Saturday, February 02, 2008

What The Hell Happened To The First Man On The Moon?

Retraction: Man Did Go To The Moon

Some years ago I did a serious investigation on the moon landings and came to the irrefutable conclusion - well, I thought - that man had never been to the moon after all. I listed several pertinent arguments (the deadly Van Allan radiation belts to name one)and there seemed to be a lot of compelling theory against the idea.

I recently saw a documentary (In the Shadow Of The Moon) with massive amounts of footage and plenty of interviews with many astronauts. I'm happy to say that I am convinced I was mistaken. I saw this against the background of studying some of the theories of mass media manipulation and the role of government, public relations and the private individual. That we suspect man's greatest achievement was a hoax shows to what extent we have been chagrined and disillusion by so much high level deception and manipulation. The crowd is not wise; but it is certainly not dumb either.

It is interesting that today iconic figures include the likes of Mandela, Lance Armstrong, some might say Bill Clinton and then the list tapers off. It beggars belief that the first man on the moon has faded to the extent that he has from our international consciousness. What the hell happened to Neil Armstrong?

I noticed that Armstrong didn't feature at all in this list of astronauts talking about their experiences. It was very interesting that one guy pointed out that in the very emotional moment of setting foot on the moon, Armstrong had the presence of mind to say: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for man giant." Other astronauts said they might have whooped or simply been overwhelmed by the moment. That Neil Armstrong was able to set aside himself in that moment, and address our species, is special. This is against the backdrop of nearly having to scupper the4 landing completely, when instruments showed they would be landing on large minibus sized boulders. They (thought they*)had something like 60 seconds to find somewhere else to land before the fuel burn would force an abort. One astronaut suggested that bthey would have landed on the moon anyway, even if it meant they wouldn't be able to leave. (A document had been prepared for the president to read for just such a scenario).

As one can imagine, Armstrong was propelled to fame, and if he is not an iconic figure, he nevertheless is representative of 'the first man on the moon', even if, somewhat anonymously. His signature has been flogged on eBay and the like for $1000 - as such he has been less willing to write letters, give interviews etc.

What else do we know about Armstrong? He was an exceptional pilot, as this anecdote from the Korean war illustrates (from Wiki):
While making a low bombing run at about 350 mph (560 km/h) in his F9F Panther, Armstrong's plane was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire. The plane took a nose dive, and sliced through a cable strung about 500 ft (150 m) up across the valley by the North Koreans. This sheared off an estimated six feet (2 m) of its right wing.

Armstrong was able to fly the plane back to friendly territory, but could not land the plane safely due to the loss of the aileron, which left his only option as ejection. He planned to eject over water and await rescue by navy helicopters, so he flew to an airfield near Pohang. Instead of a water rescue, winds forced his ejection seat back over land. Armstrong was picked up by a jeep driven by a roommate from flight school.

Armstrong's abaility to improvise continued after the Korean war. In March 1956, whilst flying a SuperFortress, this happened (from Wiki):

As they ascended to 30,000 ft (9 km), the number four engine stopped and the propeller began windmilling in the airstream. Hitting the switch that would stop the propeller spinning, Butchart found the propeller slowed but then started spinning again, this time even faster than the other engines; if it spun too fast, it would fly apart. Their aircraft needed to hold an airspeed of 210 mph (338 km/h) to launch its Skyrocket payload, and the B-29 could not land with the Skyrocket still attached to its belly.

Armstrong and Butchart nosed the aircraft down to pick up speed, then launched the Skyrocket. At the very instant of launch, the number four engine propeller disintegrated. Pieces of it careened through part of the number three engine and hit the number two engine. Butchart and Armstrong were forced to shut down the number three engine, due to damage, and the number one engine, due to the torque it created. They managed to make a slow, circling descent from 30,000 ft (9,000 m) using only the number two engine, and they landed the aircraft safely.

There is a more folklore regarding botched and lucky crash landings besides. And it seems the reason Armstrong was chosen in the first place - to set on the moon first -was that he did not have a superego. He was chosen for his modesty.

Other interesting snippets:

From Wiki: Aldrin later gave the flag planting and subsequent phone call from President Nixon as reasons why there were no intentional photographs of Armstrong. In the entire Apollo 11 photographic record, there are only five images of Armstrong partly shown or reflected. Aldrin said plans were to take a photo of Armstrong after the famous image of Aldrin was taken, but they were interrupted by the Nixon communication.

On: One Small Step For [a] Man, Wiki: It has long been assumed that Armstrong had mistakenly omitted the word "a" from his famous remark ("one small step for a man"), rendering the phrase a tautology, as man in such use is synonymous with mankind. Armstrong is quoted as saying that he "would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it wasn't said – although it might actually have been."

Armstrong has expressed his preference that written quotations include the "a" in parentheses.

Flick of a switch, Wiki: After re-entering the LM, the hatch was closed and sealed. While preparing for the liftoff from the lunar surface, Armstrong and Aldrin discovered that in their bulky spacesuits, they had broken the ignition switch for the ascent engine. The ascent engine had no switch to fire. Using part of a pen, they pushed the circuit breaker in to activate the launch sequence. Aldrin still possesses the pen which they used to do this. The lunar module then continued to its rendezvous and docking with Columbia, the command and service module, and return to Earth.

After the moon, Wiki: Armstrong then took part in Bob Hope's 1969 USO show, primarily to Vietnam, where some soldiers asked questions about how a man could be sent to the Moon while they were still stuck fighting the war...Armstrong announced shortly after the Apollo 11 flight that he did not plan to fly in space again...After Armstrong retired from NASA in 1971, he avoided offers from businesses to act as a spokesman...In 1972, Armstrong was welcomed into the town of Langholm, Scotland, the traditional seat of Clan Armstrong. The first company to successfully approach him was Chrysler, for whom he appeared in advertising starting in January 1979. In the fall of 1979, Armstrong was working at his farm near Lebanon, Ohio. As he jumped off of the back of his grain truck, his wedding ring caught in the wheel, tearing off his ring finger. However, he calmly collected the severed digit, packed it in ice, and managed to have it reattached by microsurgeons at the Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. In May 2005 Armstrong became involved in an unusual legal battle with his barber of 20 years, Marx Sizemore. After cutting Armstrong's hair, Sizemore sold some of it to a collector for $3,000 without Armstrong's knowledge or permission. Armstrong threatened legal action unless the barber returned the hair or donated the proceeds to a charity of Armstrong's choosing. Sizemore, unable to get the hair back, decided to donate the proceeds to the charity of Armstrong's choice.

*Wiki: Analysis after the mission showed that because of the moon's lower gravity, fuel had sloshed about in the tank more than anticipated, which led to a misleadingly low indication of the remaining propellant: At touchdown there were about 50 seconds of hovering time left.

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