Autor Wątek: [CS] 50 years later, Apollo 11's Michael Collins is still 'Carrying the Fire'  (Przeczytany 1242 razy)

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50 years later, Apollo 11's Michael Collins is still 'Carrying the Fire'

April 18, 2019 — Four years after he orbited the moon alone during humanity's first lunar landing mission, Michael Collins brought everyone back on Earth along for the ride.

In his 1973 book, "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys," Collins set out to share what it was like "up there." And by all accounts, he succeeded. "Carrying the Fire" is wildly considered one of, if not the best of the astronaut-authored memoirs.

In his original preface, Collins observed that the few years that had passed since the Apollo 11 mission had given him some perspective about how flying in space had changed his life. Now, five decades after his journey with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins has revisited "Carrying the Fire," penning a new foreword for a 50th anniversary edition of the book.

When he chose the title for the book, "Carrying the Fire" was a reference to the care taken when carrying out a successful space mission. ("How would you carry fire? Carefully.") Fifty years later, the phrase has taken on a second meaning, provided what he wrote continues to resonate with new and old readers alike.

Collins has traded his role of carrying the technical fire of spaceflight to carrying the emotions and inspiration that it evokes.

collectSPACE recently caught up with Collins to talk about "carrying the fire" 50 years later.

collectSPACE (cS): In your 1973 preface you wrote about how the years that had passed since Apollo 11 allowed you to gain some perspective on how flying in space changed your life. You also wrote that the time allowed you to gain some insight into what non-astronauts find interesting. So with the benefit of now 50 years, were you to sit down to write "Carrying the Fire" today, how would what you wrote then have changed now?

Michael Collins: You know, I haven't read "Carrying the Fire" in a long, long time, so I have a suspicion that if I went back through it, I would find things that either were wrong or I'd no longer quite agree with. But I think by and large, it's endured fairly well from what I have gathered and what other people have said.

I'm proud of "Carrying the Fire" in that at the time that I wrote it and for a long time after, it was the only astronaut's book that had not been ghostwritten. And I like that. That is an enduring quality that it has, for better or for worse. But I like the fact that, for a while at least, it was unique in that everybody else was turning to some professional writer, which ends up with a better product in a way, but not quite as personal a product in some other ways. So I'm fundamentally okay with "Carrying the Fire" as it was written.

cS: This is not the first anniversary edition of "Carrying the Fire." In 2009, a 40th anniversary edition was also released, with a new foreword by you. Your new introduction for the 50th anniversary edition is noticeably longer than the one you wrote 10 years ago...

Collins: That's the verbosity of old age! (laughs)

cS: ...but beyond that characteristic, what has transpired over the past decade that inspired you to expand on some of the same topics, for instance about Mars being a destination for human exploration?

Collins: I always used to joke that they sent me to the wrong place. The moon is far less interesting than Mars, NASA should've been renamed the National Aeronautics and Mars Administration and, and so on. And you know, as time goes by, I think I helped — I'm not sure whether Flash Gordon ever went to Mars, I think he prowled around in the caverns of Mongo, and I was with him then.

In the back of my mind, I've always thought we should do something about this impetus human beings have to look up into the night sky with wonder and then to wonder if they couldn't maybe set foot up there somewhere. And of course the moon is just right there. You have to look at it whether you want to pay attention to it or not. But Mars, to me, has always been more fascinating.

As we get closer to having a capability to reach Mars, then it sort of takes over. When I think of space, the two words that come to mind are outward bound. I think humanity has this innate curiosity. It wants to go outward bound. Mars is there, Mars is getting closer, Mars is becoming a more practical destination, so Mars has taken over my thinking and my writing.

cS: On that subject of going to Mars, one subject that you touch on in both your new and original prefaces is the idea of luck, and how luck landed you in the right place and right time to be on that first moon landing mission. If you could control that luck and some of that timing, would you trade being on the first moon landing crew for being on the first Mars crew?

Collins: If I could rewrite history, I'd much prefer to be on the first Mars crew. I definitely would hope that the first Mars crew would be on a round trip and not a one-way deal. (laughs)

If it were a one-way deal, ooh, I may change my mind on that, but if I could be on the first crew to go to Mars and then return safely to Earth, yeah sure, I'd swap anything for that.

cS: Are you surprised that "Carrying the Fire" has had the lasting effect it has had, in terms of crossing over generations and remaining what many consider the best written astronaut book out there?

Collins: I think books, in general, are little gems. They hide away on the shelves in libraries for a decade but then some young kid will pluck one out by mistake perhaps and dig into it and find something in there that he or she didn't know. So I'm a big fan of books.

So if "Carrying the Fire" has a worthy place in that sort of thinking, I'm very happy that it has endured. Not because "Carrying the Fire" is so great, but because it is a book and books are great.

cS: The audience that will read the 50th anniversary edition — other than those who have already picked up previous editions and are picking up this latest version to celebrate the anniversary — is going to be, statistically, people who were not alive for Apollo 11. How do you think your story will resonate differently from the original audience you wrote it for, who were people who had lived through both your Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions and watched them unfold from the Earth? Now it will be read by an audience that only knows your missions and that era of spaceflight from history.

Collins: I don't know. I have a friend and he didn't know anything about the first moon landing until long after it'd happened. And he's a smart man. The reason he didn't know anything about it in 1969 was he was in Vietnam, out in the middle of a rice paddy without access to that kind of information.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that even though people were alive and reading the newspaper and watching TV in 1969, I was writing to them with what fundamentally was a strange, alien, kind of thing — a voyage away from everything that they knew about. I was a stranger writing about strange stuff. So even though they might have read about it in the newspaper, they didn't have a feeling for it.

And that strangeness has permeated and intensified today with a generation who has every right not to know anything about it because they weren't born yet. But it's just a gradual change and not a dramatic shift in the audience. The people who I was writing for back in 1973 are pretty much like the same people today. Some are interested in space, some are not, and some know a bit about it, but most don't.

The 50th anniversary edition of Michael Collins' "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys" was released on April 16, 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


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First on the Moon: Looking Back on the Apollo 11 Decision, 50 Years On
By Ben Evans, on April 21st, 2019 [AS]

Fifty years ago, this month, after detailed simulations and planning, NASA made a decision that Neil Armstrong (left) would become the first human to set foot on the Moon. His Apollo 11 crewmate Buzz Aldrin (right) would follow shortly afterwards. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades ago, in the first half of 1969, the United States space program was consumed by a single, over-arching goal: to plant American boots on the Moon, by year’s end. It was to be the culmination of a national directive from the late President John F. Kennedy, made in May 1961 in response to the Soviet Union’s successful launch of the first man into space. In Kennedy’s words, the United States was to achieve a manned landing on the lunar surface, “before this decade is out”, and in spite of a multitude of technical troubles and human tragedies—most notably the loss of the three Apollo 1 astronauts during a “plugs-out” launch pad test—significant strides had occurred to bring the goal closer. In December 1968, Americans had flown around the Moon for the first time and only weeks later the complete Apollo spacecraft had been trialed in Earth orbit.

In this training image of Neil Armstrong aboard the Lunar Module (LM) simulator, the smallness of the cabin for two fully-suited astronauts is amply illustrated. Photo Credit: NASA

In January 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin were assigned to Apollo 11, which was looking to be a likely contender to execute humanity’s first manned landing on the Moon in July. Of those three men, Armstrong and Aldrin would pilot the spider-like Lunar Module (LM) down to the surface and perform a single session of Extravehicular Activity (EVA). But the question on everyone’s lips in early 1969 was who would take the first steps on alien soil. Although the “decision” itself is difficult to date precisely, it is generally believed that by April—50 years ago, this month—Armstrong, as Apollo 11 commander, had been earmarked to perform those historic steps and, in doing so, become one of the most famous people the world has ever known.

For his part, Mike Collins labeled the crew as “amiable strangers”, arriving for training separately, going to lunch separately, talking only of mission-related matters and acting in some ways like passing acquaintances. Armstrong’s reserved nature juxtaposed sharply against Aldrin’s upfront confidence and Collins’ gregariousness, but during their six months of training for Apollo 11 a number of issues did arise, including the question of who—Armstrong or Aldrin—would be first onto the lunar surface. When queried by a member of the press in January 1969, Armstrong diplomatically handed the question over to his boss, Deke Slayton, who responded that the decision had not yet been made.

One of the key factors in Slayton’s mind was that further simulations in the cabin of the LM simulator were necessary to better inform the decision. Armstrong added that the choice depended on how best to execute the timeline on the surface, rather than an individual desire to be first, but he did reveal in those early remarks the whoever did emerge onto the surface first would be walking on the Moon for about 45 minutes before the second man came out. All told, it was expected that humanity’s first walk on the Moon would last about 2.5 hours.

In this view captured by Neil Armstrong from the lunar surface, the smallness of the square hatch posed an added obstacle for the fully-suited astronauts. Photo Credit: NASA

In his biography of Armstrong, First Man, James Hansen noted there was “no doubt” in Aldrin’s mind, at least early in 1969, that he would be first. Aldrin’s rationale stemmed from a precedent established during the Gemini program, in which the command pilot remained inside the spacecraft and the pilot went EVA. Some journalists shared this view, and even NASA associate administrator George Mueller was quoted as declaring that Aldrin, as Lunar Module Pilot (LMP), would go outside first. This situation changed shortly after Apollo 9 returned to Earth in March 1969 and rumor began to spread that Armstrong would be first. Reasons for the choice, which appears to have been set in stone from April onwards, are numerous and complex and have aroused great debate over the years.

One of the earliest and, for Aldrin, perhaps most denigrating to his parent service, the U.S. Air Force, was that Armstrong was a civilian and received the coveted spot as first on the Moon because NASA—a civilian government entity—did not want the military to “blight” humanity’s first footsteps. At the time, America was embroiled in the maelstrom of Vietnam, although Aldrin had not served in any formal military capacity since joining the astronaut corps in October 1963 and even Armstrong had flown combat missions as a naval aviator in Korea. In his memoir Men from Earth, Aldrin noted that he brought the matter up with Armstrong and witnessed “a coolness I’d never seen in him before”, whereupon his commander accepted the historical significance of the first Moonwalk, but refused to rule himself out of consideration for making the first steps.

Armstrong’s first step on the Moon in July 1969 made him one of the most famous humans who ever lived. Photo Credit: NASA

Aldrin’s reasoning for being first was valid and technical, based upon procedures and checklist demands. It was part of his job to plan the lunar surface activity and he reckoned that with Armstrong would have his hands full with the landing. Why, pondered Aldrin, should he also be saddled with the demands of suiting up first and plunging into the physiological intensity of the Moonwalk? Aldrin, of course, already had EVA experience—from his Gemini XII mission in November 1966—and he was acutely aware of its difficulties and the idiosyncrasies of the space suit. Armstrong was also no fitness fanatic; during his Gemini VIII training, as his crewmate Dave Scott pumped iron in the gym, Armstrong put the exercise bike on its lowest possible setting and pedaled slowly, observing that a man had only a finite number of heartbeats and it was best not to waste them.

In his landmark book A Man on the Moon, historian Andrew Chaikin wrote that other Apollo commanders rolled their eyes and gritted their teeth in the face of Aldrin’s lobbying. Many of them were naval officers and turned to their seafaring traditions for a solution. “The Gemini precedent” of the pilot doing the EVA, wrote Chaikin, “didn’t apply, because a lunar module sitting on the Moon wouldn’t be in flight: it would be in port. And as any naval officer knows, the protocol on such matters is clear. When a ship comes to port, the skipper is always first down the gangplank.” For his part, Deke Slayton made a similar point, stressing that Armstrong was the senior astronaut and should go first.

One of only a handful of images of Neil Armstrong at work on the lunar surface. Photo Credit: NASA

Over the years, Aldrin argued that his motives were misinterpreted and the actual outcome bothered him less than the need to reach a decision, one way or the other. In Hansen’s biography of Armstrong, Aldrin is quoted as admitting that it would have been “inappropriate” for him, the junior member of the Apollo 11 crew, to hae gone outside first, uttered the famous first words and gathered the priceless first lunar specimens, observed mutely from inside the LM by his commander.

Still, it is not difficult to speculate that the input of Aldrin’s father may have also been a contributory factor. When he first described the process of “egress” to his father, the older Aldrin reacted with surprising anger, threatened to “do something about it” and indeed tried to pull strings among his high-level friends at NASA and the Pentagon to get the plan reversed. Aldrin Senior, wrote Deke Slayton in his memoir Deke, co-authored with spaceflight historian Michael Cassutt, “just couldn’t seem to leave well enough alone”.

At length, the decision came down to pure practicality. The interior of the LM was only about the size of a broom closet and its square hatch opened inwards, hinged on its right-side edge. This required the astronaut on the right-hand side of the cabin—Aldrin—to pull it open and stand back in his corner, whilst the commander got down on hands and knees and reversed himself through the hatch, onto the tiny porch to prepare to descend the nine-rung ladder to the surface. For Aldrin to go first would require the two men to swap places in the cabin; a difficult act, given that both would be wearing space suits and backpacks. When faced with the risk of accidentally hitting a switch or circuit breaker, it was safer to go with the design and let Armstrong go first.

Labeled “amiable strangers” by Mike Collins (center), the Apollo 11 crew was diverse in its personalities, with Collins’ gregariousness juxtaposed against the upfront confidence of Buzz Aldrin (right) and the calm unflappable Neil Armstrong (left). Photo Credit: NASA

Finally, on 14 April 1969, a press conference at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, presided over by George Low, head of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, revealed that Armstrong would be first to step onto the Moon. Next day, an editorial cartoon showed the two men opening the hatch immediately after landing as confused Alphonse and Gaston characters: both politely offering the other the chance to go first, whilst at the same time discreetly muscling their way ahead of each other.

Humor aside, stories abounded (including one by a disgruntled public affairs officer) which claimed that Armstrong had “pulled rank” and demanded that he be first on the Moon. This was a point endorsed by Mike Collins in his autobiography, Carrying the Fire: “Neil ignored [original plans] and exercised his commander’s prerogative to crawl out first.” Such stories garnered sufficient public interest for George Low himself to admit that preliminary studies several years earlier, had called for the LMP to go first, but that simulations and planning eventually fell in favor of the commander. Buzz Aldrin has argued that he was fine with the decision, although other astronauts, engineers and managers have said otherwise. Mike Collins, for one, recounted a distinct element of melancholy and coolness in the air immediately after the announcement. And this, it would seem, was a final nail in the coffin for Aldrin being first on the Moon.

Years later, Chris Kraft, who was in 1969 head of flight operations at the MSC, spoke candidly about the fact that Armstrong was the best choice to take the historic first step, simply because he had no ego. The first man on the Moon would be remembered forever as the Charles Lindbergh of his generation, “a hero…beyond any soldier or politician or inventor”, and it was Armstrong’s very lack of ego, his calmness under duress, his quietness, his understated confidence and his desire not to put himself in the spotlight of fame and attention made him the perfect choice and the best ambassador for humanity.


Offline Adam.Przybyla

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Jednej rzeczy nie rozumiem, czemu wyszedl pierwszy Amstrong? Mamy w obcym terenie statek
z jednym pilotem i ryzykujemy wlasnie nim? Dziwne. Ryzyko powinien poniesc Buzz,
gdyby cos sie stalo Amstrong spokojnie moglby odleciec. Nie bylaby to kompletna
kleska. Nawet gdyby Buzzowi tylko cos sie stalo, to zawsze jest jeszcze opcja, ze pilot
moze go uratowac i odleciec. Z powazaniem
                                      Adam Przybyla
« Ostatnia zmiana: Kwiecień 24, 2019, 12:22 wysłana przez Adam.Przybyla »

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A reluctant No. 2: Buzz Aldrin among first to walk on the moon
Alex Stuckey April 25, 2019 Updated: April 25, 2019 11:26 a.m. []

Astronaut Edwin Buzz Aldrin, shown here prior to the launch of Apollo 11 from Kennedy Space Center on July 20, 1969, was featured in the film “Apollo 11” by Todd Douglas Miller, who worked with newly discovered footage from the NARA and NASA.Photo: courtesy of Neon CNN Films. Photo of Alex Stuckey

MISSION MOON: Nearly 50 years have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. Our special Apollo 50 anniversary coverage explores how the country came together to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the lunar surface by 1970, NASA's bold missions - and crippling tragedies - since that historic day, and the future of space exploration and Houston as America's "Space City.


Buzz Aldrin is nearly impossible to miss when he walks into a room.

That’s partly because he was the second man to walk on the moon — an achievement that not only landed him in the history books but resulted in guest appearances on popular shows including “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Simpsons,” “Futurama” and a spot on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2010. He even inspired the character of Buzz Lightyear in Pixar’s blockbuster “Toy Story.”

But he’s also, well, eccentric: the moon-boot-print lapel pin, the solar system rings, the alien-face bracelet, the watch on each wrist.

His outfit of choice appears to be a space-themed shirt tucked tightly into his jeans, often held up by American flag suspenders. During the Explorers Club Annual Dinner in March, the other living Apollo astronauts wore black tuxedos. Aldrin showed up in a silver tuxedo, tiny black rockets splashed across nearly every inch of the shiny fabric.

“I guess I didn’t get the black tuxedo memo,” he tweeted proudly.

He has lived life in the spotlight ever since he piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module to the moon on July 20, 1969, following astronaut Neil Armstrong to the surface. That day, he became the second of just 12 men to step foot on a celestial body he famously described as “magnificent desolation.”

Those who know Aldrin say he’s brilliant. A rocket scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a fighter pilot during the Korean War, he developed a way to get to Mars in 1985.

But his life has been anything but easy. After returning from the moon, he battled alcoholism and depression, went through several divorces and was so broke that at one point he sold cars.

Most recently, in 2018, two of Aldrin’s three children filed for guardianship. He turned around and sued them, along with his business manager, saying they had taken control of his credit cards, bank accounts and space memorabilia. Those cases have since been dismissed.

“This was the most charitable way to manage a difficult situation, as this year, which marks 50 years since we first step(ped) foot on the moon, is too important to my family, the nation and me,” Aldrin, now 89, said in a statement on Twitter in early March.

But Aldrin has not given up on the future of space, spending his days advocating for a human mission to Mars, NASA and space exploration in general.

And as the 50th anniversary approaches, he’s one of just four moonwalkers still alive.

“How am I feeling? Well, considering, I’m glad to feel anything,” Aldrin joked during an interview with the Houston Chronicle in April.

Becoming Buzz

Aldrin’s love of flight can be traced to his father, a U.S. Air Force colonel, who took little Buzz into the skies for the first time at the age of 2.

“Certainly, some people are born with innovation in their veins. I think I was,” Aldrin wrote in his book, “No Dream Is Too High,” published in 2016, noting that “something inside me responded far beyond what my father might have imagined.”

Aldrin attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He became an Air Force pilot, flying 66 combat missions during the Korean War. He returned home and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he eventually earned his doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics in 1963.

Inspired by Ed White — a classmate at West Point whom NASA selected as an astronaut in 1962 — Aldrin applied to be an astronaut. He was denied the first time because he wasn’t a test pilot.

He applied again, and in 1963, he joined the agency’s third class of astronauts. Three years later, in November 1966, he flew on the four-day Gemini 12 flight with Jim Lovell. The final flight of the Gemini program was designed to conduct three spacewalks, among other things.

Aldrin set the world record for spacewalks during that flight, staying outside the capsule for more than five hours.

Embracing ‘second’

By January 1969, the world knew who would be the first astronauts to head to the moon: Aldrin, Armstrong and astronaut Michael Collins.

For a time, Aldrin was to leave the first boot prints there. But then NASA changed its mind. Armstrong would be the first out of the spacecraft.

And so it was. On July 20, 1969, 600 million people — a fifth of the world’s population — watched and listened to the landing, the largest audience for any single event in history. Armstrong stepped out first. Then Aldrin. Collins piloted the command module in the moon’s orbit so that the trio could return safely to Earth.

Who’s No. 2?

Those who finish first get all the attention, but here’s a list of 10 prominent No. 2s:

2nd U.S. President: John Adams

2nd U.S. state: Pennsylvania

World’s 2nd-longest river: Amazon

2nd-largest continent: Africa

2nd Greek letter: Beta

2nd Zodiac sign: Taurus

2nd person to circumnavigate the globe: Sir Francis Drake

2nd person to fly solo across the Atlantic: Amelia Earhart

2nd person to go into space: Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov

2nd “Star Wars” movie to be released: “The Empire Strikes Back”

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins returned home to ticker-tape parades, a worldwide tour and unfathomable fame. Armstrong and Collins largely stayed out of the limelight.

Aldrin, on the other hand, did not.

“Truth is, for years, I bristled at my notoriety, being known as ‘the second man on the moon,’” Aldrin wrote. But “eventually, I came to embrace the fact that Neil was the first man on the moon and I was ‘second,’ and that my position was not insignificant.”

These days, Aldrin still offers input on space-related issues. He’s on an advisory group for President Donald Trump’s National Space Council and continues to advocate for his plan to put humans on Mars — to stay.

But he knows that, as he pushes 90 years old, he can only do so much to change the course of the country’s space-exploration plans. And he’s largely OK with that.

“They used to call this an armchair quarterback or an armchair lawyer,” Aldrin told the Chronicle in April. “And now I’m an armchair Buzz Lightyear.”

Alex Stuckey is the NASA and science reporter for the Chronicle. Stuckey won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for her work on a project examining the rampant mishandling of sexual assault reports at Utah colleges while working for The Salt Lake Tribune. She is an Investigative Reporters and Editors award winner and a Livingston Award Finalist. She has won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence in Public Service Journalism and a Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting. She also has won a Society of Professional Journalists Don Baker Investigative Reporting Award.
An Ohio native, Stuckey has lived in five states since graduating from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 2012. She is an avid runner, bookworm and lover of elephants. She shares a birthday with Ruth Bader Ginsburg (girl power!) and the late Alan Bean, fourth man to walk on the moon.


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What “First Man” Gets Fabulously Right About NASA: An Interview with Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden   [Discover] (1)
By Corey S. Powell | October 13, 2018

Neil Armstrong (left) as portrayed by Ryan Gosling in First Man (Credit: Universal)

First Man is not like other movies about the space race, and I mean that in a very good way.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about the director of La La Land telling the story of Neil Armstrong’s historic landing on the Moon. (Would there be songs? A scowling J.K. Simmons?) It turns out to be a synergistic pairing of artist and material. First Man brushes aside the expected saga of space cowboys saddling up their steel horses, delivering instead a moving narrative of NASA’s glory days as seen through Armstrong’s eyes.

That’s an especially impressive achievement given Armstrong’s famously private and controlled personality. Director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling (as Armstrong) use that reticence to their advantage, examining the personal, emotional, and intellectual rigor that made the Apollo 11 triumph possible. It all adds up to a nerve-wracking and fabulously engrossing story, but at times I wondered how closely it aligned with reality. So I spoke with Al Worden, the Command Module pilot on Apollo 15, who knew Armstrong and also served as a technical advisor on the film. Worden strongly validated the authenticity of First Man. He also offered a lot of unexpected insights along the way.

A lightly edited version of our conversation follows. It’s longer than my usual column, but I think you’ll find it well worth your time.

What your relationship was with Neil Armstrong like? I notice that he does not play a big role in your memoir, Falling to Earth.

Al Worden: I would say that Neil and I were good friends. I wasn’t his closest friend; I was so much further along in the [NASA] program that we really didn’t mingle much back then, but I got to know Neil afterwards. I think part of the reason we became friends was that I didn’t bug him.

Everybody was after Neil for something. When I was chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, I wrote him a letter saying that we could really use his help to raise money. He wrote back, “I can’t do it because I’m spending all my time raising money for Purdue, but I appreciate your letter,” and so on. I wrote back and said, “That’s fine, I just wanted to know where you stood, I will never bother you again.” And I never did. After that we became pretty good friends, because I didn’t bug him. That’s the kind of guy he was.

First Man presents Neil almost as a Greta Garbo-like figure in the way he guarded his privacy. Was that a reasonable reaction to the media frenzy around the first Moon landing?

Oh yeah, absolutely. He was being pounded from all sides by everybody who wanted something from Neil Armstrong. He had to be very careful what he did. He took a page from Charles Lindbergh’s book and kind of lived his life the way Lindbergh did, stayed out of the limelight. When he went out to do something, it was for something that was very important to him or to the country. I don’t think Neil ever marketed himself at all. He didn’t need to. Everybody knew who he was.

The real Neil (left), suiting up for Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969; the movie Neil (right) gets his closeup. (Credit: NASA, Universal)

How well did Ryan Gosling capture what Neil Armstrong was really like in person?

Ryan did a superb job. In the movie, they make Neil a little more aloof than maybe he really was, but that’s a very fine line. It all depends on your perspective, on whether you knew him or not, on how you saw him. I wouldn’t say that Neil was aloof, but he was very self-contained—put it that way. If he had a problem, he didn’t expose everybody else to his problem.

Like in the movie, when he parachutes out of the LLTV [the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, a test version of the Apollo Lunar Module, which Neil crashed], he didn’t even tell his wife. He just went back to the office started working. That’s the kind of guy he was. He didn’t let those kind of things run his life. He just kept plodding along and doing the right thing. He was very unusual that way. With Gemini 8, when he hit all the problems [the spacecraft entered a near-fatal spin during a docking test], I don’t think he talked with anybody about that except to explain to the people at NASA what went wrong and what needed to be done. Outside of that, he was back in his office, figuring out other things. That was Neil.

Was Neil’s reserved style frustrating to the PR people at NASA? Would they have preferred more of a cheerleader?

I don’t know. See, Neil was kind of an icon even when he was still in the program because he had been involved in situations that could have killed him. He walked through them and hardly ever blinked an eye. He was kind of a special guy even in the program.

The iconic shot of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong on the Moon. You can see Neil in the visor reflection. (Credit: NASA)

Is that why Neil ended up as the first person to walk on the Moon?

People ask me about that, and I say it was kind of coincidental. You see, all of the crews for Apollos 10, 11, 12 ,13 were already picked and in their slots. Apollo 10 was the first flight around the Moon with the Lunar Module, setting up the stage to make a landing. Back in Houston, I don’t think we ever considered that Neil would actually be the guy to make the first landing, because the first time you try something like that something is bound to go wrong and you can’t make it. You got to get over whatever went wrong, fix it, and then the next up would be the guy to make it.

We were kind of betting on Pete Conrad [who ended up on Apollo 12] making the first landing. But Neil overcame all that [the initial failure to find a suitable landing suite for his Lunar Module], took over manually, and landed that thing. He did what he had to do.

Were there any places where First Man took artistic liberties with the Neil Armstrong’s life?

I’m not sure there is any fictionalized part of the story. It follows Jim Hansen’s book [also called First Man] pretty religiously, other than maybe portraying Neil as a little more aloof than he really was. I don’t know the inner workings between Neil and [his wife] Jan and the family; I wasn’t privy to that. What I got from the movie, and what I related to in Neil as a person, is that he was very dedicated and persevering in following his path, from flying the X-15 to the Gemini program to the Apollo program. He had his ups and downs, and of course he lost his daughter—that affected him greatly. If there is a difference between how the movie portrays him and what he really was, it’s very very small.

What about the closing scene with the bracelet? I’m pretty sure that was fictionalized. Right? [For spoiler reasons, I won’t say anything more about it.]

I can’t answer that. That is something that I just I just don’t know about, but I don’t believe it actually happened. I don’t think Neil took anything like that personally on the flight. [Update: The great CollectSpace web site has investigated the scene and uncovered some interesting details. You can read it here. But again, this is a major spoiler for the movie, so I don’t recommend reading the article unless you’ve already seen the film.]

How about the broader depiction of astronaut culture of the 1960s? Did that ring true?

Yeah, that was all pretty good. There have been a lot of movies made about the [NASA astronaut] guys. You have to separate this one out, because First Man is not a story about space flight. It’s a story about a man, and space is kind of tangential to the real story. Apollo 13 was all about the flight. There were parts of Apollo 13 that I didn’t like because it wasn’t real. They made Jack Swigert look very guilty of causing the problem, and he wasn’t. He had nothing to do with it. I objected to that strongly. I did not think that was very fair. But by that time Jack had already died—so who cares? I remember asking Ron Howard why he did that, and he said it was for the audience. He had to put something in there to keep the audience’s interest.

Or I go back to The Right Stuff. The book that Tom Wolfe wrote was very different from the movie that they made out of it. I loved the book, and I knew Tom; I used to see him all the time. When they made the movie, they changed a lot of things. They made it kind of charade, a parody of what things were really like. Like the scene where Gordon Cooper is driving [his wife] Trudy in a convertible back to Edwards and keeps asking her, “Who is the greatest pilot in the world?” Well come on! That’s movie nonsense. They did a whole scene at the Lovelace Clinic, and the way they portrayed it, that’s nonsense also.

So history does get rewritten in some of these movies, but First Man is pretty true to the book. It’s pretty much the way it was. I think Ryan Gosling played it perfectly. And Damien—for a guy as young as he is, he did a fabulous job on First Man.

Al Worden (center) with this Apollo 15 crewmates, David Scott (left) and Jim Irwin. (Credit: NASA)

What kind of advice did you give to the filmmakers to keep things accurate?

They asked me to come to Atlanta while they were doing their stuff is a studio, and out in the field where they had converted an old stone quarry to a lunar surface. What I did, it was kind of like: Jim Hansen talks about the characters and about the men and about what they do—but then there are a lot of mechanical details that never appear in the book. For instance, you take for granted that there is an instrument panel, that there are three couches, and there’s a hatch, and all that. When you make a movie, you’ve got to show those things, and they’ve got to be right.

That’s where I came in. When they put the three astronauts in the spacecraft before launch, how do they get in? Who goes first? How do they strap them in? What kind of shoulder straps do they have? What kind of lap belts do they have? There has to be a transition from how you write the book to how you visually show these things to a movie audience. I helped them with those details.

Were you satisfied with the result?

They did a superb job. It was interesting comparing the inside-the-cockpit scenes in First Man to the inside-cockpit scenes in Apollo 13. In Apollo 13, Tom Hanks did most of those scenes in a zero-g airplane where they were actually floating around. Damien decided to do it with wires instead. We had all the guys wired up, and I was standing there laughing because I just couldn’t see how that would turn out to look like these guys were in freefall. Well, once they finished and you look at it, you say, “Oh my God. Yeah! That looks real!” The wires worked just as well as doing freefall. I found it fascinating.

First Man culminates with the first footsteps on the Moon, so I wanted to get your perspective as the other kind of lunar explorer—the one who stayed in orbit. When did you know that would be your role on Apollo 15, akin to Michael Collins’s role on Apollo 11?

We knew that very early on. When we had the [Apollo 1] fire at the Cape back in 1967, the emphasis was on the Command Module: fixing it and making sure that it was safe, putting a new hatch on it, taking all the flammable materials out of it. I probably knew more about the Command Module than anybody else in the program, so was kind of a foregone conclusion that if I got on a flight, it was going to be as Command Module pilot.

Were you disappointed when you realized you wouldn’t be walking on the Moon?

No, not at all. You have to understand what was going on in the program back then. I was on a professional career path to become a commander. In the [astronaut] program back in those days, generally speaking, the Command Module pilot was the one who would become a commander on a future flight. A Lunar Module pilot got to walk on the Moon but chances are, he was never going to become a commander. To me, I was in the right spot at the right time.

What’s happened since then is that once the media got into the act of showing all the videos and all the pictures of the guys on the surface, it became more important to the general public to see a guy walking on the Moon than to see some guy float around in orbit by himself. For the guy in orbit, there are no pictures, no videos, no nothing that show him, so he kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Mike Collins had the same problem on Apollo 11. It’s gotten to be a big deal about twelve guys walking on the Moon. Nobody ever mentions the six guys who were in lunar orbit.

But I didn’t mind it at all. It was such a different world back then in terms of career path than we have assumed through the media in the meantime. That was just the nature of the game.

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What “First Man” Gets Fabulously Right About NASA: An Interview with Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden (2)

Al Worden carried out the most distant spacewalk ever–196,000 miles from Earth–during Apollo 15. (Credit: NASA)

What was that experience like, being the only human being in the universe in orbit around the Moon?

It’s pretty surreal. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did a lot of visual observations, I did a lot of photography. I had a complete set of remote-sensing devices that I used to scan the lunar surface. I was very busy in lunar orbit, probably did a thousand times more science than they did on the surface. The guys who go down to the surface, they have one thing in mind. Their goal was to pick up every different color rock they can find and bring it back. In the meantime, I’m photographing 25 percent of the Moon’s surface! So there was there was a lot involved in what I did, but it wasn’t romantic like walking on the moon. I didn’t have the facilities with me to take any pictures inside. Well, I’m not a selfie kind of guy anyway.

The isolation was wonderful. I was raised in the Air Force as a single-seat fighter pilot, so I was used to being by myself. As a matter of fact, I preferred to be by myself, because I didn’t really want to be responsible for somebody else on the flight. I didn’t feel lonely. There’s a difference between being lonely and being alone; I was alone but I wasn’t lonely. The best part of the lunar flight for me in those three days [at the Moon] was when I was on the backside of the Moon, cut off from Houston mission control. I didn’t even have to talk to them. I was very comfortable there. I wrote a book of poetry about the flight back in the 1970s. It’s called Hello Earth.

The climactic scene of First Man reminds me of something that happened on your Apollo 15 mission, when Dave Scott placed the “Fallen Astronaut” statue on the Moon in memory of those who died in space exploration. Were you involved with that?

We talked about it in the crew, but I had nothing to do with the agreements made with Paul van Hoeydonck [the artist who created “Fallen Astronaut”]. Dave did that on his own. I knew about it and I knew we carried it on the flight, but I was not really involved. I got involved with Paul much later, because he had a falling out with Dave. There were a lot of things that happened, and I think a lot of people got disillusioned with Dave. Paul was one of them. [For a full account, see my article “The Sculpture on the Moon.”]

Paul’s a good friend and a talented artist. The guy’s like ninety five years old and going strong! He’s amazing. I have two of his art pieces in my house down in Florida. The memorial — the little Fallen Astronaut and the plaque that went with it listing all of those who died in space–I think it’s wonderful. As a matter of fact, Paul asked me to come to Berlin next April because there’s is going to be a big showing of his artwork. The Fallen Astronaut is going to be the centerpoint of that.

What do you see as the future of human space exploration? Are you encouraged by all the current activity in private spaceflight?

I gotta tell you, there is only one commercial operator out there. There are lots of companies that are working towards doing something in space, but there is really only commercial company doing it, and that’s Blue Origin. They’re the only one completely funded by the people in the company. Everybody else is relying on the government to pave the way. I keep thinking, what’s different about this than it was in the Apollo program when they paid North American to build the Command Module and they paid Grumman to build the Lunar Module? I don’t see a whole lot of difference, except that companies like SpaceX build their stuff without a lot of NASA oversight.

What’s your opinion about sending humans back to the Moon?

Going back to the Moon has only one value as far as I’m concerned, and that’s to put a crew there for a period of time to make sure we can live in a harsh environment like that–probably at the Moon’s south pole, where we think there’s water. The most spectacular thing we could do if we went back to the Moon would be to build the biggest radio telescope we could build on the lunar backside. I think that would be spectacular. It would give us a great shot at looking farther into the universe. Outside of that, I don’t see a whole lot of value in going back to the Moon. The Moon has no has no charm for me. If we’re going to Mars, there are better ways than going to the Moon first.

OK, so what would be your preferred path to Mars?

I happen to be a fan of Lagrange points, especially L5. A perfect place to launch to Mars. It’s in a stable equilibrium point. You could send all kinds of small packages up there and assemble it without fear of drifting into the atmosphere. You could build a huge, huge spacecraft to go to Mars and back. The Orion is a mistake in my mind. It can’t go to Mars, even though they sold it on the basis of going to Mars. The Orion is good for four people for 20 days.

Mars could take a year and a half, so they’re going to have to do a whole different thing. It’s going to be very difficult, because not only do you have a year and a half in space, but you’re going to run into radiation that we’re not even sure today we could handle. Going to the Moon didn’t have the same kind of radiation danger.

Armstrong nearly died during the May 1968 crash of his LLRV-1 training vehicle–but he brushed it off and went straight back to work. (Credit: NASA)

There was a special spirit at NASA in the 1960s. How do you compare it to what you see now?

In the days when I was in the program, it was very different than it is today in terms of the management, in terms of how decisions are made, in terms of the bureaucracy. We had a great program back then. There was no bureaucracy involved making decisions. Committees would talk over whatever had to be done and the chairman of the committee would then make a decision based on all that talk. We were all so goal-oriented that little problems along the way seemed pretty insignificant.

Neil Armstrong could work his way through all the problems that he had on the way to the lunar landing and still keep his mind on the ultimate goal, which was to land on the Moon. When the goal is so important, all those other things recede into the background. And I think that’s what made the program so successful back in those days. When we lost a crew in January of 1967, that didn’t stop the program. As a matter of fact, because we lost those three guys, it made that Apollo spacecraft safe enough so that every single flight after that was OK.

We found out some big problems that we had, got them corrected, and we kept on going–because the goal was so important.


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“Apollonauts” reflect on lunar landing and return to the moon
by Jeff Foust — July 11, 2019 [SN]

Five of the "Apollonauts" who developed the Apollo Guidance Computer — Dan Lickly, Jim Kerner, Peter Kachmar, Peter Volante and Hugh Blair-Smith — pose with a model of the moon at Draper Labs to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Credit: Draper

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The engineers who developed the computers that enabled the Apollo 11 lunar landing had little doubt the mission could be a success, and half a century later have advice for how NASA should return to the moon.

In the 1960s, the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory had a NASA contract to develop the Apollo Guidance Computer, one of the first portable digital real-time computers, used on both the command and lunar modules. Engineers took advantage of emerging technologies from that era, like integrated circuits, to develop a system that guided Apollo to the moon and to six successful landings on the lunar surface.

The facility, now known as Draper Laboratory and spun out after Apollo as a nonprofit organization, is marking the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 with a “Hack the Moon” exhibition recalling its role in developing the Apollo Guidance Computer. At a media event at its headquarters here July 9, several of the engineers — dubbed “Apollonauts” by Draper — discussed their experiences developing the computer.

While the Apollo Guidance Computer pressed the limits of technology of the era, with the added constraints of schedule and size, those involved in the program said they never doubted they would be successful.

“The landing was kind of a nail-biter, but I don’t think anybody thought we weren’t going to do it,” recalled Peter Kachmar, a rendezvous engineer who still works at Draper today supporting work on the Trident missile’s guidance system. “Whatever we set our minds to do at the lab, we can do. I had always felt it was going to be successful.”

That confidence, though, didn’t mean development of the computer and its software was without problems. While advanced for its time, the computer had only 36,000 words, or 72 kilobytes, of memory. “That’s why we rolled mission phases in and out, but they caused errors,” said Margaret Hamilton, who led the team that developed the software for the computer.

One such example, she recalled, was something her young daughter discovered playing with a model of the computer. Inputting commands to start a pre-launch program while in the middle of the mission caused the computer to crash. She then advised her management at MIT and NASA about the problem, and suggested a software fix to prevent it from happening.

They rejected her suggestion. “We just can’t do it,” she said they told her. The astronauts, they reassured her, “are too well-trained. It’s not going to happen.” It, in fact, did happen on Apollo 8, resetting the navigation system. Afterwards, she said management agreed to the software change to prevent that from happening again.

The limited capacity of the computer also led to major cuts in the software. Jim Kerner, a lunar module software engineer, said that at one point the software exceeded 150 percent of the available storage. On a day dubbed “Black Friday” NASA management directed major cuts to the software in order to fit into available storage.

“Up until that point we all had the idea that the software would be self-contained and fly the mission without the help of the ground,” he said. “They chopped out a lot of the capability that was dear to hearts. Now the ground was preeminent, and we couldn’t fly the mission without the ground.”

Perhaps the best known issue with the computer system was the program alarms during the lunar module’s descent on Apollo 11. That was triggered by a rendezvous radar that was on during the lander’s descent, something the engineers said hadn’t been anticipated during development and testing of the computer.

Hugh Blair-Smith, who worked on the computer’s hardware and software, said that Buzz Aldrin had decided to leave the rendezvous radar on during descent, even though it wasn’t needed. That decision was based on the experience with Apollo 10, when the lunar module briefly lost attitude control as it prepared to return to the command module.

“He became doubly aware of the possibility that they’d have to abort and start using the rendezvous radar quickly,” he said. “He made sure in Apollo 11 that the rendezvous radar was as ready for instantaneous use as it could possibly be.”

The fact that the radar was on, as well as what Blair-Smith called a “weird situation” with the power supplies on the spacecraft, meant that the radar was taking up computer cycles, triggering the alarm. “Buzz gets a lot of blame” for that, unfairly, he said. “Everything he had done was perfectly rational and very well founded on the events of Apollo 10.”

The engineers worked directly with a number of astronauts on the computer system. Dan Lickly, a software engineer on the system, singled out Neil Armstrong as someone particularly interested in the computer. “We were giving a lecture to a group of astronauts that was supposed to take one hour, and it took an hour and a half because Neil would just not stop asking questions,” he said. “We had no trouble communicating, because it was one geek to another. We got along fine.”

Without the Apollo Guidance Computer, engineers said the Apollo landings would not have been possible. “There wouldn’t have been a mission,” said Peter Volante, a software engineer. He recalled comments made by Chris Kraft at a symposium 10 years ago about Apollo. “Among the things he said in his talk that day was that it would not have been possible to do Apollo without the modern digital computer.”

Computer systems have advanced remarkably in the half-century since Apollo, but the engineers who worked on the Apollo Guidance Computer still had advice for NASA as it returns to the moon with Artemis. One example of that advice is centralizing development.

“One of the most important features of the way the program was set up was that it was all here in one building,” Blair-Smith said. If someone ran into problems, “he didn’t send off an interdepartmental memo, he trots down two doors and asks me.”

Hamilton said that she’s still seeing the use of the “traditional lifecycle” approach to software engineering used in Apollo, which can be time-consuming and expensive. She called for the use of alternative approaches that avoid those problems. “It’s maybe going to happen, but it’s still going to take time,” she said.

“The most important thing is to understand exactly what miracles in project management were developed and worked,” Blair-Smith said. “We had plenty to complain about at the time, but it really was amazing.”


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Commercial satellite images historic Apollo launch pads
July 9, 2019 Stephen Clark [SN]

Launch pad 39A is now used by SpaceX for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket launches. In this view captured Monday, the strongback transporter structure is seen in the horizontal position at pad 39A, with a U.S. flag waving from the fixed service structure, a tower originally built for the space shuttle and modified for SpaceX’s use. Credit: Maxar Technologies

Maxar’s eagle-eyed WorldView 3 satellite captured high-resolution views Monday of NASA’s twin Apollo-era launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, both now home to new launch vehicles 50 years after humans took their first steps on the moon.

Launch pad 39A its now leased from NASA by SpaceX for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket launches. The commercial space company took over operations at the launch pad in 2014, and began launching missions there on Feb. 19, 2017.

In the photo captured by Maxar’s WorldView 3 satellite Monday, SpaceX’s strongback  transporter structure is in the horizontal position at pad 39A, and a U.S. flag is seen waving from the facility’s fixed service structure, a tower originally built for the space shuttle and modified for SpaceX’s use.

The crew access arm at pad 39A is also visible. The swing arm will be used by astronauts boarding SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, one of two new commercial spaceships in development under contract with NASA to restore independent access to the International Space Station for U.S. astronauts, without relying on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

WorldView 3 took the pictures of the two launch pads at NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39 from an altitude of roughly 383 miles (617 kilometers). Both launch pads are located less than a half-mile (less than a kilometer) from the beach at the Kennedy Space Center, and were built in the 1960s for the Apollo moon program.

Pad 39A has been the starting point for 112 launches since 1967, including 12 Saturn 5 moon rockets, 82 space shuttle missions, 15 Falcon 9 rockets and three Falcon Heavy flights.

The Apollo 11 mission, which launched 50 years ago July 16, famously departed from pad 39A on the first mission to land astronauts on the moon. Other notable launches from pad 39A include the liftoff of the Skylab space station, the first and last space shuttle flights, and the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful commercial launcher ever built.

NASA is readying launch pad 39B for the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket designed to send astronauts back to the moon. In this view captured Monday, the SLS mobile launch tower is seen at pad 39B after rolling out to the seaside complex last month for testing. Credit: Maxar Technologies

Pad 39B, located about a mile-and-a-half north of pad 39A, has hosted 59 launches since 1969. One Saturn 5 rocket, four Saturn 1B missions, 53 space shuttle flights, and a single suborbital test launch of NASA’s now-cancelled Ares 1 rocket have lifted off from pad 39B.

The most recent launch from pad 39A was June 25, when a Falcon Heavy took off with two dozen satellites. Pad 39B’s most recent launch was the Ares 1X test launch in October 2009.

But pad 39B is seeing more activity as NASA prepares for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, set for late 2020 or early 2021.

The mobile launch tower for the Space Launch System rolled out to pad 39B on June 27 to begin a three-month series of checkouts and tests, including sound suppression water testing, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant flows, and a full electrical compatibility check with the launch pad.

The mobile platform will carry the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) SLS rocket from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building to pad 39B during launch campaigns.


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Apollo 11 anniversary coins take ‘small step’ to space and back
by Robert Z. Pearlman — July 9, 2019 [SN]

NASA astronaut Christina Koch displays a U.S. Mint Apollo 11 50th Anniversary commemorative coin on board the International Space Station in May 2019. Credit: NASA

A curved tribute to the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing recently completed a trip around the curvature of the Earth many times over.

Two commemorative coins from the United States Mint were flown on board the International Space Station for 28 days. The domed, half dollar coins traveled to orbit and back on a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch displayed one of the two coins in a video recorded for the Mint.

“Fifty years ago, we took our first small steps onto the moon and made a giant leap that united and inspired the world. NASA accomplished this 50 years ago for all of humankind,” Koch said, referencing the July 1969 lunar landing. “We are honored by the U.S. Mint issuing this commemorative coin celebrating the accomplishment of NASA, our nation and every human who dares to dream.”

Gold, silver and clad coins were struck to mark the half-century since astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins achieved the world’s first moon landing mission in July 1969. The commemoratives are only the second coins in the U.S. Mint’s history to be curved.

The coins’ reverse, or tail’s side, is convex, resembling the outward curve of an astronaut’s helmet and feature a design based on an iconic photograph of Aldrin’s visor, showing the lunar module “Eagle,” the American flag and Armstrong on the moon’s surface.

The obverse, or head’s side, is concave, curving inward to the engraved image of Aldrin’s boot print in the lunar soil. The design also features the names of the three NASA human spaceflight programs that led up to the first moon landing: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

“As with all U.S. Mint commemorative coins, they are made for all and available to all,” Koch said.

The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary commemorative coins are only the second time the U.S. Mint has produced curved coins. Credit: U.S. Mint

In January, the U.S. Mint released the coins for sale in half dollar, dollar and five dollar denominations, in proof and uncirculated finishes, with limited editions of 50,000 to 750,000. Since then, the U.S. Mint has partnered with Australia’s and Spain’s mints to issue coin sets recognizing the tracking stations that supported the Apollo 11 mission.

Proceeds from the U.S. Mint’s sale of the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary coins benefit three space-related organizations that work to preserve space history and promote science education: the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, the AstronautScholarship Foundation and the National Air and Space Museum’s “Destination Moon” gallery, scheduled to open in 2022.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which awarded Koch a scholarship when she was an undergraduate studying electrical engineering and physics, provided Sam Scimemi, director for the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters, with the two coins that were flown into space.

The proof-quality, clad half dollar coins were launched to the station May 4 and returned June 3 aboard SpaceX’s CRS-17 mission. Now back on Earth, one of the coins will be displayed by the U.S. Mint.

The second coin “will go on display in our upcoming Destination Moon exhibition,” the National Air and Space Museum announced on Twitter.

Koch said that she hopes the trip to the International Space Station will be just the first launch for the Apollo 11 coins.

“These coins have made the small step here, to the International Space Station, and I hope when we are building a sustainable presence on the moon and make that next giant leap onto Mars, the coins will go along on our journey as a reminder of all the hard work and sacrifice that moves us all forward,” she said.


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50 years later, Apollo 11's "one giant leap" remains a defining moment in human history (1)

Watch the CBS News prime-time special "Man on the Moon," celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Tuesday at 10/9c.

One of the first footprints on the surface of the moon. In the airless environment, the bootprints left behind 50 years ago will remain visible for uncounted millenia to come. NASA

In a culture steeped in high technology, from wearable computers to the internet of things and rockets that fly themselves back to pinpoint touchdowns, the Apollo 11 moon landing and Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind" are slowly fading from memory, a forever remarkable but increasingly distant bit of history.

After all, for anyone born after July 20, 1969, the day Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon, there has never been a time when humanity was bound to Earth alone. For many, the stories of Apollo 11, five subsequent moon landings and the near disaster of Apollo 13 are remembered from history class, not from personal experience.

But for an older generation, the sons and daughters of the "Greatest Generation" who designed, built, launched and flew the Apollo missions, the first moon landing will forever stand out as a seminal event in human history, a gripping life-or-death drama played out on live television 240,000 miles from Earth.

On the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, virtually anyone watching television or listening to the radio that day can recall where they were at 4:17:40 p.m. EDT when Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, leaving crewmate Michael Collins behind in orbit, swooped to a nail-biting touchdown on the Sea of Tranquility.

With only a few seconds of fuel remaining, after disconcerting computer program alarms and a navigation glitch that forced Armstrong to take over manual control to avoid a boulder-strewn landing site, the four-legged spacecraft settled to the surface in clouds of fast-dissipating moon dust.

"Man on the moon!" CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite emotionally exclaimed, listening along with millions around the world as Armstrong and Aldrin worked through their engine shutdown checklist. "We copy you down, Eagle," astronaut Charlie Duke called from mission control in Houston as if seeking confirmation.

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here," Armstrong famously replied. "The Eagle has landed."

"Roger, Twan... Tranquillity, we copy you on the ground," Duke stammered in return. "You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

They weren't the only ones. Cronkite, a long-time space enthusiast, was virtually speechless. "Oh, boy!" he exhaled in relief, taking off his glasses and rubbing his hands together with pent-up emotion.

Six-and-a-half hours later, with one of the largest global television audiences in history looking on, Armstrong stood poised on the lander's foot pad before stepping onto the lunar surface, clearly visible in a grainy black-and-white image.

"Boy, look at those pictures! Wow!" Cronkite marveled. "Armstrong is on the moon, Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American, standing on the surface of the moon on this July 20th, nineteen hundred and sixty nine."

Millions around the world watched Neil Armstrong, on live television from the moon, take his first step onto the surface. This shot shows that moment as Armstrong, his right hand holding the lunar module's ladder, stepped off a landing leg footpad and onto the moon. NASA

An instant later, at 10:56 p.m., Armstrong stepped off the footpad and onto the the finely-powdered surface.
"That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

Whether he inadvertently dropped the "a" or simply misspoke in the thrill of the moment, Armstrong's words briefly united the people of planet Earth with shared pride for an achievement dreamed of since humans first looked up at the sky in wonder.

"For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one," President Richard Nixon radioed the moonwalkers from the Oval Office. "One in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth."

John Noble Wilford, leading The New York Times' coverage, started with just eight words: "Men have landed and walked on the moon." No embellishment was needed.

For many in mission control that day, the emotional impact of the landing and moonwalk did not immediately hit home. For flight controller Ed Fendell, it sank in the next day during breakfast at a Dutch Kettle restaurant near the Houston space center.

"Two guys walked in and sat down next to me," he recalled in an interview. "They were out of the gas station down on the corner, dirty nails, grease on their clothes. And they started talking and I couldn't help but hear them. One says, 'You know, I landed on D-Day in World War II,' and he said, 'I never felt prouder to be an American than I did yesterday.'

"All of a sudden, it hit me with a realization of what we had done. ... I threw my money down on the counter, went out to my car and started crying."

"A new stage for mankind"

One can debate the historical significance of the moon landing, but in 500 years, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote in 1999, when "Pearl Harbor will be as remote as the War of the Roses," the Apollo 11 moon landing may well be remembered as the most significant event of the 20th century. And that includes two world wars, the development of Einstein's theory of relativity, quantum physics and nuclear weapons.

Lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin climbs down the lander's ladder to join Armstrong on the surface. Armstrong took dozens of pictures of Aldrin on the surface but there are virtually no shots of Armstrong. NASA

Glynn Lunney, the flight director on duty for Apollo 11's climb back to lunar orbit, agreed, saying "for all the millennia that humans have walked on this planet and looked up at the moon and looked up at the stars, this was the first time when two of us walked and worked and lived on another planet.

"And in the big sweep of history yet to come, we may look back on this not as a technological achievement, we may end up looking back and seeing that it was the beginning of a new stage for mankind as we know it."

Now 82, Lunney said when he looks up at the moon today, "I think of all the people who worked on (Apollo) and how well they performed. I mean, they were doing something that five years earlier was the impossible, right? And they just said, yeah, it's impossible. But we're gonna do it anyway."

Fifty years after the fact, Apollo 11's story is long complete, a success so towering it has worked its way into everyday vernacular as an achievement against which daily frustrations are measured. Who hasn't heard someone ask, "If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they (fill in the blank)?"

"I think (young) people get it" Lunney said in June. "They didn't participate in it. They didn't know all the technical stuff and the whiz-bang stuff. But they know we did something really, really big. Nobody else had done it before, and nobody else has done it since. And it took a lot of courage."

Ten more American men would follow Armstrong and Aldrin onto the moon's stark surface, eventually roving about in high-tech dune buggies equipped with color TV cameras, bringing home a priceless collection of rocks and soil — 842 pounds total — that is still helping scientists decipher the history of the solar system.

But barring the dramatic Apollo 13 rescue in 1970, the moon program never again captured the world's attention to such a degree or garnered the political support needed for equally ambitious programs in its wake. By September 1970, three moon landings had been canceled.

"We didn't think it could be done"

The flight of Apollo 11, then, symbolized an end and a beginning. It was the beginning of humanity's first steps away from the home world, but it marked the end of a nation's willingness to provide unlimited support for the very exploration that came to symbolize its technological leadership on the world stage.

That visionary leadership is precisely what President John F. Kennedy gave the United States on May 25, 1961, when he told a joint session of Congress: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

In the month preceding that speech, on April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, completing one orbit around the planet in a Soviet triumph that shocked the American public, the media and lawmakers in Washington. Five days later, the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba began, ending three days later in a humiliating defeat at the hands of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Less than three weeks after that, as Kennedy was struggling to find a way forward for the United States after what were widely perceived as unacceptable setbacks, NASA launched Mercury 7 astronaut Alan Shepard on a brief 15-minute sub-orbital space flight. It was a poor second to Gagarin's orbital flight, but the nation was thrilled, at least some of its confidence restored.

Speaking at Rice University in 1961, President John F. Kennedy tells the nation "we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY

Kennedy was listening. Twenty days later, on May 25, the president set a trip to the moon, before the decade was out, as the nation's objective in space. It was a master stroke, an audacious, yet easy-to-understand goal that instantly captured the nation's imagination.

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard," the president said on Sept. 12 during a speech at Rice University. "Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

Lunney and many others in the nation's infant space program were stunned by the unexpected directive.
"When we were having a beer talking about that, we didn't think it could be done," Lunney recalled with a smile. "We were working on Mercury at the time. Mercury was a 2,000-pound ship. And what we had to deal with was getting 200,000 pounds in Earth orbit (just) to get started.

"It was a stunning thing," he went on. "It was a wonderful thing to see how well the Americans did pooling together our resources and our talents. And inventing a whole new world of space operations."

Gene Kranz, the legendary flight director who managed Apollo 11's descent to the lunar surface, said Kennedy's vision "established the direction for the nation to get moving. And the nation started moving."

"The environmental movement was starting at that time, the Peace Corps was starting at that time, the civil rights movement was starting," Kranz said in an interview, sitting at his console in the recently restored Apollo 11 mission control room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"This was the start of not only the space revolution, but the technology revolution within our nation," he said. Looking across the iconic consoles and screens that once displayed the second-by-second heartbeat of Apollo 11, he added: "This is where it all began."

Long and difficult road to the moon

The road to the moon would be difficult, hugely expensive and in a few cases, marred by tragedy. Three astronauts — Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White — were killed Jan. 27, 1967, when a flash fire erupted and swept through their problem-plagued Apollo 1 command module during a launch pad test at Cape Canaveral.

The Apollo 1 crew, left to right: commander Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. All three were killed in a flash fire that swept through their problem-plagued Apollo command module during a launch pad test. NASA

Five other astronauts — Theodore Freeman, Charles Bassett, Elliot See, Edward Givens and Clifton "C.C." Williams — were killed in aircraft crashes or car wrecks before getting a chance to fly in space.

The United States would eventually spend $25 billion — $288 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars — developing the technology to send 12 astronauts to the surface of the moon and to bring back 842 pounds of lunar soil and rocks. The bulk of those samples are carefully maintained at the Johnson Space Center.

While science was never the primary justification for Apollo, it remains, perhaps, its most enduring legacy.

"There is not a price tag on this collection," said geologist Ryan Zeigler, NASA Apollo sample curator, during a CBS News tour of the laboratory where the rocks are stored. "And nor will we ever put a price tag on the collection. They're truly priceless. That word gets thrown around a lot, but no amount of money would let me buy new Apollo samples."
Andrew Chaikin, author of "Man on the Moon" and an authority on the Apollo program, adds another enduring legacy: "the perspective, the change in awareness, looking back at the Earth from the moon and seeing it as a planet and in the words of (astronaut) Jim Lovell, a 'grand oasis in space.'"

"So many of the guys talk about the seeming fragility of Earth, that we live on a world that we need to protect and cherish," he said. "We had pictures of the Earth from the moon from the robotic missions, but there's nothing like having a person come back and talk about that experience.""

One of the Apollo program's most iconic photos - "Earthrise" - captured by the crew of Apollo 8. NASA

The moon program got off the ground with the successful launch of Apollo 7 on Oct. 11, 1968, a shakedown cruise for the redesigned post-fire Apollo command module in low-Earth orbit. NASA originally planned to follow that flight with an Earth-orbit test of the command and lunar modules.

But the lander was behind schedule and in a bold step — some NASA insiders consider it the boldest decision of the Apollo program — program manager George Low suggested sending the Apollo 8 capsule, carrying astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders and Lovell, on a flight to orbit the moon, the first piloted launch atop a Saturn 5 rocket.

Launched Dec. 21, 1968, the mission was a resounding success. In a live television broadcast from lunar orbit that Christmas Eve, the astronauts took turns reading the first several verses of Genesis, a moving moment that provided a hint of the drama to come.

Time magazine named the Apollo 8 crew members "Men of the Year" for 1968, the same year Martin Luther King was assassinated and Richard Nixon was elected president. The dizzying pace of the Apollo program was enough to make Stanley Kubrick's 1968 vision of the future — "2001: A Space Odyssey" — with its commercial flights to orbit, giant space stations and moon bases, utterly believable.

NASA followed the Apollo 8 mission with a test of the strange-looking lunar lander in Earth orbit during the flight of Apollo 9 and then in orbit around the moon during Apollo 10, a dress rehearsal that tested all the maneuvers and procedures needed for a moon landing except the final descent to the surface.

The stage was finally set for Apollo 11.
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50 years later, Apollo 11's "one giant leap" remains a defining moment in human history (2)

A voyage into history

The Apollo 11 mission gets underway with a ground-shaking roar, thrilling more than a million spectators lining area roads and beaches. NASA

More than a million spectators gathered along area highways, waterways and beaches to take in the historic launch. More than 3,000 journalists looked on from a press site 3.2 miles from launch complex 39A where Apollo 11's mammoth, 36-story-tall Saturn 5 rocket stood steaming in the morning sun as supercold liquid oxygen boiled off and was vented overboard.

At 9:32 a.m., the rocket's five huge F1 engines roared to life, generating 7.5 million pounds of thrust as they gulped a staggering 15 tons of fuel per second. Ever so slowly, the gigantic Saturn 5, still the most powerful rocket ever flown, majestically climbed skyward, the deafening roar of its engines overwhelming shocked spectators when it finally reached them.

"We are off! And do we know it, not just because the world is yelling 'lift-off' in our ears, but because the seats of our pants tell us so!" Collins wrote in his memoir "Carrying the Fire." "Shake, rattle and roll! Noise, yes, lots of it, but mostly motion as we are thrown left and right against our straps in spasmodic little jerks. It is steering like crazy."

Twelve minutes later, the third stage, carrying the command module Columbia and the lunar lander Eagle, was safely in orbit. After double checking the health of the spacecraft, the crew re-started the single hydrogen-fueled third stage engine at 12:22 p.m., blasting the crew out of Earth orbit and on toward the moon at an initial velocity of seven miles per second.

An hour and a half later, Columbia separated from the third stage and the lunar lander. Collins took manual control, flipped Columbia 180 degrees, docked with the lander and pulled it free of the no-longer-needed third stage.

Three days later, the astronauts flew behind the moon and out of contact with mission control in Houston. Flying backward, the main engine in Columbia's service module ignited at 1:21 p.m. on July 19, burning for five minutes and 57 seconds to slow the ship down enough to into orbit.

Armstrong wasted no time looking at the cratered surface below and comparing it to photos captured earlier by the crews of Apollo 8 and 10.

"Apollo 11 is getting its first view of the landing approach," Armstrong radioed. "It looks very much like the pictures, but like the difference between watching a real football game and watching it on TV. There's no substitute for actually being here."

The next day, slipping behind the moon during their 12th lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin undocked Eagle from Columbia for the historic descent to the surface.

"The Eagle has wings!" Armstrong said.

A few minutes later, Collins, alone aboard the command module, said farewell to his crewmates: "OK, Eagle ... you guys take care."

"See you later," Armstrong replied. The stage was set for the most dramatic moments in the history of the space program.

The pressure was almost unbearable in mission control.

"You'd have had to be an idiot not to understand that this was the time we were going to try to land on the moon," guidance officer Stephen Bales told the author in an earlier interview. "I was just scared to death, mortified. I was really glad I could talk. I was that scared."

Steve Bales, the 26-year-old guidance officer on duty for the Apollo 11 moon landing. He faced unexpected computer alarms during the descent but after conferring with Jack Garman, a computer whiz in a support room, he told flight director Gene Kranz the crew was "go" to proceed with landing. NASA

Despite initially poor communications, Kranz gave the crew a "go" for powered descent initiation, or PDI. Right on time, at 4:05 p.m., the lander's engine fired up at an altitude of 50,000 feet. From there to the surface — the finish line in the Cold War space race — would take just 12 minutes.

Flying backwards as the descent engine fired, Armstrong and Aldrin initially were oriented feet first and face down toward the moon's surface so they could visually monitor their trajectory. Armstrong realized Eagle would be "landing long," that is, somewhat beyond the center of the planned landing zone.

The lander then rotated around its long axis, putting the astronauts face up toward deep space so its landing radar could "see" the surface of the moon. And as soon as the radar locked on, Bales saw Eagle was descending 25 feet per second faster than expected. If the descent rate increased to 35 feet per second, the crew would have to abort and make an emergency climb back to orbit.

But as the seconds ticked by, the rate did not increase. It was clear by now that Eagle would be landing long, but there were no signs of any other guidance problems and Bales decided the crew's flight computer was behaving within acceptable limits.

Then, five minutes and 17 seconds into the 12-minute descent, an alarm suddenly blared in the cockpit and the crew saw a green alarm code — 1202 — flash on their guidance computer display.

"Program alarm," Armstrong called out. "It's a 1202."

Seconds ticked by.

"Give us a reading on that 1202 program alarm," Armstrong repeated.

Eleven days before launch, Kranz and the White Team, along with two astronauts standing in for Armstrong and Aldrin, went through a final landing simulation. In a remarkable stroke of either pure luck or prescient planning, the simulation engineers decided to throw a very similar program alarm into the practice run.

Bales, 26, and Jack Garman, a 24-year-old computer whiz in a nearby support room scrambled to come up with an explanation. Believing the computer was malfunctioning, Bales called for an abort.

As it turned out, the alarm simply meant the computer was overloaded, unable to complete all the required computations in a given cycle. As programmed, it was prioritizing its tasks and getting the most important calculations done before starting a new cycle. Bottom line? Bales should have allowed the landing to continue.

When Armstrong called down the 1202 alarm during the actual descent to the moon, Bales and Garman were ready. After verification from Garman, Bales told Kranz, "We're go on that alarm." More alarms cropped up as the descent continued, but Bales and Garman were increasingly confident they could be safely ignored.

Nearing the surface, Armstrong saw the flight computer's trajectory was carrying them toward a large crater and a field of boulders. Taking over manual control, he began flying Eagle like a helicopter, slowing the descent while continuing to fly downrange in search of a smoother landing site.

"Our auto-pilot was taking us into an area that wasn't a good area to land," Armstrong told "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley. "It was a very large crater, about the size of a big football stadium with steep slopes covered with very large rocks about the size of automobiles. That was not the kind of place I wanted to try to make the first landing."

The unplanned maneuvering and extended flight time meant Eagle was burning up much more fuel than expected.
Nearing the surface, the crew was in a race against the clock.

"Sixty seconds," Duke called out from Houston, telling Armstrong and Aldrin that Eagle had an estimated one minute's worth of usable propellant left in the tank.

"We know we have two minutes, 120 seconds, of fuel at a 30% throttle setting," Kranz said. "We know they're landing long. ... But Neil Armstrong is now the guy in charge. And he is flying that spacecraft around, trying to find the place."

Gene Kranz, the legendary flight director on duty for Apollo 11's moon landing, recalling the descent during an interview with CBS News in June, sitting at his recently restored console in mission control at the Johnson Space Center. WILLIAM HARWOOD/CBS NEWS

Aldrin was too busy to acknowledge the 60-second call. He was providing a running commentary for Armstrong, giving him Eagle's altitude, horizontal velocity and descent rate in feet per second.

"Down two and a half (feet per second). Forward. Forward. Good. 40 feet, down two and a half. Kicking up some dust. 30 feet, two and a half down. Faint shadow. Four forward. Four forward. Drifting to the right a little. OK. Down a half."

"I'm starting to get sorta uptight," Kranz recalled. "And pretty soon, it's 30 seconds (of fuel remaining). And now I'm starting to really sweat it out."

Then, just when Kranz was expecting to hear the 15-second warning, Armstrong set the lander down and shut down the engine.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here," Armstrong said. "The Eagle has landed."

At the moment Apollo 11 touched down, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite found himself virtually speechless in the excitement of the moment. CBS NEWS

Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon — two hours, 31 minutes and 40 seconds walking about its surface — before blasting off and rejoining Collins aboard Columbia. The astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean four days later, on July 24. They never flew in space again.

Collins, author of what many consider the best book ever written by an astronaut — "Carrying the Fire" — and Aldrin, a still-vocal space activist and proponent of human flights to Mars, would both participate in 50th anniversary celebrations, but without their crewmate. Armstrong, the famously reticent "First Man," died on Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82, after complications following heart surgery.

Planning a return to the moon

Fifty years after Apollo 11's voyage into history, NASA is preparing to return astronauts to the surface of the moon by the end of 2024, using a huge new rocket called the Space Launch System, or SLS, and Orion capsules described as "Apollo on steroids." They will dock with a mini space station in lunar orbit and descend to the surface in a commercially-built lander.

The program is known as Artemis, the sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology. The 2024 target date, imposed by the Trump administration, may or may not be doable depending on whether Congress agrees to the increased spending required to turn the plan into reality.

Chaikin warns that despite 50 years of progress on the high frontier a return to the moon will not be easy despite having done it before. In an interview, he recalled a conversation with Max Faget, the brilliant engineer who designed the Mercury capsule and played a major role in the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Faget and Bob Gilruth, the first director of what is now the Johnson Space Center, were walking along a beach near Galveston, Texas, Chaikin said, and "there was a big moon up in the sky and they stood there looking at it." Gilruth then said to Faget, "Max, someday people are going to try and go back to the moon. And they're going to find out how hard it really is."

First published on July 14, 2019 / 8:03 AM
© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

William Harwood
Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."

50 photos taken on the moon

The 12 men who walked on the moon

Inside Apollo 11


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Myślę że warto posłuchać i obejrzeć.
Bill Whittle w b.fajny sposób opowiada o programie Apollo, jego genezie, oraz jak sam to pamięta.

Są już 2 części, mają być w sumie cztery.

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'Launch Commit': Celebrating Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Month (Part 1)
By Ben Evans, on July 7th, 2019 [AS]

Illuminated by floodlights, the Saturn V for Apollo 11 stands ready on Pad 39A. Fifty years ago, this month, it delivered the first humans to the lunar surface. Photo Credit: NASA

Early in July 1969, Jan Armstrong called her friend, Lurton Scott, for help. Only a few days remained before her husband, Neil, blasted off in command of the most pivotal space mission in history—Apollo 11, the voyage which would attempt the first piloted landing on the Moon—and in doing so fulfil a national pledge by the late President John F. Kennedy. Lurton, wife of astronaut Dave Scott, and Jan had remained good friends ever since their husbands flew together aboard Gemini VIII in March 1966. Jan had already been invited to watch the Apollo 11 launch from a motor cruiser, owned by North American Aviation and moored in the Banana River, and with Scott’s help she was able to fly from Houston, Texas, to Cape Kennedy in a corporate jet.

All three members of the Apollo 11 crew had flown before: Neil Armstrong (left) aboard Gemini VIII, Mike Collins (center) aboard Gemini X and Buzz Aldrin aboard Gemini XII. Photo Credit: NASA

When she arrived in Florida, Jan beheld an astonishing, though unsurprising, sight: Over a million people crowded the roads and causeways of the Cape, anxiously awaiting an event whose significance which would never be seen again in their lifetimes. Half a century ago, the first human explorers set sail to make our species’ first landfall on the Moon. By mid-morning on 16 July 1969, the weather in Florida was sweltering; indeed, one observer described it as being so hot that the humid air felt like a silk cloth brushing his face. Yet the historic nature of what was about to happen was magnetic. “Everybody and his brother wanted to be at the launch,” wrote Deke Slayton in his autobiography, Deke, “senators, congressmen, ambassadors.” Twenty thousand VIPs were on NASA’s official guest list, including Gen. William Westmoreland—recently back from commanding U.S. forces in Vietnam—Johnny Carson, Vice-President Ted Agnew and even a direct descendent of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson was there, as was former NASA Administrator Jim Webb. There were also two thousand journalists in attendance, almost half of them from abroad, representing 56 nations. One Czech writer noted an overwhelming sense of goodwill, even as the ugly cloud of war continued to hover overhead: “This is the America we love,” he told his readers, “one so totally different from the America that fights in Vietnam.” Others took the opposing view, with a handful of pro-communist newspapers operating from Hong Kong expressing criticism of the mission as an attempt to cynically distract the world from the horrors of the conflict and extend U.S. “imperialism” into the heavens.

AS-6.12.13-AS11-0419-69H-670 Retro Space Images post of a NASA photo of Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong posted on AmericaSpaceApollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong practices his lunar surface activities. Photo Credit: NASA

In his role as Director of Flight Crew Operations, it was part of Slayton’s job to keep the media away from the astronauts, but even they found themselves taking late-night phone calls from long-lost relatives and old school friends in those final few days.

By launch morning, the headlights of a quarter of a million cars twinkled in the pre-dawn darkness as spectators arose from their backseats, from their tents, from beneath makeshift blankets, from inside their camper vans, and even from their boats anchored in the Indian and Banana Rivers. Those fortunate to have actually been there would later say that the proceedings did exhibit something of a “carnival” atmosphere—there were snack bars and bikini-clad spectators firing up barbecues and opening beer coolers—but the sensation was relatively calm. This was particularly true when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin emerged into a glare of television lights. “You get a feeling,” CBS commentator Eric Sevareid told veteran anchorman Walter Cronkite, “that people think of these men as not just superior men, but different creatures. They are like people who have gone into the other world and have returned and you sense that they bear some secrets that we will never entirely know.”

The eyes of the world were truly riveted on this event, none more so than in Armstrong’s home town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, where his parents, Steve and Viola, watched the proceedings on a color set donated by the television network. On the evening before launch, more than two hundred cars circled the area close to their home. The mayor requested that everyone display American flags in their windows, the local dairy sold its own “Moon Cheeze”, and restaurants provided daily supplies of pies, bananas and chips. Local children began to claim their father was Armstrong’s barber, their mother was Armstrong’s first girlfriend, and so on.

Crowded along the roads and causeways of Cape Kennedy, the witnesses to the launch of Apollo 11 would remember the event for the rest of their lives. Photo Credit: NASA

Notwithstanding this public and media frenzy, some felt that the secrets of the Moon were better left alone, until other, more pressing, more earthly issues had been addressed. In many parts of America, Apollo’s $25 billion price tag had been a hard pill to swallow, and a hefty proportion of taxpayers felt improving the education system, dealing more effectively with poverty, improving the standard of living and the civil rights of minorities, and ending the conflict in Vietnam were far greater national priorities. Rev. Ralph Abernathy, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was planning a protest with four mules and 150 members of his flock at the Cape Kennedy gates; his particular focus was upon using Apollo money to help the poor. Still, even he was awed by the events of 16 July 1969 and the days that followed.

That Wednesday, launch was scheduled for 9:32 a.m. EDT, which dismayed Mike Collins because he had to awaken at the ungodly hour of four in the morning. His last mission, Gemini X, had blasted off in the late afternoon, allowing Collins and his commander, John Young, to get up at a more civilized time of the day, “but no such luck this time”. It was Slayton who came knocking on all three men’s bedroom doors and, after showering and dressing, they headed down to the crew quarters’ exercise room, where their nurse, Dee O’Hara, waited to perform final medical checks. Next came a final appointment with the astronauts’ cook, Lew Hartzell, and the traditional “low-residue” breakfast of steak and eggs, toast, fruit juice and coffee—shared with Slayton and Collins’ backup, Bill Anders—followed by the laborious process of donning their space suits.

Like three extraterrestrials, clad in their bulky suits and protective yellow galoshes, the Apollo 11 astronauts depart the Operations and Checkout Building on launch morning. Photo Credit: NASA

In his autobiography, Carrying the Fire, Collins related that, during the Gemini project they had suited-up in a trailer near the launch pad, but now, on Apollo, NASA had built “an elaborate suit maintenance, storage and donning facility near the crew quarters”. As each man’s helmet was snapped into place, he felt the welcome whoosh of pure oxygen rushing past his face and the knowledge that, for the next eight days, he would breathe no more outside air; all would come from their portable, hand-carried supplies, from the spacecraft’s atmosphere or, for Armstrong and Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, from their backpacks. Lumbering outside into the blaze of television lights, all three men looked extraterrestrial, sealed as they were in their bulky suits, their protective yellow galoshes adding a slightly comical touch to their appearance.

When the transfer van arrived at already-historic Pad 39A, the astronauts ascended to the white room and were greeted by the closeout crew, including backup crewman Fred Haise, clad in clean-room garb and hat, who had been there for almost two hours making sure that each one of the command module Columbia’s switches was set correctly for launch. As Armstrong clambered aboard, he was handed a bon voyage gift by pad leader Guenter Wendt—a small crescent-shaped trinket, fashioned from foil-coated styrofoam—and was told that it was the key to the Moon. Unable to take it with him, Armstrong asked Wendt to keep it until he returned home, and then gave the self-styled pad “fuehrer” a mock space-taxi ticket, good between any two planets.

Lyndon Johnson (centre) watches the launch of Apollo 11. To his immediate left is Vice President Spiro ‘Ted’ Agnew. Photo Credit: NASA

It was traditional, Mike Collins wrote, to present Wendt with light-hearted gifts. “Guenter has spent the past couple of weeks telling me what a great fisherman he is,” he explained in Carrying the Fire, “and how he regularly plucks giant trout from the ocean. In return, I have located the smallest trout to be found in these parts, a minnow really, and have had it, uncured, nailed to a plaque and inscribed “Guenter’s Trophy Trout”. Secreted in a suspicious-looking brown paper bag, Collins presented the “tribute” to Wendt, then took his place in the command module’s right-hand seat.

Normally, the Command Module Pilot (CMP) occupied the center position, but Buzz Aldrin’s previous stint as backup senior pilot on Apollo 8 made it more practical to continue that way. “Collins had been out for a while” following neck surgery, wrote James R. Hansen in First Man, his acclaimed 2005 biography of Armstrong, “so rather than retrain Buzz for ascent, NASA just left him in the center and trained Mike for the right seat.” Finally, Aldrin squeezed himself through Columbia’s hatch and dropped into the center couch.

As the minutes ticked away and the three astronauts steeled themselves for launch, one of Collins’ greatest worries was the risk of screwing up on this of all missions, under the spotlight, with a third of the world’s population watching or listening. Of key concern was the handle next to Armstrong’s left knee, which the commander could twist counterclockwise to fire the Saturn V rocket’s escape tower and pull the command module to safety in the event of an abort. Looking across the cabin, Collins noticed with horror that the pocket adorning Armstrong’s suit leg was uncomfortably close to the handle. Collins feared that the pocket had the potential to ruin the mission. “It looks as though if he moves his leg slightly, it’s going to snag on the abort handle,” he wrote. “I quickly point this out to Neil, and he grabs the pocket and pulls it as far over toward the inside of his thigh as he can.”

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Three minutes before launch, the automatic sequencer took command of the countdown and began a computerized run-through of each step required to pressurize the Saturn V’s internal systems before liftoff. At 50 seconds, the gigantic rocket switched to internal power and four of the nine servicing arms linking it to utilities on Pad 39A were disconnected. Seventeen seconds to go: The final alignment of the launch vehicle’s guidance computer was completed, and it was transferred to internal power.

Throughout each of these steps, the commentator continued to report what was occurring, with growing tension and excitement.

“T-15 seconds…guidance is internal…12, 11, 10, nine…”—then came the start of the ignition sequence, as pressurized liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene began to enter the combustion chambers of the five F-1 engines—“six, five, four, three…” as internal turbines built up the supply of propellants to full flow and brought the first stage up to near-full power. As the final milliseconds of the count evaporated, all five engines were running at 90 percent of rated thrust. Finally, as the launch pad’s deluge system flooded the flame trench with water to reduce the reflected energy, the Saturn’s internal computer carried out its last checks.

All was well.

“…two, one, zero…all engines running…”

The launch of Apollo 11 on 16 July 1969 was arguably Pad 39A’s finest hour. Photo Credit: NASA

At 9:32 a.m. EDT on 16 July 1969, the “Launch Commit” signal released a series of clamps holding the Saturn V to the pad and the monster began its climb for the heavens. “Liftoff…we have a liftoff, thirty-two minutes past the hour…”

Twelve long seconds elapsed before the lumbering Saturn cleared the tower, and the hundreds of thousands of spectators began to feel the vibration and shockwaves pummeling their chests and the soles of their feet. From the commander’s seat, Armstrong could be heard announcing the onset of the “roll program” maneuver, as the Saturn V’s computer began actively guiding it out over the Atlantic Ocean and onto its proper heading for low-Earth orbit and rendezvous with the Moon.

To the onlookers, it was nothing short of spectacular, according to Dave Scott, who was watching from the motorboat on the Banana River with Jan Armstrong. Sitting in the blockhouse at the Cape, Deke Slayton could only watch silently as the rocket thundered into a clear sky. “I think most of us felt like we were lifting it all by ourselves,” he wrote later. Tom Stafford, having ridden one of these beasts a few weeks earlier on Apollo 10, now found himself seated in Cape Kennedy’s VIP area between Lyndon Johnson and Ted Agnew, his chest blasted by the intense staccato crackle.

Phenomenal view of the Saturn V during its initial boost towards low-Earth orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

For the Apollo 11 crew, encased in their space suits within the very nose of the behemoth, the sensations were unlike their previous experiences. All three men had previously ridden the Titan II rocket, but, rather than the sudden G forces at the instant of liftoff, “there was an unexpected wobbly sway,” wrote Buzz Aldrin in his memoir, Men from Earth. “The blue sky outside the hatch window seemed to move slightly as the huge booster began its pre-programmed turn after clearing the tower. The rumbling grew louder, but it was still distant.” For his part, Collins felt that the Saturn was “a gentleman” compared to the Titan; despite the shock of staging, the G loads seemed to build no higher than 4.5 and the whole ride proceeded as “smooth as glass, as quiet and serene as any rocket ride can be”.

The Saturn behaved with perfection, executing each step of its flight regime precisely. Despite having launched into orbit atop the largest and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status in human history, the men of Apollo 11 had yet to even begin their primary mission. Even the three-day journey to the Moon was a trail already blazed by two previous Apollo crews. Not until 20 July 1969 would Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin truly enter the realm of the unknown.


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'Distinctly Forbidding': Celebrating Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Month (Part 2) (1)
By Ben Evans, on July 14th, 2019 [AS]

The Home Planet creeps slowly above the lunar horizon, as viewed from Apollo 11. Only a handful of men have seen this view in more than two million years of human history. Photo Credit: NASA

When Apollo 11 and its three-man crew—Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin—rose into space 50 years ago, this month, they embarked on the grandest adventure ever undertaken in human history: the first piloted voyage to the surface of the Moon. Yet, strangely, even after surviving a tumultuous launch atop the mammoth Saturn V rocket, performing the translunar injection burn, and entering the mysterious region between Earth and the Moon, known as “cislunar space”, the main part of the mission had yet to begin. Their mission would really start after Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) on 19 July, and the series of increasingly bold and epochal events thereafter.

Spectacular view of Earth, captured during Apollo 11’s translunar coast. The spacecraft was approximately 11,500 miles (18,520 km) from the Home Planet, heading for the Moon, when this photograph was acquired. Photo Credit: NASA

The resultant quietness of those three days was not helped, in the opinion of mission controllers, by a lack of conversation from the astronauts. “It’s all dead air and static,” a Houston official complained at one stage of the cislunar coast. The lengthy spells of silence were, however, punctuated by televised shows in which the crew guided a worldwide audience around their ship, revealing the dismantling of the probe and drogue mechanism, a shimmy through the tunnel and an “upside-down” glimpse of Lunar Module (LM) Eagle’s tiny cabin, with Aldrin, toting dark aviator sunglasses, hard at work.

Several of these shows were made by Collins, who enjoyed rotating the camera 180 degrees to turn his Earthbound audience on its head and back again; but, in reality, none of them had ever had much chance to practice with the camera on the ground and its late delivery to Cape Kennedy had not helped matters. “We simply didn’t have time to fool around with it,” he wrote in his autobiography, Carrying the Fire. “Neil and Buzz didn’t even know how to turn it on or focus it, and my knowledge of it was pretty sketchy.” With this in mind, they were advised by a helpful instructor that an audience of perhaps a billion or more people would be watching and that screwing up one of their shows was not an option.

The quiet time was interspersed with inevitable chores, mainly performed by Collins: purging fuel cells, charging batteries, dumping waste water and urine, preparing food, dechlorinating the ship’s water supply, and, notably, performing a midcourse correction burn to refine their path toward the Moon. Twenty-six hours into the mission, and almost 110,000 miles (175,000 km) from home, the Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine of the Command and Service Module (CSM) Columbia roared silently into the void for three seconds in what flight controllers lauded as an “absolutely nominal” firing.

Clad in aviator sunglasses, Buzz Aldrin offers a televised tour of the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle, early in the Apollo 11 mission. Photo Credit: NASA

Collins related that, for those few seconds, he was in active control. Several months earlier, in December 1968, his young son had asked who was “driving” Apollo 8 to the Moon: was it Mr. Borman, the ship’s commander? No, Collins replied, it was Sir Isaac Newton—or, at least, the influences of Sun, Earth and Moon, which affected the spacecraft’s path just as the great English scientist’s law of universal gravitation had helped predict three centuries before.

The accuracy of the midcourse burn was so good that two subsequent SPS firings were deemed unnecessary, and late on 18 July, precisely on schedule, some 43,500 miles (70,000 km) from their target, Columbia and Eagle slipped into the Moon’s sphere of influence. For the past three days, still under the tug of Earth’s gravity, their speed had rapidly decreased from 24,200 mph (39,000 km/h) immediately after Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI) to just over 2,000 mph (3,200 km/h); now, as the Moon’s gravitational pull became dominant, they began to “fall” toward it, gradually speeding up to 5,600 mph (9,000 km/h). Earlier in the evening, Collins had again removed the probe and drogue from Columbia’s docking mechanism and reopened the tunnel to allow Armstrong and Aldrin to enter Eagle and begin checking out its systems.

Both men considered the “down-up-up-down” trip into the lunar module—as they moved from the “floor” to the “ceiling” of Columbia, then found themselves diving headfirst toward Eagle’s “floor”—as one of the most unusual sensations of their mission, although Aldrin described the transition as “perfectly natural,” akin to the motions of a swimmer. For two and a half hours, they verified that the lander was ready to support an undocking and a landing attempt on the afternoon of 20 July and viewers in the United States, western Europe, Japan and most of South America were treated to the sight of Aldrin performing an equipment inventory inside the tiny cabin.

The forbidding face of the lunar farside, as seen from Apollo 11. Photo Credit: NASA

That evening offered some more quiet time before the historic events to come. Aldrin recalled asking Armstrong if he had decided what he was going to say when he stepped onto the lunar surface, to which the commander, between sips of fruit juice, replied that no, he was still thinking it over.

The sheer grandeur of the Moon itself was something totally different from the ever-present pale lamp in the sky that they had watched nightly as they grew from infancy. “The Moon I have known all my life,” Collins wrote, “has gone away somewhere, to be replaced by the most awesome sphere I have ever seen. To begin with, it is huge, completely filling our window.” It also appeared more menacing than the two-dimensional circle in Earth’s skies; he perceived it to be an intensely unwelcoming and forbidding place, “formidable” and “utterly silent” as it hung “ominously” in the void.

Back on Earth, journalists had frequently posed an inevitable question before the flight: Was Collins jealous that Armstrong and Aldrin were about to take the first steps on the Moon, while he remained in orbit? Collins had responded that in all honesty he was more than happy and content to be flying 99.9 percent of the journey. He would, it is true, be mad to suppose that he had the best seat on the mission, but he had already decided that this would be his final space flight; the strain on his wife and children, the constant grind of training, and the lengthy spells away from home were too much for them.

“You cats take it easy,” yelled Mike Collins from the Command and Service Module (CSM) Columbia, as seen in this view from Eagle’s windows. Photo Credit: NASA

Shortly before Apollo 11 was launched, during a cross-country T-38 flight with Deke Slayton, the man who picked crews had offered Collins the chance to serve as backup commander of Apollo 14 and most likely command Apollo 17 to the Moon. This would give Collins the chance to walk the lunar surface himself. Collins had declined. Now, as he neared the Moon on this midsummer’s evening in 1969 and looked down onto the threatening barrenness of its terrain, then recalled Earth with its waterfalls and valleys and enchanting iridescence of life, he knew he had made the right choice.

Getting into orbit around the Moon on the afternoon of 19 July was a triumph of celestial mechanics and human ability in itself. The Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) maneuver actually comprised two firings of the SPS engine. The first, lasting five minutes and 57 seconds, reduced their speed from 5,600 mph (9,000 km/h) to 3,700 mph (5,970 km/h) and “dropped” them into an elliptical orbit of 168 x 60 miles (270 x 97 km) with the high point on the nearside; and the second, lasting only 17 seconds, came about four hours later and almost circularized their path at roughly 65 x 54 miles (105 x 87 km). To this day, it remains remarkable that they could be guided so precisely across such an immense distance and achieve such a perfect orbit around the Moon. “Those big computers in the basement in Houston,” wrote Collins, “didn’t even whimper but belched out super-accurate predictions.” When one considers that the computing power of one of today’s mobile cellphones would dwarf the entire computing power that guided Columbia and Eagle to the Moon, the act of inserting Apollo 11 into lunar orbit was truly a stupendous achievement.

During the four-hour interval between the two burns, dubbed “LOI-1” and “LOI-2”, the opportunity arose to closely examine the surface of the strange world upon which Armstrong and Aldrin would shortly take humanity’s first steps. Initially, the television camera panned across the terrain and the crew were silent, until Mission Control requested that they describe some of what they were seeing. A group of astronomers from Bochum in West Germany had asked that they take a look at Aristarchus—a prominent, extremely bright impact crater—which had exhibited unusual luminescence over the preceding weeks.

“Hey, Houston,” radioed Armstrong, after finding the crater, “I’m looking north up toward Aristarchus now, and there’s an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area.”

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'Distinctly Forbidding': Celebrating Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Month (Part 2) (2)

Lunar Module (LM) Eagle, with the Lunar Contact probes on three of its extended landing legs, performs a pirouette shortly after undocking. Photo Credit: NASA

Other regions and landmarks were enthusiastically identified by the crew by their nicknames—the small hills of Boot Hill and Duke Island, the snake-like rilles of Diamondback and Sidewinder and the twin peaks of “Mount Marilyn”; the latter unofficially bestowed by Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell in honor of his wife—although, of course, the vast plain of Mare Tranquilitatis (the Sea of Tranquility) was of principal interest. “The Sea of Tranquillity,” wrote Collins, “is just past dawn and the Sun’s rays are intersecting its surface at a mere one-degree angle. Under these lighting conditions, craters cast extremely long shadows, and to me the entire region looks distinctly forbidding.” In Collins’ mind, it looked far too rugged to set a baby’s buggy down, let alone a lunar module.

By the early evening of 19 July, following the LOI-2 burn, which Collins had timed to the split second using a stopwatch, everything was ready for the final checkout of Eagle in advance of undocking and the Powered Descent. Luckily, since Aldrin had successfully lobbied to do much of the checkout a day early, the task took barely 30 minutes, and by 8:30 p.m. EDT all was in place as the three astronauts bedded down for a night of surprisingly fitful sleep in Columbia.

Next morning, a very groggy Mike Collins responded to Mission Control’s wake-up call and, after breakfast and a round-up of the morning news, all three men plunged into their respective checklists. Among the most important tasks were donning their space suits and, in the case of Armstrong and Aldrin, getting into the liquid-cooled underwear which would help to maintain a comfortable body temperature during their time on the lunar surface. Collins shoved the remainder of their gear— “an armload of equipment”—through the tunnel to them, then disconnected umbilicals, reinstalled the docking probe and drogue and sealed the hatch. “I am on the radio constantly now,” he wrote, “running through an elaborate series of joint checks with Eagle. In one of them, I use my control system to hold both vehicles steady while they calibrate some of their guidance equipment.” Inside the lander, anchored to the floor by bungee-like cords, Armstrong and Aldrin also had their hands full: punching entries into the computer keypad, aligning their S-band antenna with the Earth-based tracking network, checking and cross-checking VHF communications with Collins, and deploying Eagle’s landing gear.

At length, it was time to bid farewell. “You cats take it easy on the lunar surface,” Collins called cheerily. “If I hear you huffing and puffing, I’m going to start bitching at you.” A few minutes later, at 1:44 p.m. EDT on 20 July, he flipped a switch to cast Eagle loose. Yet this momentous beginning of Eagle’s descent occurred unseen by Earth, for both craft were behind the Moon at the time. Before losing radio contact, Capcom Charlie Duke gave them the good news that they had a “Go” for undocking. His infectious North Carolina drawl and endearing personality would certainly help to lift some of the tension in the hours ahead.

Capcom Charlie Duke (left) and Apollo 11 backup commander Jim Lovell (center) and Apollo 11 backup Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise are pictured at their consoles in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) during the landing phase. Photo Credit: NASA

The Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, was packed with virtually everybody who mattered in the space program—Wernher von Braun, Tom Paine, George Mueller, Sam Phillips, Chris Kraft, George Low, Deke Slayton and many astronauts, all waiting for more than a decade of hard work to pay off. In addition, an estimated third of the world’s population was either watching or listening on television or radio.

Still out of direct radio contact with the ground, Collins watched, his nose pressed against one of Columbia’s windows, as Eagle drifted serenely into the inky darkness. Armstrong executed a little pirouette, fully rotating the lander to enable Collins to verify that the landing gear was in good condition. This had required Collins to take a trip to the Grumman assembly plant in Bethpage, N.Y., to familiarise himself with the lunar module, its fully extended landing legs and the long sensor prongs affixed to three of its four footpads. (One leg—the one holding the ladder—was originally to have had a sensor, too, but according to biographer James Hansen in First Man, Armstrong requested its removal, lest he or Aldrin trip over it during their climb down to the surface.)

There were other worries. One side of the descent stage held the Modular Equipment Storage Assembly (MESA), a carrier brimming with a television camera, rock boxes, and geology tools, which Armstrong would use on the lunar surface. Was it still firmly secured in place or had it accidentally swung open during the separation process? Collins assured him that all was well, Armstrong requested its removal, lest he or Aldrin trip over it during their climb down to the surface.) There were other worries. One side of the descent stage held the Modular Equipment Storage Assembly (MESA), a carrier brimming with a television camera, rock boxes, and geology tools, which Armstrong would use on the lunar surface. Was it still firmly secured in place or had it accidentally swung open during the separation process? Collins assured him that all was well.

Artist’s concept of Eagle’s final descent to the lunar surface. Image Credit: NASA

With such assurances ringing in their ears, all three men could afford a brief moment of light-hearted banter, with Collins telling Eagle’s crew that they had a pretty fine-looking machine, despite being upside down, to which Armstrong retorted that, from his perspective, someone was upside down.

At 2:11 p.m. EDT, Collins fired his thrusters for a nine-second separation burn, “to give Eagle some breathing room”. And at 3:08 p.m. the first of two firings of the lander’s descent engine got underway. Known as Descent Orbit Insertion (DOI), this lasted 30 seconds and reduced the lowest point (or “perilune”) of Eagle’s orbit to a height of 9.4 miles (15.2 km), at a position convenient for initiating powered descent. The laws of celestial mechanics now became increasingly evident to Collins: In a lower orbit, Eagle was moving faster and was actually ahead of Columbia by about one minute.

As they descended toward perilune, it was necessary for Armstrong and Aldrin to cross-check their instruments, specifically the Primary Navigation, Guidance and Control System (PNGS) and Abort Guidance System (AGS). The former processed data from an inertial platform of gyroscopes and guided the lunar module along a predetermined flight path to its landing site, whilst the latter offered the ability to perform an abort if necessary. “We couldn’t land on AGS,” Armstrong told James Hansen in First Man, “unless we got right down close to the surface, because you couldn’t navigate the trajectory with it.” However, both systems had to be operating throughout the descent phase—if an emergency arose, Armstrong might need to switch instantaneously from PNGS to AGS—and it was imperative that the two systems had the same data. “If tiny errors were allowed to compound,” Hansen wrote, “gross errors in computing the LM’s course and location could result.”

This view of Armstrong in the lunar module simulator during training illustrates the smallness of Eagle’s cabin. Photo Credit: NASA

The higher altitude of Columbia meant that Collins was first to regain contact with Houston as the two craft emerged from behind the Moon. The acquisition of signal was what the MOCR had been waiting for. When queried by Capcom Charlie Duke over the progress of the DOI burn, Collins responded simply that it had gone “just swimmingly…beautiful”.

Ninety seconds later, at 3:49 p.m., Aldrin confirmed that the DOI had gone well. Eagle’s radar was activated, verifying a perilune of 9.4 miles (15.2 km), and Duke issued a firm “Go” to begin Powered Descent. Brief, but persistent communication dropouts forced Collins to relay this to Armstrong and Aldrin and the lander’s descent engine ignited for the second time at 4:05 pm. By the time it shut down, in barely 12 minutes’ time, they would be on the Moon. Although Collins could certainly speak to them, he could no longer see them; despite having tied a small black patch over his left eye and squinting through Columbia’s sextant, the bug-like lander steadily diminished in size until it looked “like any one of a thousand tiny craters—except that it is moving.”

Eventually, it was gone.

The best thing Collins—and an anxious world—could do now was keep quiet and wait.