The manner in which the team decided how to deal with this low-level quantity warning light taps into one of Apollo's most interesting side stories, because it illustrates the management style of Howard Wilson (Bill) Tindall, one of the senior engineers. He was an expert on the subtleties of rendezvous and trajectories and became head of the Mission Planning and Analysis Division. In the hectic days leading up to Apollo's successes, he coordinated the planning process that threaded together the disparate systems and people to create the edifice that was an Apollo flight. His method of decision making touched just about every facet of an Apollo flight, from the dumping of urine to the position of the Navy's recovery force or any other thing that was intertwined with the trajectory, and he is considered by many to be a major reason for the success of the programme.
There were two sides to his style. The first was the manner in which he handled large meetings that involved engineers, programmers, mathematicians, crews or whoever in order to get this diverse mass of people to reach a decision. David Scott attended lots of these meetings and shares the admiration that many have for Tindall's abilities. "Tindall would control the debates in terms of giving people the opportunity to talk, and then mix and match and make the trades. Then he would make a decision and say, 'I'm gonna recommend this to management. Anybody have any really strong objections?' And the guy who lost the debate may say, 'Yeah, it won't work!' And Tindall would say, 'OK, fine. We'll go this way and if it won't work, we'll come back and re-address it, but we'll make a decision today.'
''They were good debates and anybody could stand up and debate the issue. But he kept it moving. He didn't get bogged down because he himself was a brilliant engineer. I think Tindall was a real key to the success of Apollo because of how he brought people together and had them communicate in very complex issues. He was very good at it. He'd have them explain it, and in front of all their peers.''
The second side to Tindall's ability was in the extraordinary memos he wrote, now fondly called Tindallgrams. NASA often displayed the formal stuffiness of a government bureaucracy, yet the memos from this particular senior engineer not only showed how he tied the project's final stages together, but they revealed a unique chatty, easy to understand style that historians thought was quite remarkable. For example, a memo that discussed the possible reasons for Apollo 11's overshoot had 'Vent bent, descent lament!' in its subject line. Another on the LM's low-level
warning light that was sent to a large list of addressees had this wonderful section:
"I think this will amuse you. It's something that came up the other day during a Descent Abort Mission Techniques meeting.
"As you know, there is a light on the LM dashboard that comes on when there is about two minutes' worth of propellant remaining in the DPS tanks with the engine operating at quarter thrust. This is to give the crew an indication of how much time they have left to perform the landing or to abort out of there. It complements the propellant gauges. The present LM weight and descent trajectory is such that this light will always come on prior to touchdown. This signal, it turns out, is connected to the master alarm - how about that! In other words, just at the most critical time in the most critical operation of a perfectly nominal lunar landing mission, the master alarm with all its lights, bells and whistles will go off. This sounds right lousy to me. In fact, Pete Conrad tells me he labelled it completely unacceptable four or five years ago, but he was probably just an ensign at the time and apparently no one paid any attention. If this is not fixed, I predict the first words uttered by the first astronaut to land on the moon will be 'Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me.''' Just engineering magic.
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