Tranquility Base, Revisited

We’re watching the real time feed of the Apollo 11 coverage. It’s awesome! I’m personally immersed and it’s surprisingly easy to pretend that this is going on right now. It’s nice to remember a time that America did great things. Mostly we’ve seen shots like this one. There’s clearly an alien or a stagehand or something moving around behind the faux lander.

Occasionally we see the simulation of what’s happening inside the capsule. I hate to admit that it looks hilarious. There might be an actual astronaut inside one of the fake suits. That would explain the muffled explanation.

Meanwhile, Armstrong is about to go EVA. They spent a startlingly long time waiting for the cabin to depressurize. And I’m wondering if there’s a guy in a moon man costume somewhere. That’s secret of a successful simulation. Preparation. Will there be moon men? Probably not, but you have to be ready for the unexpected.

Armstrong’s backing out of the lander, still seeing simulations.

Real picture. Very fuzzy. Cronkite thinks Armstrong’s stepped on the Moon. It’s not completely clear to me.

There it is. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Followed by a description of the sand. And the environment.

Now we’re seeing Armstrong bounding around in the low gravity. “That looks like fun” says Cronkite. Later he compares it to walking on a trampoline.

And Aldrin’s on the surface. Soon they’re going to move the camera.

Here’s a shot from the new camera position, with both astronauts.

And they’ve now planted the flag. The point is made that this is NOT the traditional claiming of territory; this is just a statement that we have been there and a reminder of what we’ve accomplished.

Finally, for this post, Armstrong and Aldrin get a congratulatory call from President Nixon. They haven’t been on the moon for an hour yet. If you haven’t watched this yourself, I can’t recommend it more strongly.

Now I’m going to just relax and enjoy. I hope you do too.

One Giant Leap for Mankind

Today is 20 July 2019; fifty years to the day that humans first set foot on another celestial body marking the culmination of the Space Race and one of humanity’s greatest technological achievements.

To commemorate the occasion, we’re flying a flag featuring the NASA Insignia, a streamlined version of the NASA seal. Other than the the fact that it contains text, the insignia is a perfect centerpiece for a flag. It’s striking without being too busy and it’s easy to sketch. It also has nice, clear symbolism.

From the NASA website:

The round red, white and blue insignia, nicknamed the “meatball,” was designed by employee James Modarelli in 1959, NASA’s second year. The design incorporates references to different aspects of the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The round shape of the insignia represents a planet. The stars represent space. The red v-shaped vector represents aeronautics. The circular orbit around the agency’s name represents space travel.

The Symbols of NASA
The NASA insignia and the more formal seal

We spent a decent amount of time deciding which flag to fly for the occasion. Our first thought was the Earth Day flag, and then an Earth Day flag with a stylized crescent moon and the southern cross, but neither of those seemed to feature the Moon clearly enough. There were other options, but the NASA flag seemed most appropriate.

The first two options above could be deemed “photograph flags” and, for my purposes, flying a flag based on a photograph seems fine. If any of the images below were available in flag form, we might have chosen it. Perhaps I’ll order one of these custom made for the 51st anniversary.

The flag played a prominent role in the Lunar Landing. One of the more dramatic moments was the raising of the flag, which I can clearly remember seeing on the teevee. I explicitly recall being puzzled about the flag’s behavior. It seemed to snap out with the top sticking straight out from the pole. I was only five, but this seemed strange. I’d seen flags before and they certainly didn’t do this. It must be something strange about space, I thought. Or the Moon. Or something else. Here’s the news footage.

Astronauts Plant the American Flag on the Moon.

Turns out the flag had its own “frame.” Five year old me missed that. If you have any doubts about the significance of the flag in this event, let’s turn to Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century. Published in 1986, this book is a collection of Clarke’s speculations about the state of life and technology on this very day. The first chapter is a fictional letter, written by Clarke himself, from his home in Clavius City, Luna on the book’s titular date. It begins thusly.

It doesn’t seem like fifty years – but I cannot be sure which memories are false and which are real. Present and past are inextricably entangled. The monitor screen has just shown the ceremony at Tranquility Base, culminating with the third hoisting of the American flag. It was blown down, of course, by the blast of the Eagle’s ascent stage, and lay there on the trampled Moon soil for thirty-six years until the Apollo Historical Committee reerected it. Then the big quake of 2009 knocked it down again; this time, we’re assured, it would take a direct hit by a fair-sized meteor to lower it…

Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century

It’s a romantic image; historical societies reerecting and preserving the flag for future generations to see and enjoy, but sadly, that may never come to pass. The condition of the flags on the moon is a subject of speculation. The conditions are harsh. The surface is bombarded with UV radiation without the protection we receive from Earth’s atmosphere and the temperature ranges from -280 to +240 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the flags could have disintegrated entirely. At a minimum, the flags must be so sun bleached that they are now completely white. At least as recently as 2012, however, there was evidence that the flags of Apollo 12, 16 and 17 were still standing. You can read about the condition of the flags in the links below.

References:

Apollo 11 on CBS News

In just a few minutes, it will be 20 July, 2019: the 50th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon. I’ve periodically looked for contemporary news coverage on YouTube. In particular, I’ve really wanted to see the interviews on CBS News with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a wealth of things on YouTube now. Here’s a sampling as our first commemoration of the semi-centennial of the first moon landing. I haven’t reviewed all of this yet; I may update the selection as I do.

This appears to be a comprehensive collection of all of the CBS coverage of the landing. It’s only the audio and it’s about 6 hours long.

Coverage of the launch, with video from 16 July 1969.  Arthur Clarke is on hand for some of this.  It looks like this started out as a live stream and it’s now up as a video.

Here’s the live stream of the CBS News Coverage, starting at 3:30 EDT.

This is the CBS coverage from the exact moments of the Moon landing. A bit more than 3 minutes.

And here are Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. About 4 minutes.

You can clearly hear Armstrong’s quote, “One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind.” Cronkite didn’t quite hear it all first time through. Of course, there were many people who thought it should be “One small step for a man…” Armstrong’s response? “That is what I meant to say and that is what I thought I said.”  It’s possible that he did say that.

Finally, the end of my personal quest, the interview with Clarke and Heinlein.

More tomorrow!