What was the correct procedure to stop the descent engine on the Apollo 11 LEM?

When the LEM had a contact light on Apollo 11, there was some terminology spoken that I'm assuming is important (and which I find quite interesting regardless).


However, what of this was actually required to stop the engine? As an aside, I think it is highly relevant to ask for a clarification for the following terminology without making a separate question for each phrase. In particular the meaning of:

"ENGINE STOP": Does this actually stop the engine, or is it simply a part of the steps that must be taken? If not, then what is the meaning of the other phrases spoken?

"ACA -- out of detent": What is this? A mechanical fuel pump that is stopped? What is ACA? Attitude Control Assembly (https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/apollo.glossary.html)?

"MODE CONTROL—both AUTO": I don't know what this is.

"DESCENT ENGINE COMMAND OVERRIDE—OFF": I'm assuming this is to prevent the abort stage from firing automatically.

"ENGINE ARM—OFF": Perhaps this is the actual step of stopping the engine, and the "ENGINE STOP" is merely announcing that they now start the procedure of stopping the engine, and this is the final step?

As the LEM descent engine uses hypergolic fuel with a pintle injector, it doesn't seem like a mechanical pump is required.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Engine arm off means that an additional action (arming) will be necessary, to start the engine again. This is to prevent accidental activation. Any device is typically completely inactive at the time when the arming is turned off. $\endgroup$ Jul 28 '15 at 21:55

The annotated transcripts are great for this stuff. Also O'Brien's AGC book.

Engine Stop: There's a big engine stop/start button (just labeled START, with exciting yellow/black striping), which I believe would set throttle immediately to zero.

enter image description here

Once the contact light came on (about 1.6m above the surface), the commander would hit the button, the engine would stop, and landing would be inevitable. Everything else after that is safing/stabilizing.

ACA out of detent: The control system was in "attitude hold" mode; as long as the commander wasn't actively trying to rotate the ship, the system would try to maintain the same orientation. At touchdown, the attitude control thrusters would be trying to hold the last commanded attitude. By barely moving the control, the system is instructed that the current attitude is the desired attitude, stopping the RCS rockets from firing.

Mode control both auto: I assume this is related to the guidance mode control -- automatic landing (LM commander designates a landing spot and the LM computer does the rest) versus attitude hold (LM computer holds the LM's orientation stable and the commander does the rest). I imagine you'd want it back in automatic mode in case you needed to do an emergency ascent. Not sure what "both" refers to; best guess would be that the PGNS (primary guidance) and AGS (abort guidance) each had mode controls.

Descent engine command override: Again from the annotated transcript:

Command Override is a shorthand for 'Descent Engine Command Override', which will allow either pilot to assume control of the descent engine's thrust using the Thrust/Translational Hand Controllers, if required.

Engine arm off: I think this is just a master switch for the descent engine, independent of the throttle. In the transcript, Aldrin arms the descent engine at 102:32:34, but ignition occurs some 30 seconds later.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes, the mode control switches are MODE CONTROL PGNS [AUTO / ATT HOLD / OFF] and MODE CONTROL AGS [AUTO / ATT HOLD / OFF]. AUTO is the program controlled mode, ATT HOLD is rate-command / attitude-hold, and OFF disconnects the given system from the attitude thrusters. As you say, the switches would have been in ATT HOLD prior to landing. $\endgroup$
    – hobbs
    Jul 17 '17 at 23:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ eaglelander3d.com/documentation/images/instruments1complete.jpg is a fake (rendered) version of that bit of switch panel $\endgroup$
    – hobbs
    Jul 17 '17 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ Just to expand on "ACA out of detent" a little bit - I always found this one a bit humorous. Russell is correct about what it means, but there's one more aspect of "why" to consider. The LM is in ATT HOLD when it is about to land, but the AGC doesn't really "know" about touchdown; all it knows is that the LM has just had its attitude knocked out of whack - and that's because its four legs have just settled onto terrain. So the CDR has to push the ACA out of its center detent just to give the RCS an arbitrary command to change attitude, at which point the AGC stops caring about maintaining its $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ old attitude and accepts sitting on the ground as the new attitude. When you think about it, you can understand why one wouldn't just code the AGC to stop maintaining attitude at contact light. First, what if contact light got triggered accidentally by an electrical or mechanical flaw? You'd hate for that to happen during powered descent at any point. Second, what if the CDR decided at the last moment to change his landing position after contact light? $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 19:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.