Monday, July 20, 2009

Apolllo 11

You may have seen a couple of news stories about today being the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

There has been enough coverage that I don't feel like I have much to add. I covered Apollo 11 a couple of years ago. I talked about getting to attend the 20th Anniversary celebration at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, my close encounter with Armstrong and Aldrin, and Alexei Leonov.

You can read all about it if you want.

What I thought I'd do is regale you with some of my favorite stories from the early days of the space program as gleaned from years of research.


The guy who really got us to the moon was the Mexican Immigrant and German rocket scientist who went to great lengths to make sure he wound up as an American prisoner at the end of WWII, Werner von Braun. He took his basic design of the Nazi V-2 rocket and upscaled it to a ridonkulous degree to become the Saturn V moon rocket.

In the late 50's and early 60's, the Soviet Union was kicking our ass and calling us Shirley. They were scoring first after first in the space race with their heavy rocket boosters. Mainly because their nukes were less sophisticated than ours and required larger rockets, but I digress.

Meanwhile, our shit was blowing up like the most expensive fireworks display ever mounted! This was around the same time that President Kennedy decided, based on Alan Shepards 15 minute sub-orbital flight, to stick his thumb up the Communist's ass and declare "Fuck it. We're going to the moon! Catch us if you can you Godless Commie bastards!" (not an exact quote).

A reporter cornered Werner von Braun shortly after the announcement and asked him "Dr. von Braun, when we get to the moon, what do you think we will find there?"

Werner replied "At this rate...empty vodka bottles."


Tom Wolfe told this story in "The Right Stuff". In order to pee in zero gravity, you needed to put on a condom with a tube at the end that led to a reservoir where the urine was stored until it could be ejected from the spacecraft using a special connection designed for that purpose. The entire system was referred to as the Waste Management System.

Taking a shit in space involved taping a baggie to your ass in an area about the same size as a Volkswaogon Beetle with two of your buddies sitting elbow to elbow. But I'm not even going there. I'm, sticking with the Urine Collection system.

In order for the Urine Collection system to work, the condom had to fit properly. The Urine Collection devices came in 3 sizes...Small, Medium and Large.

Well, no self-respecting Test Pilot turned Star Voyager was going to walk into the nerdy Flight Surgeon's office and declare he needed a SMALL Urine Collection Device.

So the Astronauts renamed the sizes. They became "Large, EXTRA Large, and UNBELIEVABLE!"


Neil Armstrong flew the X-15 Rocket Plane which was the coolest flying craft EVER!

He was also the commander of Gemini 8. This was a rendezvous and docking exercise with a specially designed Agena docking vehicle and meant to practice manuevers that would be critical to the Apollo moon flight profiles.

Shortly after docking with the Agena target vehicle, the mated spacecraft began spinning rapidly. After fighting the problem and burning precious attitude control fuel trying to bring the bucking bronco under control, Armstrong made the decision do release the Agena. Unknown to him at the time, the problem was a stuck thruster on his own Gemini craft which started tumbling even faster.

Armstrong and Scott were quickly approaching blackouts from centrifugal forces. Armstrong, havng difficulty seeing clearly and having trouble communicating with Houston, broke all the rules and manually disabbled the Orbital Attitude Manuevering System, activated the Re-entry Control System, manually stabilized the craft, initiated re-entry manuevers via hand controllers, and brought the spacecraft to a splashdown within 3 miles of the recovery Aircraft Carrier.

Amazing cool.

There are other stories regarding the LLRV and the actual lunar landing that had less than 10 seconds of fuel left in the tanks.

It is an epic tale of exploration that concludes here.

You cannot begin to imagine the impact that this had on a 13 year old technophile.

If I believe that we can solve any problem through science and technology, this is why. We have and we can.

Can't name a single problem we have overcome or goal we have achieved through faith & prayer.

Science gets shit done!

1 comment:

Poodles said...

I wish I had been born and old enough to remember this. It's still cool even if I have to live it in video.