"Try SCE to AUX" - Or, the value of remembering obscure stuff...

It was November 14th, 1969. Just 36.5 seconds after liftoff, a colossal Saturn V rocket, en route to the moon as Apollo 12, with astronauts Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Allan Bean aboard, experienced one of the most dramatic failures in the history of space travel: The vehicle triggered a bolt of lightning through it's exhaust plume, which traveled up the rocket, taking all three fuel cells off line, along with much of the onboard instrumentation. In the command module, the astronauts puzzled over their control panel, which signaled a malfunction on pretty much every system on board. The rocket was hurtling upward at supersonic speed on backup batteries only.

Back in Houston, controller John Arron, a twenty-something engineer, remembered an obscure command, involving a set of switches on the instrument panel, from a training exercise a year before, and called up to the CAPCOM, "Tell them to try SCE to AUX (signal conditioning control to auxiliary)!" On board Apollo 12, Commander Pete Conrad exclaimed, "SCE to AUX? What the hell is THAT?" Yet, Lunar Module pilot Alan Bean remembered it from the same exercise, and threw the switch...the computers and instruments reset, and the Saturn V was back on line, ready for the historic second landing on the moon.

Conrad, Bean, and Gordon could be heard on the communications loop laughing all the way into orbit. Arron's call went down as one of the great Mission Control decisions in the history of manned spaceflight, and earned him the nickname, "Steely-eyed Missle Man" by his colleagues. Quick thinking, and drawing on a past experience saved a billion dollar rocket, the second moon landing, and 3 astronaut's lives.



What does this reference to a space-travel issue almost 50 years ago have to do with what we do in the aquarium hobby?

A lot more than you think.

During the course of our fishy "careers", we experience all sorts of stuff, good and bad. We make observations, some monumentally important- others mere casual "mental notes"- references on some adjustment we made to our tanks, some fish that did well for us, or some technique that worked.

Sometimes, they come in handy.

Remembering that "thing you did" when the filter mysteriously stopped working last year will come in handy when you least expect it. That "recipe" for how to get those rare Angels to spawn...adjusting temperature, water changes, etc. Stuff like that. 

Or, the emergency procedures that you engage in when you have some sort of problem with the tank. Things that you almost rarely use, but when the time comes, you're ready to spring into action at a moment's notice to save your tank.

It's part of the reason, I think, that us fish geeks have that collection of "stuff"- you know, plastic containers, cups, buckets, filter parts, hose, plumbing fittings, etc., accumulating in the garage or basement...Stuff that becomes more than just a bunch of "clutter" on those rare occasions when an emergency strikes.

You have those little "mystery procedures" for your tanks, don't you? Sometimes, the "procedure" is simply a way of banging on the side of the canister filter to get the air bubbles out of it. Or, it can be that little "recipe" for making your own blackwater extracts. Knowing how many of what leaf to toss into your  replacement water holding containers to get the exact "tint" you like. Or a way of setting up your filter returns just so, to create the exact type of flow you want in the tank. 

These things are called "mystery procedures", only because you probably don't have 'em written down somewhere. They're not part of your everyday practice. Nope, they're "filed away" in your mind...Could you imagine the "book" that could be written if we all took the time to write down just a few of our little obscure procedures? The ultimate hobby "open source" resource, right?

We have them for everything. From system design to aquascaping, to fish selection, and for everything in between.

I know that I have a sort of "process" in my head on how I do tank startups; you know, starting with the sterile gravel and then gradually working in all of the hardscape and botanical materials, and the life forms that will inhabit it...stuff like that. A lot of us now "pre-stock" our aquariums with crustaceans and such as supplemental food sources...part of the "recipe", right?

We all have those little things we do, filed away in the backs of our minds, ready to call upon when the need arises. It's a remarkable tribute to the adaptability, ingenuity, and flexibility of the aquatic hobbyist. We've been practicing this for generations, and will be far into the future.

So, these little procedures and ideas might not have the incredible impact of a cap com call on a space mission, but to us- fish geeks of the world- having the treasure trove of "obscure stuff" on hand is like gold. Especially when we share this stuff...You might just get a cal fro ma frantic hobbyist who is experiencing the same problem you did last year...and you'll remember the "SCE to AUX" command- or its fishy equivalent, at least! 

And, just like on that day in 1969 in NASA's Mission Control  Center, your memory of what to do just might save the day for a fellow hobbyist. It might not make you the stuff of aquarium keeping legend, but it just might make you a hero to some appreciative hobbyist!

Keep accumulating. Keep learning. Keep sharing.

Stay curious. Stay diligent. Stay helpful.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics






Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


3 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

September 01, 2019

No problem, Henry!

Glad a fellow space enthusiast found this blog with that kind of search! Glad this resonated with you, and thanks for stopping by and sharing a link to your tales of fish keeping! That’s what the hobby is all about- sharing of ideas! Enjoy!



September 01, 2019

I honestly only clicked the “POST COMMENT” button once, but I did reload the page when the post didn’t appear. Please remove the dupe when you get a chance. Hopefully this one won’t clone as well!


September 01, 2019

Even though I am an aquarist (for 20 years or so), I stumbled onto this page looking for references on SCE to AUX! I was listening to Bill Whittle’s Stratosphere Lounge podcast and he mentioned SCE to AUX. As I had watched “Failure Is Not an Option” several years ago and being a life long fan of space travel I watched more than a dozen shows on the U.S. Space Program during this past July’s 50th anniversary celebration of the moon landing and I recalled the SCE to AUX fix for Apollo 12. CAPCOM: “SCE to Auxiliary.” Apollo 12: “What the hell is that?” LOL! I find it amazing that it worked and saved the mission. I haven’t run into any fish keeping situations that were saved by quite that obscure a piece of information, but I sure do have volumes of mental notes from our years of fish keeping. At one point we had 15 tanks going with a small breeding program. We’re down to just a 90 and a 45 these days, but “disasters” still manage to happen on occasion. Both tanks have been replaced in recent years due to structural tank failures! Knowing what to do in touchy situations has kept a lot of our little friends alive. While it is doubtful I’ll ever document much more of our fish travails, back in 2001 or so Tammy did get me to write a bit about our trip down the rabbit hole of fishkeeping. From our stumbles and fumbles of doing everything the wrong way to my early success with a “fishless cycle” with a used 55 gallon tank to the failure of that same used 55 to many highs and lows. It has been over a decade and I should probably update that page again, but life is too short. It is at http://aquarium.bluemoon.net/tammy/version2.html if anyone would like to read a good aquarium story :)

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