Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me

Whilst working as “Chief of Apollo Data Priority Coordination” during the Apollo space program — or, as Gene Kranz fondly labelled him, “pretty much the architect for all of the techniques that we used to go down to the surface of the Moon” — NASA engineer Bill Tindall was renowned within the agency for the informal tone of the incredibly important internal memos he sent during his tenure. So much so that these “Tindallgrams” have been circulating amongst enthusiasts ever since, and can be found, in PDF format, at the collectSPACE website.

Below is just one of the hundreds he sent. It was written in November of 1968, just eight months prior to the Apollo 11 spaceflight, and saw Tindall amusingly bring to light a potentially startling problem relating to the Lunar Module.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of collectSPACE. Huge thanks to Mike Harney for bringing it to my attention.



DATE: November 25, 1968

TO: See list attached
FROM: PA/Chief, Apollo Data Priority Coordination
SUBJECT: LM DPS low level light fixing

I think this will amuse you. It’s something that came up the other day during a Descent Abort Mission 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 propellent 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 compliments 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 labeled 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.”

As I understand it, cutting the wire to the master alarm eliminates the low level sensor too. If nothing else can be done, this should be and we’ll get along just using the propellent gauges without the light. If possible, a better fix would be to cut the wire on both sides of the master alarm and jumper the signal to the light only.

Incidentally, on the D mission the propellent levels will be low enough when we get to the DPS rendezvous maneuvers – Phasing and Insertion – that if this system is activated prior to ullage, the master alarm will likely go off. I guess it will be standard procedure to punch it off if that happens. But, where this is just an annoyance on D, it is dangerous on G.


Howard W. Tindall, Jr.

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