• Gerry Griffin spoke to soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley on Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Gerry Griffin spoke to soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley, on Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Cosmosphere Collections Manager Shannon Whetzel and Gerry Griffin, former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, hold up an oxygen scrubber from the Apollo 13 Command Service Module at the Cosmosphere Thursday. The oxygen scrubber, though genuine, did not fly on Apollo 13.

  • Gerry Griffin, former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, holds up a replica of the oxygen scrubber filter from the Apollo 13 Command Service Module on Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Gerry Griffin spoke to soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley, on Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley, seen Thursday at the Cosmosphere, look at the docking mechanism that attached the Apollo 13 Command Service Module to the Lunar Excursion Module. The soldiers are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts.

  • During a professional development opportunity retreat, soldiers from Fort Riley’s Second Armored Brigade Combat Team, seen Thursday at the Cosmosphere, are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts.

  • Jim Harris, left, seen Thursday at the Cosmosphere, describes the procedure for the docking mechanism between the Apollo 13 Command Service Module and the Lunar Excursion Module. Soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts.

  • During a professional development opportunity retreat, soldiers from Fort Riley’s Second Armored Brigade Combat Team, seen Thursday at the Cosmosphere, are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts.

  • During a professional development opportunity retreat, soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Ft. Riley are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts at the Cosmosphere, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.

  • Jim Harris describes on Thursday the procedure for docking between the Apollo 13 Command Service Module and the Lunar Excursion Module in front of a model of the docking mechanism at the Cosmosphere. Soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley were tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts.

  • Soldiers Josh Betty, right, and Jim Pence from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley discuss Thursday how to fix the docking problem faced by Apollo 13 astronauts during their mission.

  • Soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Ft. Riley look at the docking mechanism which attached the Apollo 13 Command Service Module to the Lunar Excursion Module at the Cosmosphere, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. The soldiers are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts.

  • Space Science Educator Chuck McClary describes on Thursday the docking procedure between the Apollo 13 Command Service Module and the Lunar Excursion Module. Soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley are tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts during their mission, as outlined by McClary.

  • Space Science Educator Chuck McClary describes on Thursday the docking procedure between the Apollo 13 Command Service Module and the Lunar Excursion Module. Soldiers from the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley were tasked with finding a solution to the docking problem faced by the Apollo 13 astronauts during their mission, as outlined by McClary.

Fort Riley soldiers work to solve Apollo 13 dilemma at Cosmosphere with help from flight director who worked the real thing

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Soldiers from Fort Riley readied for a "Apollo 13 Redux" exercise Thursday, getting help from someone who solved the real problem for NASA in 1970.

Gerry Griffin, one of the flight directors who helped get the Apollo 13 crew safely back to Earth after a near-disaster, spoke to the group before observing their efforts in the Cosmosphere's program.

Soldiers took on the roles of aerospace engineers, backup astronauts and others on the ground looking for solutions to an in-flight problem encountered by astronauts. In this case, it was a problem docking the lunar module and command module, a problem that actually occurred during Apollo 14.

Over three hours in the afternoon, soldiers learned about the docking mechanism, considered possibilities of what could have gone wrong and developed possible solutions.

Col. David Gardner with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division said he had the idea for the group to visit the Cosmosphere as a professional development and team-building retreat − a "staff ride," in military parlance.

"I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the space program in the military," he said.

The 2nd Armored Brigade, also known as Dagger Brigade, contacted the Cosmosphere to ask about programs. The staff recommended the Apollo 13 Redux program and even suggested Griffin might be able to join them.

Preparations for the event showed a lot of similarity between mission control and battalion-level operations centers, even down to the layout, Gardner said.

Before the program, Griffin spoke to the group for about two hours; then they went on a self-guided tour of the Hall of Space Museum. Warrant Officer 1 Jasmin Johnson said she enjoyed learning about the beginnings of the space race and the competitiveness between the U.S. and Soviet space programs.

"I thought it was a good way to break the monotony of a 9-to-5 schedule," and a good team-building opportunity, she said.

Chuck McClary, the Cosmosphere space science educator presenting the program, said the soldiers were a good audience, but they kept him on his toes by asking tougher, more detailed questions than most groups.

At the end of the day, the Cosmosphere brought out two items from its collection that aren't currently on display: a replica of the round air scrubber from the Apollo 13 lunar module and an actual but non-flown square air scrubber like the one in the Apollo 13 command module.

The real 13

{span}Griffin said socks and duct tape were used to save the real Apollo 13 astronauts. {/span}

When the Apollo 13 crew had to use the lunar module as a "lifeboat" during the return to Earth, its air scrubber, designed for two people during the relatively short time on the moon, wasn't sufficient for three people on the long return. Carbon dioxide started building toward dangerous levels, Griffin explained.

Engineers at the Johnson Space Center had to figure out a way to fit one of the square filters over the round intake using only items available to the astronauts.

The air scrubber problem was dramatized in the 1995 film "Apollo 13." Griffin was a technical adviser for the movie and said the technical depiction was right, but liberties were taken with how things happened for the sake of the story.

For instance, the items available to the astronauts were not spread out on a table to start figuring out a solution − the engineers on the ground had a list, which didn't make for as dramatic a visual.

Before returning to Fort Riley, Gardner presented a certificate of appreciation from Dagger Brigade to the Cosmosphere and a Dagger Brigade hat, a canteen cup and a bottle of whiskey to Griffin.

During an interview, Griffin said that despite not landing on the moon, Apollo 13 was one of the space program's greatest successes.

"Apollo 13 is what we were really about," he said. "Our best day was to handle something like Apollo 13."

It took time to really appreciate the accomplishment, though.

"We moved almost right on to Apollo 14," Griffin said. "We didn't have time to count our blessings much."

He said he thinks a lot about the future of the space program, and he thinks we need to send a manned mission to Mars, but it shouldn't be the first step.

"I think we need to go back to the moon first," he said. "We've got to get our mojo back, operating in deep space."

Griffin said NASA got in a rhythm with Apollo 15, 16 and 17 as it got more experience with moon missions. While Apollo 17 was on its way back from the moon in 1972, he thought the space program had the momentum to send a manned mission to Mars.

"I remember sitting in the control room, they were drifting back to the Earth, and we were talking about Mars," he said. "And we said, 'Well, that won't take us more than 20 years. We'll be on Mars 20 years from now.' "

Griffin doesn't see Mars as the endpoint, either. He thinks humanity needs to progress toward colonizing planets around other stars.

"This planet may not last forever," he said.