January 26, 2023

Remembering NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill, the Inspiration Behind “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13”

Jerry Woodfill, an engineer who worked vigilantly behind the scenes throughout NASAs Apollo program, has actually passed away at age 79. Jerry was still used by the Johnson Space Center (JSC) at the time of his death, working there for over 57 years. Most especially, Jerry worked as the lead engineer behind the Caution and Warning System on the Apollo spacecraft, which alerted astronauts to problems such as Apollo 11s computer problems during the first Moon landing, and the explosion of Apollo 13s oxygen tanks.
While continuing his work as an engineer at JSC, Jerrys transmittable enthusiasm for spaceflight led him to also be part of NASAs instructional and public outreach, where he led programs for children, instructors and grownups about science and space flight. Jerry Woodfill in 1965 shortly after he began working at NASA.

His passion and perpetual interest in spaceflight history was the motivation behind Universe Todays multi-year series on Apollo 13, “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13,” “13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13,” and “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13.” I initially spoke with Jerry in 2007, and have been honored to call him my buddy since. His passing leaves a space in the universe.
Jerry Woodfill in 1965 shortly after he began operating at NASA. Illustrations of the Apollo Command Module screen are taped on the wall behind him. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.
Born as Jared Ryker Woodfill IV in 1942, he thought his provided name was too formal, therefore preferred being called Jerry. He tended to downplay his function at NASA, calling himself a “low level engineer,” but he was an integral part of the cog of engineers and researchers who worked behind the scenes to make it possible to reach the Moon.
To motivate students who may be experiencing obstacles, Jerry typically shared his story of getting rid of athletic and academic shortfalls. While going to Rice University on a basketball scholarship, his life on and off the court wasnt going as he had hoped.
” Sadly, I hold the record of the most affordable shooting percentage in Rice University history … one out of eighteen shots!” he informed me years earlier. “And the one shot I made at Baylor University with seconds left in the very first half was a desperate 35-foot pass to our center under the basket. It cruised too high and went through the hoop. My only basket was actually a bad pass! In reality, I was absolutely no for eighteen.”.
Then President John Kennedy visited Rice University in 1962, and provided his iconic “We select to go to the Moon” which helped move NASAs Apollo program into reality. Totally influenced by the speech, Jerry turned in his basketball shoes and focused on his studies of electrical engineering, intent on ending up being part of the space program.
His dream became a reality and he signed up with NASA in 1965, in the nick of time to help to build the Apollo spacecraft.
When the battery is low or the generator isnt working, Jerry compared the Caution and Warning alarm system on the spacecraft to the lights that come on in a vehicle. “We had to create the very best ways of telling the astronauts they had a problem,” he stated. We had to make certain the alarm worked right.”.
He worked with contractors, fellow engineers, flight controllers and astronauts on the alarm for both the Command Module and the lunar lander.
The Mission Evaluation Room for Apollo, Jerry Woodfill is seen on the far left. Image courtesy Jerry Woodfill.
Jerry was likewise part of the Mission Evaluation Room (MER), which was responsible for solving in-flight issues during the Apollo objectives to the Moon. MER ran as a support room for Houstons Mission Control, and housed a diverse group of engineering professionals throughout a number of various disciplines for both the spacecraft and the team, as well as experts from the different contractor business that built the spacecraft or systems.
Throughout the Apollo objectives, around 100 engineers at a time worked in around the clock shifts, continuously analyzing inbound data from the spacecraft and sharing any important data with other support rooms and the flight control team.
” We were an unrecognized group,” Jerry described “We were there for mission support. We werent flight controllers, however we were professionals the flight controllers turned to for insights and analysis.”.
Jerry was at his seat in the MER the night of April 13, 1970, when the oxygen tank in Apollo 13s Command and Service Module took off. He helped ascertain precisely what his alarm system was telling the engineers and astronauts, so that the team could be brought house safely.
Jerry Woodfill and Nancy Atkinson in 2018 in Houston, Texas. Image by Nancy Atkinson.
Over the years, Jerry worked on many other jobs at JSC, such as assisting to create thermal sensing units and instrumentation for the area shuttle bus, creating innovating methods of using assistance systems to manage shuttle bus operations, and assisting to handle information from satellites.
He compiled a database of NASA spinoffs considering that the inception of NASAs innovation usage program, and especially produced the Space Educators Handbook, an early online area education resource, which he likewise provided to teachers on floppies. While searching for old instructional materials, he found the “lost lessons” of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe, whose life tragically ended in January 1986 when Space Shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crewmembers. While McAuliffe never got to teach her lessons, Jerry made certain that instructors and students from around the world could experience and utilize what McAuliffe certainly wished to share from area.
Jerry Woodfill, a force of nature. Image courtesy Craig Scott.
Words fail in completely describing Jerry. Unique, unique, energetic, multi-faceted, inspirational, funny, passionate, and incredibly kind are simply a couple of that in combination dont fully include everything that Jerry was.
Craig Scott, a space lover from Wales, was likewise a friend of Jerrys and he shared his insights on our mutual buddy.
” I sent out Jerry a T-shirt that I felt encapsulated whatever that he was: It stated Force of Nature,” Craig shared with me by means of e-mail. I can say, with 100% certainty, that I have never understood anyone with the capability to spread out energy, joy and enthusiasm like Jerry did. Jerry was unquestionably distinct.
We agreed that everyone who understood Jerry will certainly miss him, but likewise smile at the tradition of his life.
” As far as grieving somebody goes, that is probably the finest variation of it that exists,” Craig said.
You can read Jerrys obituary from his family here.
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Jerry Woodfill, an engineer who worked vigilantly behind the scenes during NASAs Apollo program, has actually died at age 79. Jerry was still utilized by the Johnson Space Center (JSC) at the time of his death, working there for over 57 years. Most significantly, Jerry worked as the lead engineer behind the Caution and Warning System on the Apollo spacecraft, which notified astronauts to problems such as Apollo 11s computer system problems throughout the first Moon landing, and the explosion of Apollo 13s oxygen tanks.
While continuing his work as an engineer at JSC, Jerrys contagious enthusiasm for spaceflight led him to also belong to NASAs educational and public outreach, where he led programs for kids, instructors and adults about science and space flight. He routinely provided over 40 lectures a year, both face to face and online to listeners all over the world. His unique sense of humor and often unabashed showmanship could hold even the quickest of young attention periods, and Jerry usually had his audiences either in stitches or totally mesmerized by his stories.

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