An impressive collection of stories about the Apollo program became available through the media in the last few months. The 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon brought out the locally relevant to the bizarre. Of course, I have my own perspective. The most bizarre story remains for me the fact that 6 percent of Americans don’t believe it ever happened.
The press dug up some interesting information. For example, the Russians were initially ahead in the space race because they had built their ICBMs three times larger than they needed to be, great for putting things in orbit, but too expensive for launching nuclear weapons.
Buzz Aldrin had to use his felt tip pen to replace a circuit-breaker switch that had broken off. The switch controlled the ascent engine. Without that pen they would have been stranded on the moon.
Apollo 11 astronaut Bill Anders didn’t like to use the complicated fecal matter collection system so much that he didn’t use if for the entire seven-day mission. That, he notes, is his claim to a multi-world record: half a million miles without taking a poop.
The computer that controlled the descent to the surface flashed a 1201 error because a radar unit had accidentally been turned on, and the information from that unit flooded the computer’s tiny memory. NASA didn’t know why the error occurred until later. They didn’t abort the mission because controllers noticed that the system kept working despite the error.
Buzz Aldrin gave himself communion before the moonwalk — essentially making consecrated wine the first liquid poured on the moon.
An American, Italian, and Russian flew to the International Space Station 50 years to the day of the Apollo 11 moon walk.
I am lucky enough to remember Apollo 11 as an impressionable 7-year-old. By the time Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface at 10:56 p.m. EDT, I had been asleep for a couple hours. My parents had strict bedtimes. But my mom woke me up to see it. The image from the moon was stark black and white, grainy and initially upside down. I was enthralled.
I had been following the space program closely. I spent hours a day watching repetitive animation of the spacecraft while scientists, engineers, astronauts and journalists reviewed technical details.
I had become so enthusiastic about NASA that my parents bought me books, posters and a space suited Snoopy for my birthday that year (although, as I nerdily pointed out to my parents, Snoopy was the mascot for Apollo 10, not Apollo 11). In my lunchbox, I also always found (supposedly nutritious) Pillsbury Space Food Sticks for the next several years. The astronauts ate them from inside their helmets for a quick snack. In the ’80s, they disappeared from the shelves, but today, apparently, you can find them again, this time chock full of cannabis along with nutrients.
Local papers everywhere interviewed people remembering the event from 50 years ago. Many of those, including people I know, remembered not only watching it on television but also their role in making it a reality.
My dad worked in the aerospace industry as an engineer. While he never worked on the space program directly, he did work on ICBM reentry vehicle heat shields. My dad’s company created the heat shield for Apollo 11.
My friend’s dad worked directly for the space program at RCA. An electrical engineer, he and a team of 11 other engineers built the main electronic control system for the Lunar Module. The resiliency of the system was such that he and the team were awarded the David Sarnoff Outstanding Achievement Award.
Many individuals with local connections worked on the program. Retired Maj. Gen. Pat Condon designed maneuvers for connecting the command module and landing module. Physicist Jim Taylor created accurate maps of the lunar surface. Those two individuals only scratch the surface. Approximately 400,000 industry and government employees worked to put mankind on the moon.
Numerous articles also noted moon-landing hoaxers. Calling the moon landing a hoax is like calling 400,000 Americans liars. You can see how that might upset those who worked so hard. Buzz Aldrin once punched a hoaxer for calling him a liar and thief. Fortunately, no evidence exists that anything similar happened when Neil Armstrong spoke at Weber State in 1988. I tip my toy space helmet to those who worked so diligently to put a man on the moon and my fellow Americans who appreciate the fact of this great achievement.