hell are those 2 amps doing there!"
    "I have no idea," Liebergot said.
    "I'll be damned if I know," Burton echoed.
    "Well, they sure as hell don't belong there.  We're blowing half of our margin!"  Aaron now signaled his backroom.  "Electronics, EECOM."
    "Go, EECOM," the voice came back.
    "We're pulling 2 amps we shouldn't be."
    "I see 'em, EECOM."
    "Run through the checklist and see what we left on."
    "Roger."
    Aaron clicked off the air and leaned to his right, toward the guidance and navigation console.  "You got anything over there that shouldn't be on?"
    "Not that I can see, John."
    "Well, scan.  We've got 2 rogue amps."
    As Aaron was talking to his GNC [Guidance, Navigation, and Control officer], Liebergot, Dumis, and Burton fanned out through the first three rows, to see if any of the other controllers might have left any instrument on that would be pulling amps it shouldn't.  Even before those men could respond, however, Aaron's backroom came back on the loop.
    "EECOM," the controller said.
    "Go ahead."
    "Got it.  It's the B-MAGs, the backup gyros.  Tell the GNC to have the crew shut 'em off."
    Aaron instantly leaned back to the GNC at his left.  "Check your B-MAGs.  Are they on?"
    The guidance and navigation officer looked at his screen and slumped.  "Aw, hell," he groaned.
    "Flight, EECOM," Aaron quickly called.  "Tell Capcom to tell the crew to shut off their backup gyros."
    Joe Kerwin relayed Aaron's message up to Odyssey, Swigert threw the appropriate switch, and the amp readout on the EECOM screen dropped back down to 43.  But, as Aaron had said, a few of Odyssey's precious amps were gone for good.