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Club Meeting Summary - Apr. 7, 2022

· Club Meeting Summary

Southern Maine Astronomers

Club Meeting

7 April, 2022 1830 hours


Attending were members Russell Pinizzotto, Jon Wallace, Greg Thorup, Bob Dodge, Forrest

Sumner, George Bokinsky, Ron Thompson, Paul Schumann, Howie Marshall, David Gay, John

O’Donnell, Greg Shanos, John Bucci, Anita DeVito, Ara Jerahian, Jack Gelfand, Scott Lovejoy,

Kevin Kane, David Thibeault, David Manchester, Dwight Lanpher, Maame Andoh, James Hummer

and Rob Burgess and new members Joanne Sharpe, Alison Leonard and family and Shannon

Wade, and guests, Carl Gurtman, Ralph Pass, Greg Thomas, Shawn Desjardins, Joanne Mullen,

Leah [?], Dan Martin, David Cowing, Baizley D, Mikel Soctcher, Shishara Adiga and guest speaker

Fred Martin. It is worth noting that this was the most well attended club meeting in our history.


1900: Rob Burgess opened the formal portion of the meeting stating it was also serving as our

Annual Meeting of the Membership and Annual Directors’ Meeting, as required by the bylaws. He

welcomed new members Alison Leonard, Chop Chalmers and Joanne Sharpe. Joanne Mullen as a

guest indicated she was joining the club as well.


Recent activities by members:

  • Recent aurora activity was not visible here due to clouds and rain.
  • The discussion from the prior meeting initiated by Carl Gurtzman on determining scientific hypotheses was briefly continued.
  • The club’s co-hosting a star party at the Rowe Elementary School in Portland had previously been reported to the club by email. It was an unorthodox, crazy, pent-up, post-COVID energy event of about 500 kids and parents enjoyed by all.
  • Ara Jerahian and Russ Pinizzotto held another EAA (Electronically-Assisted Astronomy) event through the Cape Elizabeth Public Library from live Ara’s observatory, observing three objects illustrating the life cycle of stars. 58 people attended.
  • Russ Pinizzotto and Rob Burgess gave a zoom talk to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust on March 31 on light pollution and observing the late winter sky that was attended by 43 people.


The speaker for the next club meeting on May 5, 2022 will be announced shortly. [Post meeting

confirmation: the speaker will be Prof Atul Bhat, joining us from India, speaking about Constellations

and Stories from the Indian Subcontinent.]

Jon Wallace followed up on his recent email to club members eliciting volunteers for club star parties

at Neptune Drive starting in May and running through November. Rob emphasized that the club will

continue to field requests and support star parties throughout our footprint.

Rob also renewed his call for volunteers at the club Open House on April 30.

Rob reminded everyone of the Total Lunar Eclipse on May 15-16.

The Club has been invited to be part of the James Webb Space Telescope First Light project with

more details to come.


Guest Speaker: Fred Martin, retired NASA Engineer with the Apollo Mission.

Rob introduced Dr. Fred Martin who worked on the Apollo Mission from 1960-69, from its ambitious

inception through the landing of Apollo 11. Fred received his undergraduate degree in electrical

engineering from the City College of New York before obtaining his Masters, and Doctor of Science

degrees from MIT. He joined the MIT Instrumentation Lab (now Draper Industries) and was part of

the team that developed the guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo spacecrafts. In the

course of his work Fred had regular contact with the key NASA engineers and astronauts in the

program. In the latter part of his career Fred was a principal at Intermetrics, Inc., an MIT spin-off,

that developed the HAL/S programming language used for the Space Shuttle on-board software.

Since retirement, Fred is involved in the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement where he has

conducted several study groups on Apollo and the Case for Mars.


Fred started his talk with an explanation of the physics involved in getting to the moon , landing on it,

and then returning, with the two bodies in constant motion as to each other. The launch of any

spacecraft had to meet the moon where it would be. The trans-lunar insertion burns and the

corresponding trans-earth insertion burns required critically accurate telemetry and timing.


Fred briefly addressed the current hypothesis of the moon’s formation from a collision of another

body with the nascent Earth. The moon settled into an orbit roughly thirty Earth diameters away. He

reviewed the colorful and varied ways in which the moon played into human culture, leading to

worship, calendars and fears. Fred said that for some cultures there was fear of impregnation by a

full moon. In the pre-Newtonian period, before gravity was understood there were many fanciful

versions of how the moon affected the Earth and its residents. After Galileo, Kepler and Newton,

and a better understanding of science, new ideas, and science fiction, inspired human imagination

on how to get there, including designs for a 900 foot long cannon (mostly buried) to launch people



After President Kennedy’s challenge of putting a man on the moon there where several competing

ways as to how to do that: 1) Werner von Braun’s idea of launching everything needed on a huge

rocket, that would land on the moon and then return; 2) building the spacecraft needed to get to the

moon in earth orbit and 3) sending an unmanned spacecraft to the moon and returning it. None of

these was selected, with the final plan involving an orbiting command module and a detachable

lunar lander that would descend to the surface and then rendezvous with the orbiting module. It

would still take a large rocket to put all this payload on the way to the moon which resulted in the

Saturn V rocket, at 361’ tall, the most powerful US rocket ever made. In true government

contracting, the Command Module was made by Grumman in California while the Lunar Excursion

Module (LEM) was made by a contractor on Long Island, NY.


Fred related an anecdote where in discussion with President Kenneby by James Webb, Jerome

Weisner and Robert Seamans – early leaders of NASA – that Kennedy’s compelling rhetoric of the

challenge of getting to the moon had a more geo-political motivation of beating the Russians in the

“space race” admitting “because I’m not that interested in space.”


Fred described how essential it was for the spacecraft to know where it was in space and how his

team worked on the inertial platform that was designed to do that: a series of gyroscopes at right

angles to each other that were oriented to a particular star. Because of unavoidable drift the

astronauts were still required to take sextant readings every few hours to confirm their location and

to adjust it as necessary. Fred was part of the team that was available 24/7 to respond to issues that

might arise with regard to navigation and guidance. In a post-script to the meeting Fred reported that

on a quiet Sunday afternoon on thereturn trip to Earth on Apollo 8 his team got a call reporting that

Jim Lovell made an error:

The flight seemed quite nominal with no incidents so far. All of a sudden astronaut Jim Lovell said “Oh Oh, I think I did something wrong.” CAPCOM calmly said “what d’ya do Jim?” He replied "I was working with the DSKY and I keyed in Program 00 “P00.” Did I do anything wrong?” NASA immediately got on the horn with us looking for an explanation. We said P00 is a pre-launch program only used at the Cape. No one had ever keyed it in during the mid-course flight home. We said we’d have to research it. Thereafter we went to work searching through the 8 inch thick computer program listing trying to find out what the computer would do if during the taking of star sightings the astronaut would key in P00. NASA was on the phone every 15 minutes seeking our answer and we frantically searched down all the necessary logical paths in the code. They were concerned that if the astronauts lost navigation data, and communications were also lost, the crew would not be able to find their way back to earth.

Sure enough after a longer period of time than I care to remember we found that Jim Lovell did indeed over-write his entire star sighting information, and with it, his ability to navigate. We finally were able to report to NASA that fact and CAPCOM, once again, calmly informed the astronauts that the issue was solved, there really was no problem, and the ground would telemeter up some new navigation into the AGC and they were good to go.

It was a quiet afternoon and we felt good about being able to help.


Earlier on that same flight when Apollo 8 was first entering lunar orbit, it had to fire its engines

when it was behind the moon and out of radio contact with Earth for 40 minutes. When radio

contact was to resume NASA called Apollo 8 and got no response. Then 5 seconds later the

astronauts called in and Fred’s team at MIT was full of tremendous pride that their systems had

worked as designed.


In a final anecdote Fred recounted the famous “1202” Alarm going off as Apollo 11 was making

its final descent to the lunar surface. The alarm was going off repeatedly, about every 10

seconds. Houston turned to one of the MIT engineers, Jack Garman, who recognized that the

system was overloaded with executive job queues, but it was something that had never been

experienced in testing. Jack made the call to press on and Apollo 11 landed without incident.

(Definitely a “steely-eyed missile man” call.) However, Apollo 11 was set to leave the moon in

24 hours and NASA was immediately on the phone to the MIT team to figure out the cause of

the alarm because “we are not going [launching] with alarms.” The team determined that the

computer was operating at only about 80% of design capacity, but why? For the next 24 hours

the team tested and retested sequences and commands trying to figure out the problem, while

getting calls from NASA every 15 minutes looking for answers. Fred had a serendipitous

encounter in the stairwell of the building where he was working with another MIT engineer,

George Silver, who was normally at Cape Kennedy. George had been involved in many pre-

flight tests. Fred asked him if he had ever seen the computer run slow and under what

conditions. To his surprise, George said it was called “cycle stealing” when one of the systems

was looking for data. He had seen it when the Rendezvous Radar switch was on. He asked if it

was on, because it was not intended to be on during descent to moon, only on ascent to the

Command Module. Fred and his team searched the telemetry print out only to determine the

switch was on! It could only have been on if turned on by one of the astronauts. They reported

their analysis to Houston and corrective instructions were given to Armstrong and Aldrin and the

ascent launch went off without a problem. Some thirty years later Buzz Aldrin admitted he had

turned that radar system on during descent – in case of an aborted landing he wanted to make

sure in the heat of the chaos they could find their way back to the Command Module! Good

thinking, but not part of the procedures manual. Without that accidental encounter between

Fred and a colleague in a stairwell who knops how the outcome of Apollo 11 might have been



Tour of Astro League Spring Galaxy targets by Russ Pinizzotto

Because of some technical difficulties with Fred’s presentation there was insufficient time to go

through Russ’ tour. It was decided to take it up at May’s meeting.


Annual Meeting of the Membership, Annual Meeting of the Directors

Club Secretary Ara Jerahian called the Annual Meeting of the Membership to order. Noting that

notice of the meeting having been given more than 14 days in advance in accordance with the

bylaws, and a quorum (more than 16 members, 27 were in attendance) being present, the business

of the Annual Meeting could be undertaken. Bob Dodge and Howie Marshall had been appointed

previously as a Nominating Committee. Bob Dodge presented a slate of members offering to serve,

that included Kevin Kane and Maame Andoh as new members and Al DiSababtino, Ara Jerahian

and Howie Marshall offering to serve again. One other new member who initially offered to fill the

eleventh director position reluctantly withdrew from consideration due to the press of other work.

There being no other nominations from the floor the slate was put to a vote and was unanimously

approved. The Treasurer provided a report of club finances, noting that the club’s finances had

never been this strong. Growth in the club treasury was the result of membership growth, grant

funding and sale of donated equipment. Rob Burgess provided a brief review of achievements the

club attained in 2021. A Report to the Membership was sent in November 2021, and Rob directed

members to the website where the report was posted. He reported that the club reached more than

1,000 people through club events in 2021, another strong year despite the challenges of COVID. He

said the Club’s greatest challenge going into 2022 is to encourage more volunteers so that the club

can deliver on its outreach programs through regular star parties at Neptune Drive and other such

events throughout our footprint. Finally, Rob offered the club’s gratitude to outgoing directors

George Bokinsky, Forrest Sumner and Rowan Goebel-Bain, all of whom plan to stay involved in the

club. Rob showed the plaques that will be presented to each of these directors for their years of



With no further business the Annual Meeting of the Membership was adjourned.


Ara Jerahian then called the Annual Meeting of Directors to order. With adequate notice of the

meeting having been given and with more than 6 directors in attendance establishing a quorum the

meeting was in order. Howie Marshall presented a slate of members for election as President and

Vice President of the corporation – Rob Burgess and Russ Pinizzotto, respectively. Under the

bylaws these positions require annual election whereas the other executive positions of Treasurer

and Secretary do not. Both incumbents in those positions, Bob Dodge and Ara Jerahian, indicated a

willingness to continue to serve. There being no other nominees, the slate was put to a vote and

approved unanimously.


There being no other business to come before the Board of Directors the Annual Meeting was



Rob Burgess

President, SMA


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