Interview with Jerry Woodfill, NASA Engineer Who Monitored Apollo 13
by Michael Elliott
Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards. It won two. But for Jerry Woodfill, no award could ever match what the Apollo 13 mission gave him. Jerry was a NASA engineer who, at 27 years old, was monitoring the warning system for that ill-fated moon mission when he heard through his headset the now famous words, "Houston, we've had a problem." The subsequent events led Jerry on a quest to find answers that science could not provide. That quest led him to the Lord.
The facts surrounding the Apollo 13 mission were vividly dramatized by director Ron Howard in the 1995 film, recently reworked and re-released as an IMAX presentation. But facts often don't tell the whole story. As Woodfill remembers, "There's no way those guys should have survived."
But survive they did and while the film provides great illustrations as to the ingenuity, courage, and perseverance of man under extreme pressure, Woodfill contends that there was also a greater reality at work.
Now a popular Christian speaker, Jerry Woodfill travels the world to talk about the Apollo 13 rescue mission after having spent the last 30 years examining it from a Christian perspective. His conclusion, one which he is not hesitant to share, is that without the hand of the Lord responding to the prayers of the world, the astronauts of Apollo 13 would not have returned to earth.
Many of his findings are published on a web site he maintains called SpaceActs (www.spaceacts.com). Talking with him, as he relates many of the crucial decisions made during the rescue, his excitement level increases as he reflects on how God had to have been involved in each situation.
Even the timing of the explosion was perfect, he asserts. Any earlier or any later, and conditions would have been such that rescue would have been impossible. Even mission commander Jim Lovell agrees. When asked what was the most important moment of the mission, Lovell simply replied, "When it happened."
Woodfill points to Isaiah 65:24 "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." Even before men knew there was a problem, God was setting up the way to escape.
More thrilling for Woodfill is to see how specific prayers were answered during the course of the almost 4 day event. He tells of the prayer of one of the engineers that no poor decision would be made out of ignorance. Immediately after the explosion, there was a lot they didn't know regarding what was happening and how to respond.
One of the first reactions was to try to close the hatch between the command module and the lunar lander, as they thought that space debris may have hit and damaged the spacecraft. Though perfectly designed, the hatch, inexplicably, would not close. Had they succeeded in closing it, precious minutes would have been wasted as they discovered later that they needed to keep that access open. The lunar lander became their "lifeboat."
As the world continued to pray, decisions were made by men who would later claim that an inner peace or calm assurance helped them to select the proper course of action. Action that saved the lives of the three men in Apollo 13.
When asked what he thought of the Hollywood's treatment of the Apollo 13 mission, Woodfill replied, "It's the best film I could have hoped for. Fantastically accurate." His suggestion to anyone seeing the film for the first time, or re-experiencing it on the IMAX screen is this: Look for the evidence of the hand of God. He may not be directly mentioned, just as He is never directly referred to in the biblical record of Esther, but His presence and providence was always there. Failure is never an option when we believe and put our trust in God.