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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 021: Saturday 21th July 2001

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Commentary
by Gary Hardy

 
Walk on the Moon
 

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, human beings landed on the Moon for the first time in history.

The first manned journey to the Moon began at Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, Florida with the lift-off of Apollo XI at 9:32 a.m. EDT on a clear and sunny Wednesday 16th July 1969.

The crew of Apollo XI was Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module pilot Edwin E Aldrin, Jr.

The Apollo spacecraft reached Earth parking orbit after 11 minutes. After one and half orbits the Saturn thrusts fired and the astronauts began their journey to the Moon.

After a four-day trip, the Apollo astronauts arrived at the Moon. At 01:47 p.m. EDT on 20th July 1969, the Lunar Module "Eagle" carrying Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin separated from the Command Module "Columbia". Michael Collins, aboard the CM, took pictures of the LM as it prepared for its descent to the lunar surface.

"You cats take it easy on the lunar surface", Collins said as he released the LM. Collins did a visual inspection of the lunar module and said: "I think you've got a fine looking machine there, Eagle, despite the fact that you're upside-down." "Somebody's upside-down", Armstrong replied.

Over the next day, Michael Collins would orbit the Moon while his colleagues walked on its surface.

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed." These words ushered in a new era of human exploration at 4:18 p.m. EDT, as the first manned flight to the Moon touched down after flying longer than planned, down to the last 40 seconds of fuel, to avoid a field of boulders and a large crater.

Charles Duke, the Capcom (capsule communicator) back in Houston, replied: "Roger Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again."

US Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin landed lunar module Eagle, while Michael Collins piloted Apollo XI to monitor the landing. At 10:56 p.m. EDT, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. Armstrong said at the time: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface less than fifteen minutes later, calling it: "Magnificent desolation". As he left the LM, Aldrin said: "Now I want to partially close the hatch, making sure not to lock it on my way out." "A particular good thought." laughed Armstrong. Asked later on why they bothered closing the hatch. Armstrong said it was to avoid having someone ask: "Were you born in a barn?"

The astronauts removed a sheet of stainless steel to unveil the plaque affixed to the lunar module leg under the descent ladder and read to the television audience: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind." Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin and President Richard Nixon signed it.

The footprints left by the astronauts in the Sea of Tranquillity are more permanent than many solid structures on Earth. Barring a chance meteorite impact, these impressions in the lunar soil will probably last for millions of years.
In the few hours that Aldrin and Armstrong were on the Moon, there was little time to set up scientific experiments, but a small package (the EASEP, or Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package) was deployed.

Millions of Earthlings watched the drama unfold on television images taken by black and white lunar surface cameras. President Richard Nixon spoke to Armstrong and Aldrin by radio telephone from the White House: "Hello, Neil and Buzz. I'm talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House, and this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world." Armstrong replied: "Thank you, Mr President. It's a great honour and privilege for us to be here representing not only the United States but men of peace of all nations, and with interest and curiosity and with the vision for the future."

Neil Armstrong took a picture of Edwin Aldrin, showing a reflection in Aldrin's visor of Armstrong and the Lunar Module. This was one of the only photographs showing Armstrong, who carried the camera, on the Moon. Aldrin said: "My fault, perhaps, but we had never simulated this in training."

Aldrin posed for a picture next to the U.S. flag. The rod to hold the flag out horizontally would not extend fully, so the flag ended up with a slight waviness, giving the appearance of being windblown. The flag itself was difficult to erect, it was very hard to penetrate beyond about 6 to 8 inches into the lunar soil and it was actually knocked over when the LM rook off from the Moon 21 hours after landing.

The astronauts returned to the Lunar Module after 2 hours and 32 minutes on the surface (2 hours 15 minutes for Aldrin). After lifting off from the lunar surface, the LM made its rendezvous with the Command Module. The Eagle docked with the Command Module, and the lunar samples were brought aboard. The LM was left behind in lunar orbit while the 3 astronauts returned in the Columbia to the Earth.

The final phase of the Kennedy Space Center challenge was completed at 12:50 p.m. EDT on 24th July 1969, when the Columbia splashed down about 812 nautical miles Southwest of Hawaii, returning the 3 astronauts safely to Earth.

The returning US astronauts were wearing biological isolation garments, awaiting helicopter pickup by the US Navy frogmen and then transported in a life raft to the U.S.S. Hornet.

Imminent: The day before splashdown, Aldrin said, "We feel this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown."

 
Gary Hardy
garyhardy@liveibiza.com
 

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