Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What really happened on the moon...

Chances are that any photographs you have seen of the 'first man' on the moon are not of Neil Armstrong, but of Buzz Aldrin. This is because, for some inexplicable reason, Aldrin took virtually no photographs of the mission commander.

An unexpected call came through from President Nixon just after the pair had struggled to plant the American flag on the concrete hard substrate below the inch thick layer of powdery dust. Armstrong had photographed Aldrin saluting beside the flag and Aldrin was about to take the camera to return the favour when the call came through. Subsequently, Aldrin neglected to take a good photograph of Armstrong, although found time to photograph a 360 pan and his own footprints.

In the excellent authorised biography of Armstrong by James R. Hansen Armstrong's modest and humble personality would have precluded him from telling Aldrin, "Hey, take a photo of me why don'tcha!" Aldrin himself admitted later to being 'intimidated' by having the focus of millions on him, and so admitted to not thinking 'creatively'.

There has been some speculation, since Aldrin had petitioned to be the first man to step on the surface of the moon (and his military father had pulled some strings too) that Aldrin had purposely not photographed Neil Armstrong. In effect saying, "Well if I don't get to be first man, Neil can forget me capturing his moment of glory."

Columbus Analogy

Al Bean, the astronaut in Apollo 12, uses a analogy to describe the oversight.
" [There] should have been a bunch of good pictures of Neil. This was such an historic event. I mean, think about it: I'm going along on the boat with Christopher Columbus. he's carrying the camera at the moment, but I'm his first mate. We all know what should happen. Nobody knows the answer why it didn't."

The Flight Director at the time, Gene Krantz, is more emotional. '{The] only picture I can put up on screen of Neil [for some 60 - 70 public speaking engagements each year] is his reflection in Buzz's facemask. I find that shocking. That's something to me that's unacceptable. But, you know, life isn't fair."

First Words

Many theories also surround Armstrong's famous words when he stepped on the moon's surface. Officially, Armstrong said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Some crackle and distortion can be heard. There is of course a world of difference between what Armstrong said and what he thought he said. Armstrong says he meant to say: "That's one small step for a man..." By leaving out the article, Armstrong was in effect referring twice to 'mankind', with the first synecdoche making it grammatically flawed.

Worse still, by referring to himself as 'man', Armstrong would have been taking some license upon himself as representative of all human Earthlings, a license many would not be loathe to grant him during such a feat.

Despite the technical aspects, everyone knows what Armstrong was trying to say, and it remains one of the most memorable statements ever made. When did Armstrong think to say it, and what influenced him?

The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins, in a scene in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, leaps over the creature Gollum. Tokien describes this jump as 'not a great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.' The fact that Armstrong named his farm Rivendell (the elf sanctuary in the Rings trilogy) would seem to support this theory. However Armstrong says he only read Tolkien's books after 1969.

The plaque given to the two astronauts to place on the moon has the inscription,'We came in peace for all mankind," which may have sowed something of a seed in Armstrong's mind.

Armstrong says he thought of the statement only a few moments before stepping out of the LM. It was a spur of the moment thought which Armstrong says he merely associated with what he was doing - stepping out onto the moon.


Also fascinating in the Hansen biography is that the Columbia needed to rotate whilst flying between the moon and the Earth in order to prevent one side from becoming sizzling hot and the other from freezing.

All three astronauts concurred that the Earth did not only look beautiful, but incredibly fragile and vulnerable given their experience of space. They also felt a mutual sense that the terrestrial bickering made no sense from space when it was obvious that the planet was a shared home, a shared resource, and a treasure.

Paradigm Shift

While I have been for some years one of the many supporters of the idea that the moon landings were a hoax, I'd recommend Hansen's Life of Neil Armstrong. I admit that I am unsure what to believe, especially given Aldrin's admission that the LM's hull was 'so thin you could poke a pencil through it'.

What is indisputable is the character that Neil Armstrong was leading up to the Apollo 11 mission. Hansen confirms that Armstrong was unusually modest, and also a highly qualified engineer. Engineering - not science - brought about the lunar landing. Armstrong has also described himself as not a spaceman, or a pilot, but an engineer. In First Man Armstrong comes across as an intelligent, mild-mannered and decent fellow.

It may be that man's greatest achievement was the world's most expensive con. But if any man could have pulled it off, Neil Armstrong could. His bravery and patience taking over manual control of the LM whilst running out of fuel and with alarms going off, say much about his salt. In the end, the LM landed with less than a minute of fuel remaining. It landed in a cloud of dust which made visibility impossible, and landed so softly, both astronauts on board weren't absolutely sure they had even touched down until they cut the rocket.


The Moon - by the guys who went there.
What the hell happened to the first man on the moon?

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