It turns out that Apollo 11 came mighty close to failing to land on the surface of the moon.
John Garman, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 72, had worked at Nasa for many years and was instrumental to the mission’s success. He was 25 years old in 1969 and had been working at the Johnson Space Centre for three years.
On 20 July, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were mere minutes away from landing the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle on the moon when they were surprised by a computer alarm.
The 1202 alarm was something neither recognised from their training; uncertain of their future, the duo was torn about whether or not to abort the mission and thus fail the landing.
The decision fell to Steve Bales, who was the Guidance Officer at Mission Control. He went straight to Garman, who had poured over a list of all the possible computer alarms in preparation.
Garman knew what the code meant straight away – that the guidance computer was temporarily overloading.
During a simulated landing, the 1202 alarm had caused the mission to be aborted.
Garman knew the alarm wasn’t serious, and allowed Bale to confirm the go/no-go scenario (the radio teams involved in a rocket launch each run through with ‘go’ if everything on their end is optimal).
And so when it came to Bale’s turn, armed with Garman’s knowledge, he uttered the one word that allowed the mission to continue:
Bales was later awarded a US Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of his team for making the call, though the decision has been widely attributed to Garman.