The Apollo Penlight – A flashlight from space

In this article, you’ll learn about the nostalgic Apollo Penlight. It’s a flashlight from space. In this article, you’ll learn to major details about it.

The Apollo program is not the topic of discussion. However, since the flashlight was named after this great occurrence that made a mark on history, it’s impossible not to refer to the occurrence surrounding it. Initially, when NASA had its Apollo program developed, it didn’t involve a human crew on board.  Then, it’s aims were to research how the launch vehicles would perform. The Apollo program was first developed to take men to the moon and return them. Six of these missions worked out as planned and was considered successful by NASA. There were several missions; 33 in all. Of all these 33 missions, 15 of them were automated and 11 of them were manned.

Since then, there have been countless space missions. 

The penlight

In 1968 before astronauts embarked on the APOLLO mission, these astronauts were supplied with flashlights that would be used in the missions. These flashlights were manufactured by NASA’S ACR Electronics Company. Originally the production of these lanterns was handled by FULTON (popular for making flashlight used in the army). ACR gave all of the astronauts this flashlight, including those that weren’t on the team that eventually went into space. Despite the popularity of this flashlight, there was a problem; it lacked enough fire. 

The material had to be changed to brass to prevent corrosion. Another feature of brass made it a top choice. It was safer to use because it is less prone to sparks. It simply can’t ignite which is another advantage to the astronauts. The brass alloy flashlight was produced in batches and the last set was used up in 1972. A good number of them became a thing of the past as astronauts no longer required them after the missions and they were soon forgotten. Only NASA had access to these flashlights. 

The reason why we are interested in this flashlight is that it was very useful at a time of great need on the Apollo missions. It’s also impressive when you look at the simplicity in its making, such careful brass work yet appealing to the sight. Without any doubt, it was reliable in its providing much-needed illumination.  It was quite dependable for astronauts, so much that these lanterns function well to date.

In a letter written by some of the astronauts; Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert commended ACR Electronics Company.

“We never turned on the lights in the spacecraft after the accidents. As a result, your penlights served as our means of seeing to do the job during the many hours of darkness when the sunlight was not coming through the windows” 

“We never wore out even one [penlight] during the trip; in fact, they still illuminate today, their size was also convenient, as it was handy to grip the light between clenched teeth to copy the procedures that were voiced up from the earth.”

It became a regular part of every Apollo program and astronauts going on missions were used to carrying it; from Apollo missions 7 through 17. This even included the missions which were layer launched in the 1980s, Apollo Soyuz test project and skylab Orbital workshop. 

ACR rode on the glory of the Apollo flashlight and sold over 2 million other models of the flashlight between 1968 and 1972. Although, they were different from the ones used in astronaut missions. They didn’t exactly replicate the technology in those flashlights which were once made for NASA with alterations here and there in its design. 

The astronauts held on to the flashlights even after the space mission as a form of mementos. Perhaps to help in taking a walk down memory lane. It gives a nostalgic feeling after all. At present, it would be worth a fortune if auctioned.

The Apollo 13 Astronauts

It was the first time Jack Swigert was going to fly even though he had already been an astronaut since 1996. He was 38 when he took in his first mission.  In his earlier missions, he was a support crew for Apollo 7. 

From the onset, he was only supposed to be a backup module for Apollo the 13 but ended up as a member of the crew 48 hours before the launch of the spacecraft.  Unfortunately for “Ken Mattingly” who was susceptible to German measles, he was off the team. NASA doctors wrote a medical report, which recommended that he be removed from the team as instructed by Commander Jim Lovell.

Lovell was 42 years of age at this time and held the world’s record of the most traveled astronaut. Lovell had been to three missions before this and had a spaceflight time of 572 hours. He was a crew member in Apollo 8. The first mission that brought a spacecraft around the moon, he was on a 14-day endurance run and he journey around the moon in two Gemini circles.

The third crew member was “Fred Haise” who was 36 years old at that time. Just like his colleague Swigert he was also a backup member for Apollo 8 and 11.

The launch

The launch happened on April 11, 1970. In the spacecraft compartments were Lander Aquarius and Werebiter odyssey. The astronauts stayed in odyssey on their way to the moon. 

2 days into the journey, there was a warning sign for the crew members from mission controller Sy Liebergot which indicated that there was a low-pressure warning in hydrogen tank odyssey. Thee crew thought they simply needed a “cryo stir” which was common practice that is done by fanning and heating the resettled gas inside the tank. This prevents the super cold gas from forming strata. 

The switch was flipped for the normal procedure. Not quite long after there was some confusion amongst the crew as the oxygen pressure reduced greatly in the odyssey and the alarm lights started flickering. In this state of confusion, the team reached out to missthe ion control.  

After the whole incident, it was discovered by the NASA accident investigation board that there were naked wires in the oxygen tank.  This was the course of the fire that took down one oxygen tank and left the others in fairly less good condition.

The rest of the journey from that point to the moon and back became about survival, they had to live on rations to survive with what little oxygen that was left in odyssey and Aquarius. 

Everyone lost weight, but fortunately, everyone returned home safely. It’s such a captivating story that accompanies a great flashlight.