I remember the first moon landing very clearly. I was on holiday in Scotland with my parents and we along with everyone else at the hotel crowded round the tv in the lounge. The idea of a television in each hotel room was not even considered an option in those days. I also remember a lot of waiting round for them to come out. Armstrong and Aldrin had to get into their space suits within the lunar module and no doubt do lots of equipment checks before heading out onto the surface of the moon.
For me, the Apollo launches themselves were always a thrill and from Apollo 8 onwards the wait for the command module to re-appear from the back of the moon was both exciting and terrifying. I’ve been reminded of all these by listening to a fabulous podcast from the BBC World Service. 13 Minutes to the Moon, describes the time it took for the lunar module, ‘Eagle’ to get to the surface after separating from the command module and then starting their descent to the surface. The actual 13 minutes is detailed in the final, 11th episode of the series. The previous 10 describe the moon programme in detail from the famous announcement by President Kennedy in 1962 that “We choose to go to the moon.” This was of course in response to the perceived advantage that the Soviet Union had in the ‘space race’.
I learned a lot from the podcasts. For example, the big leap in space travel technology was needed before the launch of Apollo 8. This was the first mission to go round to the other, ‘dark’ side of the moon. During this time all communication between Earth and the astronauts is lost. As they were round the other side, they had to execute a precise engine burn to put themselves into lunar orbit. The consequences of this not going correctly were all bad, crashing into the moon, missing altogether and heading off into space with no means of getting back. The tension in both mission control and as we watched our little black and white tv in England was real. I’m not sure we even was it live, but it felt like it to me.
Apollo 8 also gave us the wonderful image of Earthrise, taken by Bill Anders on Christmas Eve in 1968. We had never seen our own planet like this before.
13 minutes to the moon, provides a detailed examination of the people who made it all happen, all 400,000 of them. I can wholeheartedly recommend this. For a nice short video, you can listen to Mike Collins, the command module pilot talk through the whole mission in today’s Google Doodle. One lovely bit of this is him describing being on the other side of the moon on his own, but quite happy as he had hot coffee. He was totally alone, but there were 3 billion others, plus two more on the other side. There’s also a great little video from google on how they made it.