Video: 40th anniversary of mankind’s greatest journey

posted at 3:30 pm on July 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Forty years ago this month, America led mankind on our greatest journey as we flew three men into orbit around the moon, and two of them set foot for the first time on the Moon. After this many years, we live in the knowledge of the American space program and take the moon landings for granted. However, on July 16th, 1969, the world watched in wonder as NASA began the journey of hundreds of thousands of miles with a single mighty step:

In four days, we’ll revisit the day that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin forever changed humanity by establishing a toehold on the lunar landscape. Time Magazine has an interesting article on the men who flew in the Apollo program, and the price paid for their heroics:

Some did fly, others didn’t, but nearly all felt at least some sense of drift. “People in wars have the same experience,” says Mattingly. “They’re in one world with one set of rules, and they step off an airplane and they’re in another.” NASA didn’t help much. The agency exhaustively screened its candidate moonmen for emotional stability before clearing them for flight but kept a much more casual eye on them afterward. “I guess they figured we were big boys,” says Lovell, a veteran of Apollo 8 and 13. Duke insists he didn’t need a NASA nanny worrying over him anyway. “I was never a woe-is-me guy,” he says.

But in failing to accept that woe sometimes was them, the space agency did its pilots a disservice, says psychologist and cultural anthropologist Lawrence Palinkas of the University of Southern California. Palinkas studies how people adapt to extreme environments and isolation, working with both NASA and groups planning polar expeditions. “What can make it hard for people like this is that they’re so highly motivated and they wait so long for a mission,” Palinkas says. “There can be a deep sense of loss once the goals have been accomplished, and there may be no adequate substitute.” (See pictures of animals in space.)

Desk jobs in the shuttle program were available to many of the astronauts, but the new ship was a pickup truck compared with the glamorous Apollos. “Coming down from that Apollo high was hard,” Duke concedes. Lovell had a more sudden moment of clarity. “I was looking at the design of the shuttle cockpit,” he says, “and suddenly realized I was in the same room I was in years before when we were working on the F-4 [fighter]. I’d made a full circle.” Not long after, he squared that circle and walked out the door.

For some, the next-best choice lay in politics, another high-stakes game, with the thrill of an election replacing the thrill of a liftoff — even if it was followed by the comparative drudgery of governing. Swigert ran successfully for Congress but died of cancer before he could be sworn in. Apollo 17′s Harrison (Jack) Schmitt served a term as Senator from New Mexico, then lost his 1982 re-election bid to a candidate whose ads cheekily asked, “What on Earth has he done for you lately?”

Read the whole thing. And for the Admiral Emeritus, who worked on the space program for almost 30 years including the entire Apollo years, thank you for your efforts in this greatest journey.


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This whole thing is making me remember a bit of that innocence we had before the moon landing — we knew that the moon wasn’t made of green cheese, but what might they find up there? We didn’t know for sure.

If I remember correctly, the astronauts were put into quarantine as soon as they returned to earth, right? In case they brought back some moon germs?

KyMouse on July 16, 2009 at 9:33 PM

For the trolls on whether we did it….

…. Where do you think the Russians were when this happened? Do you think they would have let us pull this off if it were not absolutely certain we landed? This is the stuff they would have shouted from the rooftops.

Apollo is still the greatest human achievement until we go to Mars. The most complex machine ever built at the time was engineered using slide rules!!!

The clamps holding the rockets down had to release within 80 miliseconds of each other or the rocket would fall over. The Apollo V had 2 billion parts, and in all the missions including Apollo 13 only six parts failed. That’s the equilivant to running a car constantly for 200 years. The Lunar Module was the most complex machine of the time and had sides that were thin enough to put your foot through (save weight). The computer failed on the Apollo 11 landing and Neil Armstrong landed the LEM manually, doing it for the first time, having never done it before.

A great, great achievement, mankind’s finest hour.

itsspideyman on July 16, 2009 at 9:45 PM

Ed,
I was at the 40th anniversary celebration at Kennedy Space Center. Buzz Aldrin, Walt Cunningham, Charlie Duke were all there. They opened a new exhibit too with the Apollo 14 Capsule, Al Sheppards EVA suit, Aldrins Glove, Ed Whites watch, etc. IT….WAS….AWESOME.

Squid Shark on July 16, 2009 at 9:57 PM

I think everyone forgets too. Apollo was the greatest and most sucessful Public Private venture evah! Billions of dollars into the private sector, 960 companies (including a few “small local companies” like Grumman, Northrop, Boeing), 29 universities churning out engineers and scientists.

We need Constellation to do that.

Squid Shark on July 16, 2009 at 10:00 PM

If I remember correctly, the astronauts were put into quarantine as soon as they returned to earth, right? In case they brought back some moon germs?

KyMouse on July 16, 2009 at 9:33 PM

Yes, that is correct. They put on some sort of “radiation suits” in the helo right after they were plucked from the ocean, and when they landed on the carrier they marched into what looked like a highly modified Airstream trailer.

BTW that was one of the original President-landing-on-an-aircraft-carrier-to-make-political-hay episodes, as Dick Nixon was on board the flat-top when they splashed down, and then chatted with them in the Airstream. Mission Accomplished!

I am sure it drove the Democrats absolutely nuts that the ultimate result of a Kennedy brainstorm happened on a Rethuglican President’s watch.

Del Dolemonte on July 16, 2009 at 10:00 PM

The computer failed on the Apollo 11 landing and Neil Armstrong landed the LEM manually, doing it for the first time, having never done it before.

Actually he had done it before during training — with disastrous results. He was severely hurt when the simulator crashed — this was truly a scary moment for those on the ground when this happened. [I can't provide a link, I saw this several years ago on a program -- maybe Modern Marvels]

A great, great achievement, mankind’s finest hour.

itsspideyman on July 16, 2009 at 9:45 PM

Absolutely. I still remember sitting on the living room floor watching the launch and later the first moonwalk. Must have made an impression — I became an engineer with the desire to work in the aerospace industry.

AZfederalist on July 16, 2009 at 10:19 PM

Note to Jeff from WI: I was 10 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. American tax dollars have never been spent on a more grand cause. Box of rock, my ass. Box of wonder. Box of imagination. Box of exploration. Nothing we have done since holds a candle to it.

fleiter on July 16, 2009 at 5:45 PM

Speaking as a “child of the 80s,” I have to very respectfully disagree. The shuttle, as envisioned and almost as built, was right up there with Apollo and the Saturns. What cheeses me off to no end though, is the amount of “spit-and-duct-tape” fixing that we’ve needed to do to the Shuttle just to get past the beancounter hurdles. And while I do think that makes a strong case for privatizing space (and let’s hear a big kudos to Elon Musk and SpaceX for putting the first privately-boosted-into-orbit satellite into orbit the other day!), I’ll concede that from about 1967 until about 1981, NASA were simply the best in the world at space engineering and exploration.

Please pardon me while I rant; this is a matter quite near and dear to my heart.

My God, what happened to us after 1972, when we pulled back from the Moon? We got lazy, and we got complacent, and nobody could challenge us up there, so we got sloppy. We started living off the credit our forbears stocked up for us, both in our methods and in our objectives. Of course it doesn’t help that after the physical-world engineers succeeded, the social engineers demanded their own shot at things (and in the failing, seem of late to have decreed that they’ll just ban engineering outright – try putting up a new oil refinery if you don’t believe me). But that’s still not a worthy excuse.

Earlier this evening, NASA announced that it has indefinitely grounded the Shuttle fleet. Due, once again, to issues with the foam on the external tank. Nevermind the fact that NO foam fell off the ET on STS-1 or -2, because the kludgy thing was painted (the paint served two purposes – white emits heat best so the liquids inside stay cool, and the paint layer sealed the foam under a “shell” to keep the foam from falling off!). Those extra handful of pounds of paint had to be sacrificed to meet the payload promises made to Congress and the USAF for carrying recon birds and next-gen interplanetary probes (which even w/o the paint were NEVER met).

Want a good cry over the state of our space program? Pick up any of the old technical books from the late-70s and early-80s (pre-Challenger). Heck, any children’s book on space written back then will do. We were supposed to have a permanent base on the Moon by 2000, several stations (made from discarded ETs, boosted the rest of the way to orbit by knockoff micro-engines at the tanks’ rear) by the mid-80s, even private space stations by the year 1990! But the Shuttles, bless those grand, crippled dames, came too late to save Skylab, were too kludged (and/or built in too few numbers) to serve as the “pickup to space,” and in the end nobody else picked up the ball. Liquid-filled boosters running on 4 SSMEs apiece? Projected in 1978 for use by the mid-80s. Would’ve saved Challenger, because the whole SRB issue would’ve been retired. Shuttle II? Projected for entry into service in 1995 (!) until Challenger, would have saved Columbia by both removing her from service, and presenting a smaller target for debris (assuming, of course, that the tanks weren’t sealed with paint). Some of those designs (including one prototyped for drop-tests by the guys who built SpaceShipOne) were small enough we could have bolted them to an EELV, and eliminated the whole foam issue outright – send up a second EELV with cargo if needed; it’d help with economies of scale, too. As for Endeavour, we’re awaiting word on her situation, pending an up-close inspection while she’s docked at the station. The very, as-yet-incomplete, station that NASA announced this week we’d be de-orbiting in 2016!

The questions we have to ask are, “Is space important to this nation? Is it important enough to invest large sums of government money on, or important enough to fill a field with private companies that can provide cheap and reliable access to orbit?” If the answers are no, then we can look back and “get inspired” by what our parents and grandparents did, while the monuments to their achievement crumble around us. If the answers are yes, though… then we can actually go out and do it. We do that, well, look out universe – ready or not, here we come!

Blacksmith on July 17, 2009 at 2:14 AM

And to think where we would be if we had just spent all that money on welfare programs instead of the space pro…. oh… we are there aren’t we?

Welfare trumps exceptionalism. Entitlement over productivity. JFK reached for the moon, Obummer reaches for my wallet.

bloviator on July 17, 2009 at 9:14 AM

I think everyone forgets too. Apollo was the greatest and most sucessful Public Private venture evah! Billions of dollars into the private sector, 960 companies (including a few “small local companies” like Grumman, Northrop, Boeing), 29 universities churning out engineers and scientists.

We need Constellation to do that.

Squid Shark on July 16, 2009 at 10:00 PM

It’s true that the govt spent billions, but it is not true that this led to a huge increase in anything other than the deficit.

The products that were used in Apollo were products that either already existed, or were already in development. The absolute best that can be said for the space program was that it sped up the development of these products by a few months, to (at best) a few years.

MarkTheGreat on July 17, 2009 at 9:16 AM

And to think where we would be if we had just spent all that money on welfare programs instead of the space pro…. oh… we are there aren’t we?

Welfare trumps exceptionalism. Entitlement over productivity. JFK reached for the moon, Obummer reaches for my wallet.

bloviator on July 17, 2009 at 9:14 AM

No, not welfare programs for lazy Americans. Feeding dying children in Africa and Asia due to wars, drought, famine.

JFK didn’t reach for the moon, he was wrestling Bobby for Marilyn.

Jeff from WI on July 17, 2009 at 9:19 AM

Note to Jeff from WI: I was 10 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. American tax dollars have never been spent on a more grand cause. Box of rock, my ass. Box of wonder. Box of imagination. Box of exploration. Nothing we have done since holds a candle to it.

fleiter on July 16, 2009 at 5:45 PM

I was 15 in 1969, maybe that extra 5 years of maturity dampened my wonder and imagination. Sorry, but I’m a bit too practical to see anything but a huge national waste of money for a lousy box of rocks.
Billions for defense, but not one dime for wonder or imagination.

Jeff from WI on July 17, 2009 at 9:46 AM

Sorry, but I refuse to let Debbie-Downer from WI have the last post on what was one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. The moon landing eclipses even the pyramids.

MechEng5by5 on July 17, 2009 at 10:37 AM

MechEng5by5 on July 17, 2009 at 10:37 AM

Yea, feeding the trolls is like making eye contact with panhandlers…. just don’t do it.

bloviator on July 17, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Sorry, but I refuse to let Debbie-Downer from WI have the last post on what was one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. The moon landing eclipses even the pyramids.

MechEng5by5 on July 17, 2009 at 10:37 AM

Sorry, I guess it’s an internal quirk. I just don’t get all warm and squishy over things like this, MJs death, or Obama.

I guess it’s hard for me to drink anyone’s Kool Aid.

Jeff from WI on July 17, 2009 at 12:55 PM

How can something be the greatest accomplishment when it doesn’t effect our lives at all. Greatest accomplishment could be argued, the invention of: The light bulb, indoor plumbing, central heating, the automobile, the air plane, radio, TV, TV dinners, the computer, the internet, conservative blogs. But an expensive box of rocks or watching some guy playing moon golf does nothing for me.

Jeff from WI on July 17, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Jeff,
Space is the key to our future.

Squid Shark on July 17, 2009 at 3:57 PM

Heads-up: Craig Nelson is on BookTV right now discussing his book “Rocket Men”. He just gave a shout out to – and expreses his admiration for – all the contractors who helped build the Apollo hardware.

RD on July 19, 2009 at 6:18 PM

Blacksmith-

Great post!

I disagree that this is MJ’s death or similar to the Obama craze. The Apollo/Saturn V programme was big by any metric – design, scope, execution, risks, what have you. It is the greatest achievement of our race. If we get hit by an asteroid tomorrow and our species is wiped out, we still managed, 40 years ago, to escape the incredible power of gravity and dream; reach for the moon and actually get there.

I’m motivated by projects like Apollo- it is a glimpse of what we are capable of, how far we’ve come, from very rudimentary tool users to people who can harness incredible power and direct it, control it, and use it to accomplish a task that people thought was impossible. If going to the moon was such a banal thing, something inconsequential, why is it that in 40 years we are still the only country ever to have succeeded, yet Russia, China, et al are still trying?

Wrapped up in Apollo’s success is the success of America; our republican government unfetters individuals while communism abuses and oppresses. Unlike their Soviet counterparts, who were fearful of a knock on their door to drag them to the gulag for some perceived slight, our brave men and women focused on building the most incredible and complex machine ever devised. Freedom is a fertilizer for man’s imagination, and no where is this more evident than in our success with the Apollo programme. We were driven by love of country, by the sheer challenge, not by the whip.

We’ve stopped dreaming, unfortunately. Stopped challenging ourselves. We’ve become complacent or jaded; perhaps a bit of both. We’re more concerned with the petty troubles of everyday life than of pushing ourselves into uncharted territory. We’re no longer Columbus, exploring, learning, risking; we’ve moved from becoming a smart nation to a lazy nation, a blind nation.

What do you look for inspiration if not stories of risk, great challenge and success? Is there anything more risky, more challenging than space exploration? But oh the possibilities! Resources, technology, a greater understanding of the cosmos, advantages over our nemeses…

We need to go back to space.

linlithgow on July 20, 2009 at 1:17 PM

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