The Apollo 11 moon shot anniversary and some thoughts upon it.

If you’re of a certain vintage, you’ll remember where you were when the first man stepped on the moon. I recall being at school and happening to pass by the assembly hall and seeing five teachers sat in a row at the end of it watching some live TV coverage of the descent or Armstrong saying the immortal one small step for a man thing, I can’t recall which.

We’ve all been bombarded with footage of that event over the last week.

I remember a school mate telling me don’t do it Pointy, but of course I had to. I went through the doors while my mate legged it in the other direction. One of the teachers, who was a fuckwit to the best of my recollection these days, gave me one of those disapproving looks, but of course I gave him back one of those if you want a really good fight, it’s going to happen right now, so they all settled back to watching the event with me standing behind them.

As a very young child, my father positioned me behind his back so I could look along his outstretched arm at something in the sky. It’s called Sputnik he told me, and it’s history. I never forgot that and I’d be damned if I’d miss history happen again. Through the fog of memory, that’s my recollection.

Watching the various documentaries for the last week, some thoughts come through, but mostly the omissions. I suppose the big one was how adventurous and courageous an effort it was. Everything had to work perfectly or people were going to die. Nobody wanted that by now famous phrase – “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

The whole ground crew had lived through the horror of Gus Grissom and his two comrades strapped into a capsule atop a Saturn 5 rocket being burnt alive inside it while they furiously tried with bare hands to get the heat expanded capsule door open. What was left was returned to their families. Closed casket funerals, the euphemism being corpse remains non viewable. It was a tiny little electrical fault that killed those brave men. Just one small fault. From then on, everybody on the launch gantry was equipped with a low tech fireman’s axe and a crow bar close to hand.

After that, you’d have to have a stout heart to get atop of a rocket, but other men stepped forward.

The big omission in the media barrage was that there was no plan B. If it all went sideways, there wasn’t a miraculous rescue rocket on the launchpad at Canaveral just ready and waiting to go and save them. Everything, absolutely everything, had to work perfectly the first time. This was no save game and restore situation if you crashed and burned, this was real. One shot, Realityville. No room for a fuckup.

That’s why when Neil Armstrong declared “the Eagle has landed” the whole of the control room simultaneously stood up and cheered. It again wasn’t referenced, but there was a cockup in navigational instrumentation that presented Armstrong with a boulder strewn landing place, which wasn’t the Sea of Tranquility his instrumentation had led him to believe he was dropping down onto.

He had to find a better landing place or abort the descent. He didn’t funk it, but improvised, kept flying the contraption sideways until he found better ground, and landed it with less than 30 seconds of descent fuel left. That’s a pilot and a half, and one with some real damn dedication to the mission. Guts.

The biggest omission I noticed was any real coverage of the wives of those men up there. All their husbands were pilots and in Armstrong’s case, a test pilot. The death rate amongst test pilots in the 50’s and 60’s was frankly horrific. They’d all been to enough funerals to know that. They all knew there was no plan B and that was their men up there.

The sight of them giving that tight brave smile while forcing their way through a packed throng of reporters with a child held in either hand was impressive. The wives don’t get the medals or didn’t get anything more than token recognition in the documentaries, but I’m sure they’d all had that conversation with their husband about don’t go into the danger zone, and after they’d talked it through, stood tall by his side despite the fear. The real support crew.

It struck me as ironic watching one program how it gradually was distorted into a neo-feminist rant about it was all about the patriarchy and why wasn’t it the first woman on the moon. A little bit of research on their behalf might actually have revealed there were women who died in both of the space shuttle disasters. On the launch disaster, it took nearly two full minutes for what was left of it to hit the ground. Those left alive inside it held hands and one recited the Lord’s prayer as they fell back to Earth, because they knew what was coming. More casualties, heroes and heroines, one and all.

We need to expand out into the solar system, or one day the universe will once again send us a message in the form of a 15 kilometer wide solid iron projectile courtesy of a small perturbation in the Oort cloud. That expansion will inevitably involve taking some casualties, and there’s no avoiding that, but we must again show the courage, resolution and steel that put a man on the moon over half a century ago.

When you stack up all the risks, I can’t help but think that in this age of Health & Safety regulations, risk assessments and everybody on a hair trigger to sue somebody if it all went tits up, it wouldn’t have ever happened, but it did.

©Pointman

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Comments
6 Responses to “The Apollo 11 moon shot anniversary and some thoughts upon it.”
  1. rapscallion says:

    I had just turned eleven in July 1969. As as boy I was fascinated by the Apollo program. Like you Pointman I knew I was watching history being made, but I saved my cheers and relief for when they finally made it into the liferafts after splashing down. All the people, both men and women, and at that time either Russian or American were incredibly brave and deserve every accolade and honour due to them, and you are right to mention the wives too, the constant worry must have gnawed away at their insides. I can’t imagine what they must have been going through.

    Even today Armstrong’s words – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” bring a tear to the eye. How far we have come as a species to finally break Earthly bounds. That is what is truly remarkable.

    As ever though, you are right, one day are rather large chunk of iron is going to hit this planet, it’s not as if its a case of if, only when. So we have to explore further and further into the ever expanding universe. Our survival as a species depends on it.

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  2. Blackswan says:

    Pointman,

    One aspect of the Apollo 11 crew that is generally overlooked is that, in heart and mind, they were military men. That explains their intrepid courage in the face of pioneering space exploration; an all-or-nothing commitment to their mission, their nation and their family honour.

    Armstrong was a Navy man, seeing action as a pilot in Korea, and it was the Navy that facilitated his further studies in aeronautical engineering.

    Aldrin, already a mechanical engineering graduate of West Point, became a USAF fighter pilot in Korea with 66 combat missions to his credit, later furthering his studies to achieve his science doctorate.

    Collins was also an Air Force test pilot, doggedly applying for the astronaut program until he was finally accepted into the third group.

    Theirs was the same courage and commitment of any Medal of Honour or Victoria Cross soldier who’ll use his last breath to storm a bunker, protect his brothers in arms, and achieve their impossible objectives.

    They are all heroes; it’s just that the names of the Apollo 11 crew are now intricately woven into the history of Mankind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wyoskeptic says:

    I was 14 and I remember going outside to look up in the night sky at the moon and realizing there were men there, leaving their footsteps on that surface. I have no idea how many times I looked at the moon before that nor any idea how many times since, but it was as though I was seeing it for the first time ever. It was the strangest feeling knowing they had gone that far away, that they were there at that same moment.

    Everyone I knew was following that incredible event. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing whenever there was news, even if it was just a recap of what had happened so far. I don’t think I have ever seen such a display of common interest, common hopes, common pride, and a common sense of achievement since then. A lot of people, who had up to that point just considered it all just a waste of time and money, who had not paid all that much attention, knew those three names: Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. And every single one of them hoped beyond hope that they would return safely.

    I also thought about how my Grandfather had come to this part of Wyoming riding on a train from Nebraska with his wife and children to then travel by way of a wagon and a team of horses to a remote location that they were homesteading. They lived that first year in a sod “home” dug into a bank. No electricity, no running water, and the nearest neighbor miles away. I knew that he too was watching the events unfolding so far away. It really hit me when I thought of it. In his lifetime, we had gone from steam trains and horses pulling wagons to men walking on the moon. That, I think is the most amazing part of it all.

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  4. meltemian says:

    Yes of course I remember where I was when man landed on the moon, I was 24 with two pre-school children who took it all for granted, I blame Dan Dare 😉

    My first heartstopping spacecraft moment was actually Apollo 8, the first time a manned spacecraft had gone behind the moon. As I remember it the crew had to perform a four-minute burn while on the other side of the moon and completely out of communication. Any error in the timing could have resulted in them either hitting the moon or being flung out into space (I may be overstating but that’s what I remember). The waiting for them to emerge back from the ‘Dark Side’ was the longest ever and the relief when we heard their voices was immense.

    I may be overstating but I believe Apollo 8 did most of the heavy-lifting to prepare for the eventual moon landing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. PG12 says:

    I agree that it was a significant milestone in human development and at the time I was excited to see what we would do next, the stuff of impossible was becoming possible. The bravery of the astronauts, the dedication, innovation and commitment of the ground staff cannot be over stated.

    However a few short years later the noisy, holier then thou luddites, who were not interested with the ongoing magic of what was truly happening, gained traction, unbelievable. The politicians, ever the toadies to the screeching harpies, started to systematically defund space.

    The advances in science, engineering, production and computing were astounding. Yet it was simply turned off.

    This is where I become disappointed. The achievement of the Apollo program still holds me in awe. The Saturn V rocket specifications are beyond human scale comprehension. Where I was looking forward to lunar bases, terraforming Mars and moving beyond the gravity well of earth, the political classes went back to the mundane.

    So 50 years later we have not even come close to emulating it. But we have been able to spend trillions of dollars killing each other in wars. Waste of people, waste of money, huge waste of opportunity.

    It is amazing that we can always find the money to fight wars, fight climate change or SJW issues de jure, yet not invest in our species future, which must be to expand beyond our birth place.

    Eisenhower did warn of the problem of the military/industrial complex.

    If only we had had a space/industrial complex problem instead.

    Like

  6. John Garrett says:

    Before you die, be sure to read Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.”

    Like

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