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Edward Schwarm, 82; Engineer Played Key Role Saving Apollo 13

June 07, 2005|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

BARNSTABLE, Mass. — Edward Schwarm, an electrical engineer whose work on the Apollo space program helped NASA land the first man on the moon and safely return the Apollo 13 astronauts to Earth, died May 20 of skin cancer at his home on Cape Cod. He was 82.

Schwarm was working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Instrumentation Laboratory (now Draper Labs) when the school teamed with NASA on the Apollo missions.

The veteran engineer, formerly chief designer of the DC-8 aircraft flight simulator, headed design for the Apollo Space Program's self-contained guidance systems for the command and lunar landing modules.

Setting men down on the moon -- first accomplished with Apollo 11 -- was the paramount goal of the Apollo program, and Schwarm developed technology that helped astronaut Neil Armstrong make his historic "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The mission was followed by other successful moon landings.

But Schwarm also posed the question, "How would you get the astronauts back from space if the main rocket system failed?" The answers he developed helped astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew survive the ill-fated moon mission memorialized in the 1995 film "Apollo 13" starring Tom Hanks.

An accomplished inventor, Schwarm held 11 international patents for innovations in space aviation and electronic power systems.

He developed technology not only for aircraft but also for boats and high-speed trains.

During World War II, the Milwaukee native left the University of Wisconsin at Madison to join the Army Air Forces.

In England, he was a second lieutenant and engineering officer who supervised a 120-member crew that repaired B-24 bombers, and frequently filled in as a co-pilot.

At war's end, he completed his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and worked for MIT, aviation and electronics consulting companies and finally his own Edward G. Schwarm Associates.

Schwarm's wife of 62 years, Erla Zook Schwarm, died March 22. He is survived by sons Stephen and Thomas; a daughter, Claudia Gere; five grandsons; and one great-granddaughter.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Schwarm Family Fund, Woods Hole, MA 02543.

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