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.