By Meredith McCulloch
Bard Crawford earned three degrees at MIT, ending with a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics. After graduation, he immediately went to work at Instrumentation Laboratory (later Draper Labs) to work on the guidance and control systems for Apollo, specifically the reentry guidance system. He lived in Lexington prior to moving to Carleton Willard Village in 2009.
A major challenge for a safe reentry of the command module was the high speed at which it entered the earth’s atmosphere. The friction generated tremendous heat, which would put the astronauts at risk. It was vital to slow down the return vehicle.
Crawford was part of a three-man team that designed the onboard reentry program. As it headed toward earth, the capsule had a lot of drag and a relatively small amount of lift. The onboard program controlled the roll angle so the lift could be directed up or down, to 1) keep the astronauts from experiencing too much deceleration and 2) steer the capsule to land near the waiting carrier.
This was very early in the development of computer technology. Crawford recalled that the programming was done on punch cards and the computer was so slow that he had only one chance a day to run it. One error could mean the whole day was lost.
When asked what he thinks looking back, Crawford said, “It was a nice experience. I’m very happy to have had that experience.”
Editor’s Note: Meredith McCulloch has sought out individuals with Bedford connections who were part of NASA’s Apollo program – Click this link to learn more about her project – each of the interviews will appear separately, under the individual’s name, and will be collected in a single reference document once all are posted.