Moon Landing 50th Anniversary – Part 2

Before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made this proposal:

“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. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

At Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962, he said:

“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

These are some of his remarks about the challenge to go to the Moon on November 21, 1963, the day before he was assassinated in Dallas:

“Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall–and then they had no choice but to follow them.

“This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome.”

They were overcome and Kennedy’s challenge was met.

Before the decade was out, on July 20, 1969–with over 530 million people watching from Planet Earth–the Lunar Module ‘Eagle’ carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at 4:17 p.m. EDT.

At 4:18 p.m. Armstrong said:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Attached to the ladder on the descent stage of the Lunar Module was a plaque with this inscription: 

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind”

Later, at 10:56 p.m. Armstrong stepped onto the Moon surface and said:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Aldrin joined him about 19 minutes later, and together they spent a little over 2 hours on the Moon.

They returned to the Lunar Module at about 1:10 a.m. EDT July 21st.

If someone had to pick a date to start counting from as the dawn of a new era, July 20, 1969 is a worthy choice to consider.

The ‘political cartoon’ that appeared in the paper I have from the next day I thought was especially poignant.

Moon Landing 50th Anniversary – Part 1

A friend asked me once what I thought was the most significant news event to happen in my lifetime. He thought I my answer might be the 9-11 attack, or the John F. Kennedy assassination, or something along those lines.

I answered that I thought it was when we landed on the Moon.

That was a massive accomplishment!!!

It was the culmination of millions of years of evolution, including thousands of years of advances in mathematics, science, and technology.

It should be a national and international holiday.

In May 1961, when Kennedy proposed that the U.S. “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,” he was raising the bar about as high as it could have been raised. It was an incredible challenge that would require new concepts, new designs, and new technology. It would also require tremendous effort, tremendous investment, and tremendous coordination.

Growing up, I had been a big fan of NASA ever since I could remember….

I was born when Explorer 1–the first satellite launched by the United States–was still sending data back to Earth, and a little over 5 months before NASA was formed. At one time, I knew every mission, the astronauts that flew them, the nicknames of the spacecraft, and what happened with each one.

By July 1969, I was following the flight of Apollo 11 as closely as I could. I was one of millions of people all over the world watching the Moon Landing (on CBS with Walter Cronkite, of course).

The technology was fairly primitive by today’s standards….

Nevertheless, the Apollo Guidance Computer was a massive breakthrough at the time with 2k of memory and 32k of storage to land on the Moon, and it could preform 8 tasks at once!!!

During the descent they first had some trouble with communications, and then, after that was resolved, two computer alarms went off: 1202 and 1201.

The astronauts had been trained in simulators for almost everything anybody could imagine happening. Usually, if anything like this happened, the answer was to “abort” the landing.

The astronauts didn’t know these alarms meant and had never trained for them.

And at first, even NASA didn’t know what they meant either.

Basically, what was happening was that the computer was getting too much information to process. However, it was set to reboot automatically when that happened and return to the same place it was before it had to reboot, so it was more like some hiccups in the system, and Mission Control was still getting data.[The people who wrote that software in assembly language to land on the Moon probably had to be more succinct in their coding than most any other software program that comes out today, and it wasn’t a fault with the software that caused the problem, it was when Aldrin turned on some radar that would be useful if they had to abort. Aldrin also noticed the correlation and suggested that his action was related to the alarms. The extra data coming in as a result of Aldrin flipping that switch was enough to exceed the computer’s capacity and sound the alarms.]

Imagine you are one of the two people in the Lunar Module on your way down to be the first in all of human history to land on the Moon. You’re doing something that’s NEVER been done before and millions of people all over the word are listening to every word you say and every breath you take. The hopes of humanity are all focused on you, your margin of error is incredibly tiny with death just out the window, just one small mistake away…. and alarms are going off on your landing computer.

NASA came back with a “go” on those alarms. In other words, “ignore them” and “keep going.”

When Armstrong could get a good look at the landing site situation, he realized that it wasn’t the one projected. They were 2 seconds off, so they were two miles further downfield than they planned.

They were headed to land in a crater with car-size rocks all around.

Armstrong decided to take control of the landing to the extent he could. He expended almost all the remaining fuel in the lander to land passed that. This took them another two miles away from the original landing site.

At the end, when his fuel was about to run out, and dust was blowing up from the landing thrusters–making it difficult for him to see exactly where he was landing (or what he might be landing on)–they finally touched down so gently that it was hardly noticeable.Buzz Aldrin says, “Contact light.”

However, they actually hadn’t ‘landed’ at this point. The landing legs had probes extending down and he was reporting that at least one of the probes had touched the surface.

Then Neil Armstrong says, “Shutdown” and Aldrin responds, “Okay. Engine stop.”

There was a short technical exchange between Armstrong and Aldrin that was part of the post-shutdown process, then there was the “official” announcement by Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” [Houston was where Mission Control was located. Armstrong come up with the name “Tranquility Base” because they had landed in the lava-plain Mare Tranquillitatis (“Sea of Tranquility”). The “Eagle” was the name of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module.]

One can make an argument for any of these as the first words spoken from the Moon.

Regardless, considering all the pressure they were under and ongoing drama going on I just relayed, the words exchanged between the two astronauts and Mission Control during the entire descent are exceedingly calm.

Mission Control expresses the pent-up relief everyone must have felt once they had landed in their response, “Roger, Twan…Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

Keeping all that in mind, this video is one of the best there is to watch the landing.