Saturday, January 24, 2015

More about the Moon Landing

I mentioned recently that I had been watching a documentary about the 1969 moon landing and the space race between the US and USSR. Since then I have watched a further documentary on the lunar landing, fascinating! The 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, 20 July 2019, is not far off. Here, in anticipation of that anniversary, are some interesting facts and trivia about the first manned lunar landing.

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The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903 at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.

First flight of the Wright Flyer 1, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip.

Only 66 years later, Apollo travelled to the moon, men walked on the moon and returned safely to earth.

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The Wright brothers airplane, the Wright Flyer 1, today is on exhibition in the National Air and Space Museum. A piece of fabric and wood from the Wright Flyer was taken to the surface of the Moon by the crew of Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, in July 1969. The fabric was part of the upper left wing and the wood was part of the left propeller. The Flyer was damaged after the fourth flight on 17 December 1903 when a gust of wind caused it to flip several times. Armstrong had the items with him inside his spacesuit when he made his moon walk.

Armstrong also took with him a diamond-studded astronaut pin given by the widows of the astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire.

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Because there is no wind on the moon, and provided that the downdraft from the blastoff on return to the Command Module did not disturb them, the footprints on the moon should remain intact for millions of years.

Armstrong's first footprint on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin reportedly saw the American flag, much further away, blow over during launch from the moon. 

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After the crew of Apollo 10 named their spacecraft Charlie Brown and Snoopy, assistant manager for public affairs Julian Scheer wrote to Manned Spacecraft Center director George M. Low to suggest the Apollo 11 crew be less flippant in naming their craft. During early mission planning, the names Snowcone and Haystack were used and put in the news release, but the crew later decided to change them.

The Command Module was named Columbia after the Columbiad the giant cannon shell "spacecraft" fired by a giant cannon (also from Florida) in Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. 

The Lunar Module was named Eagle for the national bird of the United States, the bald eagle, which is featured prominently on the mission insignia.

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The Apollo 11 mission insignia was designed by Collins, who wanted a symbol for "peaceful lunar landing by the United States". He chose an eagle as the symbol, put an olive branch in its beak, and drew a lunar background with the Earth in the distance. NASA officials said the talons of the eagle looked too "warlike" and after some discussion, the olive branch was moved to the claws. The crew decided the Roman numeral XI would not be understood in some nations and went with "Apollo 11"; they decided not to put their names on the patch, so it would "be representative of everyone who had worked toward a lunar landing". All colours are natural, with blue and gold borders around the patch.

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The Lunar Module was to land in a flat area called the Sea of Tranquility, however the computerised automatic landing system was guiding the module to a crater filled with boulders. Armstrong immediately took manual control and guided the module, searching for a suitable landing site with Aldrin reading out altitude and velocity. Landing was effected with 25 seconds of fuel left. Armstrong added an ad lib reference to Tranquility by radioing “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Houston’s Charles Duke responded with Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

A photograph on the moon of Charles Duke's family.

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Two and a half hours after landing, before preparations began for the walk on the moon, Aldrin, an elder at the Webster Presbyterian Church, radioed to Earth "This is the LM pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way." He then took communion privately, no mention being made thereof because at this time NASA was still fighting a lawsuit brought by atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair who had objected to the Apollo 8 crew reading from the Book of Genesis. She demanded that NASA’s astronauts refrain from broadcasting religious activities while in space. Aldrin therefore chose not directly mention taking communion on the Moon. The Webster Presbyterian Church still has the chalice he used. NASA had not been aware that he had taken the mini Communion kit with him.

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The phrase "The Eagle has landed" was the first message transmitted by a human from another world, to Earth. This specifically excludes the landing discussion between Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong which was not directed at Earth, and "Houston, Tranquility Base here" as this was preamble.

It was the name of a 1976 WW2 movie with Richard Burton and Michael Caine, plus has become a general phrase to indicate completion of a task or mission.

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While still on the ladder, Armstrong uncovered a plaque mounted on the Lunar Module Descent Stage bearing two drawings of Earth (of the Western and Eastern Hemispheres), an inscription, and signatures of the astronauts and President Nixon. The inscription reads “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

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After Armstrong stepped off Eagle's footpad, he uttered his famous line, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joined him, describing the view as "magnificent desolation."

Armstrong claimed to have said "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" when he first set foot on the lunar surface. The "a" is not clear in NASA recordings, but the audio and video links back to Earth were somewhat intermittent, partly because of storms near Parkes Observatory.. More recent digital analysis of the tape by NASA revealed the "a" may have been spoken but obscured by static.

The story that he also later said “Good luck Mr Gorsky” is untrue. (However, when the space shuttle Columbia crew completed a repair mission on the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2002, chief repairman John Grunsfeld called out, in homage to the Mr Gorsky legend, "Good luck, Mr. Hubble" as the telescope drifted off.)

For a different version of first words on landing, or what could have been, click on: 

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NASA had debated the planting of an American flag in that the moon does not belong to anyone. The decision was made to fly a specially designed U.S. flag with wires to hold it unfurled, there being no wind on the moon. The flag was knocked over in the downdraft on leaving.

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President Richard Nixon spoke to the astronauts in what Nixon called "the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.” He originally had a long speech prepared to read during the phone call, but Frank Borman, the White House NASA liaison during Apollo 11, convinced Nixon to keep his words brief, to respect the lunar landing as Kennedy's legacy.

In 1961 Kennedy had declared "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.”

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The television audience for the event was an estimated 500-600 million, which held the record for 12 years.

The most watched events in TV history:
Olympics opening Ceremony: 2 billion, 2008 
Rescue of Chilean Miners:1 billion, 2010 
FIFA World Cup Final: 715 million, 2006 
First Human Walk on surface of the Moon: 530 million, 1969 
Aloha from Hawaii. 400 – 500 million. 1973 
Cricket World Cup Semi Final: 400 million, 2011 
Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton: 350-400 million, 2011 
John F.Kennedy Funeral: 180 million, 1963 
Spring Festival Gala: 135 million, 2007 

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Despite millions of dollars of technology invested in the programme, a good old Biro ball-point pen came to the crew’s rescue. Upon return to the lunar module to return Aldrin broke the ignition switch. Without this they couldn’t activate the ascent engines and could have been stuck on the moon. But, industrious Buzz had the ingenious idea to jam a pen into the switch and miraculously it worked.

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In addition to technical and seismic equipment, plus items jettisoned, the astronauts left behind them on the moon:

· an Apollo 1 mission patch;

· a memorial bag containing a gold replica of an olive branch as a traditional symbol of peace;

· a silicon message disk carrying goodwill statements by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon as well as messages from leaders of 73 countries around the world. The disc also carries a listing of the leadership of the US Congress, a listing of members of the four committees of the House and Senate responsible for the NASA legislation, and the names of NASA's past and present top management.

· Soviet medals commemorating Cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin.

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After the astronauts returned to Earth, they were quarantined for 21 days. This practice continued for two more Apollo missions, Apollo 12 and Apollo 14, before the Moon was proven to be barren of life and the quarantine process dropped.

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In total, 12 men have walked on the moon.

When Alan Sheppard was on the moon, he hit a golf ball and drove it 2,400 feet, nearly one half a mile.

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Apollo 11 astronauts (left to right) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin

"It was carried out in a technically brilliant way with risks taken ... that would be inconceivable in the risk-averse world of today.
The Apollo programme is arguably the greatest technical achievement of mankind to date. And it was carried out successfully, against the backdrop of a difficult political situation in the USA, caused in large part by the worsening of the human and financial cost of the Vietnam war.
Even Apollo 13 proved to be a brilliant recovery from near disaster. 
Humans in space, even if at best moderately useful for space research, still have the power to excite the public and the media. But nothing since Apollo has come close the excitement that was generated by those astronauts - Armstrong, Aldrin and the 10 others who followed them, hopping around on the Moon or driving their buggy over that rocky terrain. 
I still get a buzz when I look at the Moon and think that humans visited it and came back safely." 
- spacecraft expert Professor Andre Balogh, from Imperial College London, 17 July 2009

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