Apollo 13 Saved By God’s Grace- An Interview With A NASA Engineer: In today’s episode, we have NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill on who was part of the Apollo program all the way through. He shares with us his great perspective on what happened on Apollo 13 and the role that God played! Tune in now to learn more!

Air Date: 06/05/2018

Guest: Jerry Woodfill

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we talk about the day’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture. Always from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.

David Barton is with us. He’s America’s premier historian and our founder here WallBuilders. Tim Barton’s with us, he’s a national speaker and pastor, and president of WallBuilders. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator.

You can find out more about us at WallBuildersLive.com, that’s our radio site. And then WallBuilders.com, our main website where there’s a lot of great tools for you and your family to get equipped, and inspired, and educated, so you can be better citizens and help us restore this constitutional republic.

Later in the program, Jerry Woodfill is with us. We’re going to hear some icredible stories about Apollo 13. David, Tim, I wonder if there are people out there right now always forget Apollo 13. Even the movie with Tom Hanks and that was like 20 years ago. There’s probably a lot of people out there that never even saw that movie and have no idea what we’re talking about when we say Apollo 13.

David:

Hey, Rick, let me take you back to the last presidential election. I got to help run a superPAC for one of the candidates, one of the last ones standing before Trump won the primary. And what we knew was our candidate kept talking about Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan, which is great. Ronald Reagan was the president from 1980 to 1988. And as we pointed out, hey, 41 percent of the people who are voting in this election had no personal knowledge of Ronald Reagan.

Well, you’ve got to go back 10 years before Ronald Reagan to get to Apollo 13. So, we’re really backing up now the number of people who will have no clue what that maybe they saw the Tom Hanks movie. But to have any actual recollection, or knowledge, or anything else, it’s not there, it’s not anything that gets real covered in history classes anymore. So, there is a high probability you’re exactly right that this may be a news story for people.

Apollo 13 the Movie

Tim:

Well, I would say, guys, and too, as we’re referencing the Tom Hanks movie. It did tell a story although I could say it was P.G. 13 and I saw it, relatively, when it came out. And I remember there was a scene or two in it that were probably not the most family friendly. Because we saw it as a family and my parents thought, “Hey, let’s go see this movie about Apollo 13.” And then I remember at some point my parents were like, “Hey, close your eyes, don’t look at this. Hey, turn your head.” So, with as much of what Hollywood does, right,–

Rick:

Right.

Tim:

The emphasis was not always on Apollo 13. However, there at least was a movie about this at one point. So, at one point this was a story on some level that was being told. And you’re right, today a lot of the stories that used to be notable stories, used to be recognized stories, are just not told anymore. Frankly, as we were talking about this notion of interviewing somebody that connection to NASA, the space program, Apollo 13, I started thinking, “I really don’t even remember all the differences between all the Apollo missions and remember which one was which.” I had to think, “I’m going to have to do some research just to remember what we’re talking about here.”

David:

Well, we’ve got an engineer who was there as part of this, part of the Apollo program all the way through. He was a NASA engineer. Just by way of background, Apollo 13, this was in April of 1970 when it became national news. It was actually the seventh Apollo mission. It was supposed to be the third mission to land on the moon. And so as they’re on their way to the moon they have an explosion on board the craft and, man, when you get an explosion onboard a craft traveling that many thousand miles an hour, you can’t do anything. You can’t get out in flight and check things and you can’t pull over and fix it.

So, they have this explosion of an oxygen tank on the craft which causes the mission to have to be called off. And getting back to Earth becomes a real doubtful scenario. So, the thinking was, “We’re about to witness guys die in space” and nobody wants to see that. So, the story of how they got back was really a phenomenal story and one of the guys who was key in the operation of helping get them back, the execution of that, is Jerry Woodfill who is 50 years NASA engineer. Great perspective on what happened on Apollo 13.

Rick:

Alright, Jerry Woodfill is going to be with us. He was right there throughout that whole experience and has an interesting perspective on this and the role that God played in just miraculous things happening over, and over, and over, again. He had a great article that was published recently about this. We asked him if he’d come share it with our listeners. And that’s what he’s going to do when we come back from the break. So stay with us. You’re listening to WallBuilders Live.

Moment From American History

This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. Alexis De Tocqueville, a political official from France, traveled to the United States in 1831 and penned his observations in the now famous book, “Democracy In America.”

Being from France, what he found in America was completely unexpected to him. He reported, “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. And the longer I stayed there the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found that they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”

Did Tocqueville recognized that it was Biblical Christianity and the morals it produced that made America great? For more information about Alexis Tocqueville and the positive influence of Christianity in early America go to WallBuilders.com.

Joined By a 50 Year NASA Engineer

Rick:

Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. Very special guest today, Jerry Woodfill is with us. After more than 50 years at NASA, he’s got some amazing stories, one of those involving Apollo 13. We are thrilled to have you, sir. Thanks for coming on today.

Jerry Woodfill:

Well, it’s a pleasure to be with you. I’m looking forward to sharing with your audience about how God’s hand worked in my life, in Apollo 13, and generally in the whole space program. So, it’s a delight to get to share with your audience.

Rick:

Well, I had read a couple of articles about your experience there and how you said God intervened in the Apollo 13 situation. And for folks that aren’t familiar, some of these younger folks that listen to our program, they need to go watch the movie Apollo 13 and they’ll get a little bit of a crash course in that. But for a lot of us this is something we learned about or we actually watched happen. It really captivated the country and you were right there in the thick of it. You were in charge of monitoring that warning system and coming up with some of the solutions to get those guys home.

Jerry Woodfill:

Well, that was the most exciting part of my career although it happened a half century ago, there’s been a lot of other things. But that thing was one I always felt like the Lord has sent into my life to use as a way of sharing with people to encourage them to become believers in the Lord Jesus. So, I’ve shared this story since about 1972, so it’s one that is well rehearsed and I can share with y’all.

Rick:

You guys actually– actually, before we jump into that I didn’t realize you were also there monitoring Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon as well.

Apollo 11 Too

Jerry Woodfill:

Well, I was the what they call the project manager, project engineer, kind of a designer of the alarm system for the Apollo spacecraft that * the lunar lander, the one called the Eagle. That’s the lander and the Columbia was the ship that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. And so because I was responsible for the alarm system they wanted to have me there if something should go amiss, and it did.

So, one of the things I like to share is that a lot of people think Apollo 11 didn’t have any problems at all. Apollo 11 had some problems that were just as dire as Apollo 13, but somehow I think the movie, the movie Apollo 13, made those come across so much more dramatically. And that’s what I speak about a lot of times when I go out and share my faith.

Rick:

Wow, okay. And the Apollo 13, you guys that were on that mission operation team, you were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom because of the victories there in getting those guys home safely.

Jerry Woodfill:

Yeah, that is really an interesting thing because we were just doing our job. But it’s so gratifying when things work out right that the Lord can bless you with something like that that just gets out of nowhere.

Rick:

Yeah.

Jerry Woodfill:

But I really think the Lord ought to get the Presidential Medal of Freedom because He did so many things that I couldn’t understand at first. But the only thing I knew was that there had to be a god. This is before I really made my profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. And it led up to actually making a decision for Christ because I saw all these things go on when I monitored that mission and saw my alarm system do things that we always made the right decision when it could have gone any way.

I always liked to use a scripture in the Old Testament and it’s Isaiah 65:24. It says, “Before they ask I’ll answer. And while they are yet speaking out here–” Now that says that before we even ask that our Lord’s a providential God and He goes before us. Even when you don’t understand it.

Before We Even Understood

Jerry Woodfill:

And that was the case with Apollo 13. Before we even understood that we would have to have that explosion happen at a time where we could still rescue the crew. Had that explosion happened just after they had actually launched for the moon or had it happened after the lunar lander was on the moon, the men would have died for sure.

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

But it happened at just the exact right time that they still had a chance.

Rick:

Jerry, back up if you would and–

Jerry Woodfill:

Yeah!

Rick:

–because a lot of our listeners are going to go, “Okay, Apollo 13, I kind of know what that is, I’m not sure.” Put it in the context of our space program. So, this was only two missions after, then, Armstrong landing on the moon.

Jerry Woodfill:

Okay, most people that study or know about the man space * program know about Apollo 8. Apollo 8 is where they actually went out to– they didn’t land on the moon, they just orbited the moon. That’s the one where they read from Genesis, the creation story from lunar orbit.

Rick:

Now, was that John Glenn?

Some History of Space Travel

Jerry Woodfill:

No, that’s after. John Glenn was the one when he was what they called the Mercury capsule.

Rick:

Okay, okay.

Jerry Woodfill:

It had one astronaut. The Gemini had two astronauts, but Apollo was the program to go to the moon that had three astronauts. So, Apollo 8 was the one that actually orbited the moon and they read from Genesis. Remember,–

Rick:

Yeah.

Jerry Woodfill:

*** it made * very angry. Well, then they had a few more test missions and then came Apollo 11. Now, 11 is the one that they actually were going to put a man’s foot on the moon and that was Neil Armstrong.

So, after 11 there would be 12, 13, 14. They would go on and we’d do other explorations and 12 went pretty well. But 13 would have been the third mission to actually land a man on the moon. And of course, 208 thousand miles from Earth, one of the oxygen tanks in the craft that actually took men out there exploded. It exploded. And the explosion was devastating. And I have many ways of understanding it.

That explosion, had God not gone before us and made it happen like it did, it could have just taken out the whole vehicle. But it’s a long story. We don’t have time in this particular interview. But let me tell you that I have put together 39 things that show that God’s hand was upon those three guys. And because of prayer he made everything turn out right and they returned to Earth safely.

Rick:

And is there a place folks can go and read those 39 things?

39 Things That Show God’s Hand

Jerry Woodfill:

Yes they can. They can go to a site on the Internet. There’s two sites – one site is kind of a secular site. And I was interviewed for it, it’s called universe today. If you google “Universe Today” and put Woodfill, Universe Today and put Woodfill, you’ll see all those thirty nine things. But I have my own personal home website and it’s called Space Acts, like the Acts of the Apostles. Well, this is the acts of the Holy Spirit in the exploration of space, so I call it SpaceActs.com.

Rick:

Alright.

Jerry Woodfill:

It’s kind of like Dave Barton and you guys do. After I become a Christian I began to see so many correlations between what the Bible had to say and what happened in the space program. And if you go out to that particular site you’ll see all kinds of real and usual things that show God’s providence in the hand of America being the first to put a man on the moon. But anyway, they can look at those two sites, you’ll see all kinds of evidence that God’s hand was on our space program.

Rick:

That’s great, that’s great. And we’ll put links to both of those today on our website as well, but excellent. Folks can go and look at more of those details.

Let’s go back to the– so on the mission when the explosion happened, were they were they orbiting? Or were they actually, had they landed on the moon?

Jerry Woodfill:

They were on route to the moon on route to the moon.

On Route to the Moon

Rick:

Okay, on route to the moon.

Jerry Woodfill:

The route takes about three days to get there.

Rick:

And you guys are actually monitoring this as you go, so you’re in that mission control room?

Jerry Woodfill:

So, here’s– let me explain this. Okay–

Rick:

Sure.

Jerry Woodfill:

It takes three groups to go to the moon. Of course the astronauts that fly the craft. And then it takes the mission control team. You know when you’re flying on Southwest Airlines you’ve got flight controllers? But then there’s a third group. These are the guys that actually designed the systems, they know the intimate way the systems work. And that’s what I was part of. I helped design that alarm system, so I was with this group of designers, engineers. And this is a mission engineering team that’s right there adjacent to the building that mission control is in so that if mission control has a problem that doesn’t look like it’s going to be solved easily they contact us to look at the problem.

So, the problem, remember in the movie they have the square filters that won’t work in the round hole?

Rick:

Yeah. Right.

Jerry Woodfill:

Well, that was what we had to come up with the solution there.

Coming Up With The Solution

Rick:

No kidding.

Jerry Woodfill:

That was our team.

Rick:

And that’s in Houston, right? You guys were at those–

Jerry Woodfill:

Yeah, in Houston. The building I was in, our mission evaluation team, was maybe a hundred feet from mission control center.

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

But we are the guys that design. I always tell people – God designed all of us. If we want to be fixed we need to pray to Him. So, I always thought that our team was unique because we were designers and we knew how things worked because we designed them. So they called on us especially with Apollo 13 because there were so many things that went wrong. And that’s why we share– that’s why I got the Medal of Freedom as well–

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

— because we were used in a great way in that mission.

Rick:

I, believe it or not, I’ve actually been, back when I was a state legislator I took my family and we went down and did a tour of the space center. So, we got to go through those rooms, so we saw where y’all had– where all of that work took place. So, this is a fun program for me. I feel like I’m going to relive it with you and share it with our listeners.

Okay, so let’s go to that– when those things started happening–  earlier when we first started talking you said that a lot of these things led to your belief in Christ. So, were you already a Christian at this Apollo or not?

Warming the Pew

Jerry Woodfill:

I was not. Okay, I was not. I was– I warmed the pew.  

Rick:

Yeah.

Jerry Woodfill:

My Lutheran pastor– I was a Lutheran, but I wasn’t, I had no spirit knowledge of the Lord. I had never made Him my Lord and Savior. I went to church and all those kind of things, but He had never actually come into my heart in a way that was life changing.

Rick:

Yeah.

Jerry Woodfill:

Like I could never share with you my faith in Jesus Christ, I was embarrassed to do that. Because I didn’t have a realization and a heartfelt belief in him.

Rick:

Yeah.

Jerry Woodfill:

The Bible to me, yeah, perhaps it was true, perhaps it was not. But when Apollo 13 happened and I began to see how people were praying and all these things that began to happen, “God is answering these prayers. Things are happening that I can’t explain.–”

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

“–There is a God and He cares about those three guys.” And so after that mission I got very serious. I began to study the Word of God. We had a neighborhood Bible study with some of the couples in our neighborhood. One of the men lead that was one of my friends at my Methodist Church. And over the course of the next year and a half my faith grew and finally I went to a meeting of Christian businessman. At the end of that meeting they asked, “Would you commit? Would you be a man for God, would you dedicate yourself and join the army of Jesus Christ?” I tell you – that was different than anything I’d ever done.

Can You Stand Up and Say It?

Jerry Woodfill:

Because I played basketball for Rice University. I was, oh yeah, I could be a great Rice University player. Yeah, I could be a great guy that worked for NASA, but I never could stand up and say,  “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. And He’s my way to heaven and He can be yours too.” And that was the difference. That day I went forward and something happened inside of me. Some people call it born again, whatever you want to call it, but I knew inside of me, I knew that there was the Lord Jesus Christ was the Son and He was my Lord and Savior.

So, I went back to NASA after that meeting and I started a group. We had just two of us start that group. By summer there was 21 of us. Then we started to have meetings and we had astronauts that were believers in Jesus come, and it just changed the whole complex of the space center–

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

–** the Apollo 13.

Rick:

And it sounds like, Jerry, that you really as a scientist and an engineer, the data was just overwhelming to you. You’re looking at the data and going, “God’s doing something here. I can’t– there’s more here than– there’s a supernatural force causing these things to happen.”

Jerry Woodfill:

I took a course at Rice University in probability theory statistics. And if you would take all those 39 things and you take the chance that it always worked the right way. The chance that those guys would get back to Earth is infinitesimal unless the Lord did the right thing for every one of those 39 things.

When You Look at the Percentage

Jerry Woodfill:

It’s like in the Bible you can look back and look at prophetic words of Jesus would be crucified, go to Psalms 22 and that thing. And you take the percentage it has to be the Lord that actually fulfilled all those things. So, I looked at all those things that happened with Apollo 13 and they always happened right. And for you to say that it was an answer a prayer – it’s impossible– it had to be God–

Rick:

Yeah.

Jerry Woodfill:

–that brought them back.

Rick:

Okay, let’s– since I don’t know. I’m almost out of time, so–

Jerry Woodfill:

Okay.

Rick:

Pick one of those that you want to share with folks and they’ll go read about the rest. So, what would you say is was one of the ones that surprised you the most?

Jerry Woodfill:

When they were about to return they had to come through Earth’s atmosphere. Now, they had too little power and so it took too long to heat up what they called the gyros that actually controls the direction of re-entry. And the other thing is we didn’t know if the heat shield had been compromised by the explosion.

The third thing was the hurricane was going right towards the landing site.

Rick:

Oh really.

Jerry Woodfill:

Yeah, they were going to land in a hurricane. The weather man told them to change their landing site. But there was a group of special education kids and they had heard on the radio that a hurricane was going to hit the landing site and our crew would be lost. And the teacher in that school asked the kids to pray and those kids began to pray. None of those kids had an IQ over 80, but they prayed that the hurricane would move and God answered their prayer.

The Hurricane Moved

Rick:

Oh man.

Jerry Woodfill:

The hurricane moved, and the landing site was the best one to take, and they came home safely because of the prayers of 14 little children. And that is one more evidence that God answers prayers–

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

–and He will answer any prayer that are believers – and not even believers – if you raise it up to Him, He’ll bring you to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Rick:

Amen, amen. Alright, let’s try and squeeze one more in before we’re totally out of time here. The CO2 sensor that was the carbon dioxide problem. Tell us a little bit about that.

Jerry Woodfill:

Okay. Here was the deal – it was designed for three man for two days to go to the moon, or just two men. Two days on the moon two men. Okay, when the mothership exploded they had three minutes. They had to get back to Earth in the rescue ship which only had enough filters for two men for two days. Now, how are you going to get back to Earth? And so here’s what happened – people were praying, people were praying.

And one of the guys had– call it a vision, I don’t know what you call it, but he had an idea – if I could take plastic bags for Moonrocks and hoses and I could configure them things, those things up, I could save their lives by making that square filter work in the round system by this jerry rigged invigoration. So, he’s coming over to the space center and all of a sudden into his mind comes this concept. Now, people are praying and you know it talks about * the Bible, the Lord will give you an answer.

The Lord Gave the Answer

Jerry Woodfill:

Well, the Lord gave him an answer. He came back to the space center, they built that thing, and it cleaned up the air. And my warning system, the carbon dioxide lights, stayed off the rest of the mission–

Rick:

Wow.

Jerry Woodfill:

–because God showed him how to save their lives.

Rick:

Wow. So neat, so neat. Well, I want to encourage folks to go read the article and learn about all of the different instances that you saw there Jerry. What a great witness that this has become and how God’s used it to be able to show His intervention, show that He is involved in our lives. As Franklin said at the convention, “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, than no empire can rise without His aid.” And what a great, great, story of God’s intervention.

Really appreciate your time. Appreciate you coming on and sharing with us.

Jerry Woodfill:

It’s my honor to share with you guys and your listeners. So, the Lord bless the WallBuilders! Hallelujah! Amen!

Rick:

Amen. SpaceActs.com is the website. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.

Leadership Training Program

Rick:

Hey, friends! We’ve got a great program to share with you today. It’s the WallBuilders Leadership Training Program and it’s an opportunity for 18 to 25 year olds to come spend two weeks diving into the original documents we’re always talking about here on WallBuilders Live.

Tim, you’ve already been doing this a couple of summers and seen the results of young people coming to this program. We’re going to see more of them coming this year.

Tim:

Yeah, Rick, it’s something that’s been cool to see the transformation with young people coming in. The emphasis, for us, largely is a pursuit of truth. We have a culture that doesn’t know what truth is. We don’t know what biblical truth is, or constitutional truth, or the American heritage that we have. And so we really dive into original documents and say, “Well, what did they actually write? What did they actually do? Not just what did somebody say, what is actually true, and the truth is what’s transformational.

David:

Yeah, guys. This really is a remarkable opportunity. And for those who want to spend time with us and spend time in the original documents, this is a great program. So, if you’re from 18 to 25, or you know someone who’s 18 to 25, send them to sign up for one of our three sessions this summer at WallBuilders.com/leadershiptraining.

Rick:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. And very special thanks to Jerry Woodfill for joining us on the program today. What a cool story.

Back with David and Tim now. And so many times, guys, that he said you could just see God’s hand in it. Now that he looks back and you can see the pattern, you can see these times where, man, that should have just, it should have been over. It just shouldn’t have happened the way that it did, but it was just miraculous over and over again.

David:

Well, it was the God story is cool. But I’ve got to say – I lived through all that time I saw so many of those space launches, they were all over the news, they were big news. People gathered around TV to watch the space launches back then in the same way that people gathered round the radio in World War II to hear what the president had to say.

One, Two, Three

David:

So, it was big stuff. And I had no clue that the Mercury space program meant one astronaut, and Gemini meant two astronauts, and Apollo meant three. I had– I’ve never heard that before. Now it makes sense and I look back and say, yeah, all those Mercury flights were just one guy. And Gemini flights were just two, but I never noticed that at the time it was happening. I mean, that’s new.

Tim:

Well, and I’ll point out even some of these things you’re talking about like there was a Mercury flight, like, maybe I wasn’t alive at this point so therefore I don’t know–

David:

Oh, you definitely weren’t alive at this point.

Tim:

Right, but even– some of this stuff as you hear these things, I realize how much I did not know about NASA and the program. But also as he’s unfolding some of what’s going on, and he’s thinking it’s not going to work, and then things start happening. And the power of prayer and these kids that are praying in this little group. It was amazing to me to hear somebody from NASA who, obviously, science, and technology, in the forefront. And in the midst of it saying none of that was going to work without prayer. Right?

How cool to recognize that the best man could do was not going to get it done had God not intervened in this. Which is just such a cool story to hear.

David:

Well, it’s cool too that as a, if you will, as an engineer, as a scientist, that there were 39 pivot point decisions and all of them went the right way. Isn’t that like going to Vegas and having 39 bets and winning all 39 bets? The statistical odds on that are like astronomical. And that’s what he said. It’s astronomical that every decision should have been made right along that thing.

What the Space Programs Provided Us

David:

So, it really is a cool God story. And I think about what even went with that taking three days to get to the moon, three days to get back, you’ve got no help if something goes wrong. And think about President Trump now calling on us to go back to the moon, but also to send a man to Mars. Which we’re talking a long time to get– I’m thinking, man, the courage of people who would do that. It’s going to be a real interesting thing to see this come back and see what it does for a new generation of people. What walking on the moon again, or going to Mars is going to do to really bring this generation along.

And by the way, if you don’t know, all the massive discoveries that we now use in daily life that came out of all the space programs, it’s worth googling and looking up to see the things that those space programs provided for us in daily life and technology.

Apollo 13 Saved By God’s Grace- An Interview With A NASA Engineer

Rick:

Special thanks to Jerry Woodfill for joining us today. Just a fantastic story. I encourage you to share it with others. You can do that on Facebook and Twitter. You can go to our website right now at WallBuilderLive.com and just share that link. And come alongside us. Go to our website, WallBuilders.com, make a contribution to the program. Make it possible for us to have great guests like Jerry on, and to spread this word, and continue the great work at WallBuilders. We appreciate your help today. We appreciate you listening today to WallBuilders Live.