I grew up with the space program. My first firm memory about it was staying inside during fourth grade recess to listen to Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight on a nice day in May. Other standouts were the in-orbit rendezvous of the Gemini program, the Apollo 1 fire where I learned this really was a dangerous enterprise, Apollo 8 firing their thrusters on the other side of the moon in contact with no one. Earthrise. The Eagle has landed, and Walter Cronkite is speechless for the only time in his career.
That was the summer after my freshman year in college. Too busy to follow Apollo 13 in detail, but the LEM will keep them alive. Apollo 14 in person with friends from college. Apollo 17 with a professional geologist aboard, but Armstrong did a great job for an amateur. Realizing that the book Mom gave me, You Will Go To the Moon was wrong. And realizing that the government really had no good plans for what to do with the moon after we won the space race. How about that, Apollo wasn’t a science mission, it wasn’t even an engineering project, it was a political statement from the outset, even though it was hard and worth doing.
The Space Shuttle arriving, but not in time to save Skylab. Holding one of the protective tiles developed for the shuttle. Joining the impromptu welcome home gathering after Christa McAuliffe was chosen to be the first teacher in space. Seeing her not reach space. Seeing spots on Jupiter left by Comet Shoemaker-Levy. (Gene Shoemaker was supposed to be an astronaut. Some of his ashes did reach the moon and helped form a new crater.)
The Apollo 13 film. Wow, that was dicier than I thought. Enough things went right and the mission ended as well as it could.
“The space shuttle is late.” “It can’t be late, it’s a glider with lousy aerodynamics.” Oh dear, not again.
Meeting Dr. Harrison Schmitt at a Heartland climate change conference. Geologists are often good climate skeptics. They also know Earth has seen far worse than anything Anthropogenic Global Warming can bring. I didn’t ask about Al Gore equating skeptics with flat Earthers. BTW, Schmitt is a really nice guy and very down-to-earth. Sorry.
That’s not why I’m writing this. It’s almost the 50th anniversary and there are photos and other items ready to be used to remember a most precious day.
We’re going to be flooded over the next few days with Apollo 11 memorabilia, anecdotes, claims that we never should have gone there, claims that we should have gone back, and even claims that we never got there.
My addition to this cacophony is simple: Here are a few space-related sites that won’t get the attention I think they deserve.
By the Apollo 11 launch date, I had a very good idea of what would happen, and I wanted to hear it from the radio dialog between the Houston Space Center and the astronauts. I knew whatever network I had on, there would be a talking head in the studio to “help” explain it to the unprepared, so I suggested we watch CBS and Walter Cronkite, figuring that he was the least likely head to say something ridiculous at a key moment.
Experience the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing
A few years ago, I stumbled across Experience the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing and was completely blown away. It must have taken a huge amount of time to put together, but the site features an interactive animation that is better than the live coverage and describes the whole descent and landing with:
- Air-to-Ground: Audio on left channel, scrolling transcript on left side of animation. Yeah, “Air” isn’t quite right, however, the astronauts were breathing air, not space.
- Flight Director and controller audio on right channel, transcript on right.
- Indicators of who is speaking for both channels.
- Film in the middle. This is from a timelapse movie camera pointed out a window. This was not available live (obviously), but it’s a wonderful addition (obviously).
- Lunar module pitch angle simulation. If you ever played Lunar Lander on a DEC GT40, you pretty much learned this. (You likely have never heard of a GT40, that’s okay, it’s only 45 years old.)
- Timeline and bookmarks on the bottom.
If you start the animation, you will have trouble leaving it before the landing. It’s my favorite Apollo 11 web site by far.
Apollo 11 in Real Time
There was only one thing that could astound me more, and Apollo in Real Time did just that. Their animation covers the entire mission and more – from 20 hours before liftoff to President Nixon’s welcome on the USS Hornet 218 hours later. You will not finish this in one sitting! There are also many parts worth skipping, like deciding when to wake the astronauts during the return leg.
- All mission control film footage
- All TV transmissions and onboard film footage
- 2,000 photographs
- 11,000 hours of Mission Control audio
- 240 hours of space-to-ground audio
- All onboard recorder audio
- 15,000 searchable utterances
- Post-mission commentary
- Astromaterials sample data
Real time from Mars
This isn’t directly related to Apollo or manned space flight, but hey, it’s an example of space flight coverage without a talking head. And it’s a great thing to watch anyway.
Soon before the Curiosity rover reached Mars, I realized I should go off and learn something more about the mission, especially after hearing a radio story and interview with some of the designers. Apparently the landing was going to be more involved than the beach ball approach with Spirit and Opportunity, and they’re going to use a sky crane. Whoa. A what? I quickly found a wonderful description of the complex landing process titled 7 Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars. It described a dozen or so steps involved in the landing, some easy, some challenging, some “you-must-be-crazy!” They pretty much all had to work right, and I resigned myself to expecting something would fail. How do you test a supersonic parachute in Mars-like conditions anyway?
Unlike the Apollo missions, the Curiosity mission controllers had no control over the landing process. By the time the controllers heard from Curiosity that it hit the atmosphere, the radio delay meant that Curiosity was on the ground. I found a live video feed that showed the ever increasing excitement as each step, big or small, happened perfectly as the probability of success climbed to 100% and the celebration erupts. JPL has learned that getting photos back ASAP is important, and they start coming in before the landing celebration ended. Well done!
On the other hand
The next few years will be the last hurrah (I hope) for the moon landing hoax supporters. I’m not an expert on any aspect of the matter, but I’ve heard only one claim that I couldn’t instantly refute. In the comments, I’ll tolerate one question/claim for each topic. I’ll tolerate a reply from me and one better one. Expect all else to simply get deleted and go swimming with the chemtrails, so save your text on your own system. Comments (especially deleted ones) might get preserved on a personal web page, people who complain may get Email from me, and replies may go on that web page too.
So make it good. As in, if you’re bent out of shape over the lack of stars in the moon photos, include proof that you photograph stars successfully.
Here’s a better idea
Pretty much every post-mission press conference starts out with the astronauts thanking all the thousands of people who worked out of the spot light to make the mission a success. I’m sure the WUWT community has anecdotes, relatives, friends, and other contacts with these unsung heroes. Let’s hear their stories, both the good ones and post-Apollo stories like turbo-pump designers who found that there just isn’t much demand for people who can drain a swimming pool in seconds.
Just for Fun
Finally, inspiration takes many odd paths. One of them led Randall Munroe, author of xkcd.com, to describe the moon landing launch vehicle (i.e. Saturn V to command module escape tower) using a blueprint and only the most common 1,000 words. Saturn, V, rocket, stage, oxygen, NASA, and thousand are not among them. He did a pretty good job, see US Space Team’s Up Goer Five.