Apollo flight controller shares his story in the Kiva

Alyssa DeGeorge

Sy Liebergot shared his story about being the lead flight controller for the Apollo missions.

Sy Liebergot, the lead flight controller for all Apollo space missions, shared his story in a multimedia presentation at Kent State last night in the Kiva.

Liebergot received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in mission control, which brought the Apollo 13 crew home safely after an oxygen tank exploded on the spacecraft. His presentation included pictures of the mission control room before and after the explosion and clips of the conversations between the astronauts on the spacecraft and the people working in mission control.

“It was really neat to see the other side of the console: [the mission control’s] view of the astronauts,” said Logan DeNelsky, a sophomore business management major. “Everyone always talks about the astronauts and how they were and how they felt.”

Liebergot said, in the last hour of his shift, he asked the astronauts to stir the oxygen tank before going on their sleep period. The tank exploded due to damaged wiring inside the fan.

Liebergot said he felt guilty and thought about what he could have done differently for weeks.

“I felt, being a human, that I had failed,” he said.

Later, Liebergot said he realized it was the best time for that failure to take place and that if the explosion took place when they stirred the tank in the morning, the crew would have been less likely to make it home safely.

In his presentation, Liebergot included clips from the movie, “Apollo 13” directed by Ron Howard.

“Those of us who were working the mission didn’t ever want to hear ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem,’” he said.

Liebergot explained which parts of the movie were accurate and which were dramatized.

Mike Smith, a Kent resident, said his favorite part was learning what actually happened, “not what Hollywood said happened.”

“I knew he wasn’t going to be Clint Howard [who played Liebergot in the “Apollo 13” movie], and I was happy about it,” Smith said.

Liebergot said he is thankful for the production of the movie.

“I’m forever grateful to [Ron Howard] because he reenergized people’s interest in the space program,” he said.

Liebergot said NASA’s space program is not as good as it used to be.

“Back then, we were young; we were fearless,” he said. “After all, no one had ever told us young engineers that we couldn’t successfully land humans on another planet.”

Today, people have a tendency to be “risk aversive,” Liebergot said.

“I think people can give you 100 reasons why we shouldn’t go to the moon nowadays, instead of one reason why we should,” he said.

He said space exploration is something that the country should continue to invest in.

“Don’t people realize it’s important to keep exploring?” he said. “That’s how we push the envelope.”

Contact Alyssa DeGeorge at [email protected].