Things you may not have known about Apollo 11

Originally posted at in 2009, the original post appears to be gone, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, I present it for your consideration.

24 – During Apollo liftoffs, NASA VIPs sat 3.5 miles away from the pad, since if the rocket exploded, it would do so with 4/5ths the power of an atomic bomb, meaning 100-pound shrapnel thrown a radius of 3 miles. Neil Armstrong recently commented that today, Americans are shocked when the Shuttle doesn’t work every time, but during Apollo, NASA employees were always surprised when the Saturn did.

23 – The threat of pad catastrophe was so imminent that NASA engineered a number of methods to rescue the crew. There was an entirely separate 3-rocket assembly attached to the nose cone of the capsule, ready to launch the men off their booster, deploy the chutes, and drift into an Atlantic splashdown. There were 600-feet-per-minute high-speed elevators which would be met by armored personnel carriers, and a cable car attached to a slide wire which could carry all three men 2500 feet at 50 mph away from the immolating missile to a rubber-walled below-ground bunker.

22 – There was one prayer at the start of every NASA mission shared by astronaut crew and ground control engineers alike: “Dear Lord, please don’t let me [screw] up.”

21 – During countdown, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins sat in absolute silence for 30 minutes.

20 – As his rocket rose into the sky, Saturn V overseer Wernher von Braun recited, aloud, the Lord’s Prayer with tears in his eyes. He then turned to a colleague and offered, “You give me $10 billion and 10 years and I’ll have a man on Mars.”

19 – The computers aboard each of the Apollo 11 spaceships had less power than today’s cellphones.

18 – Those who believed American astronauts were daredevil cowboys would be surprised by what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made sure to bring with them on this mission: Slide rules.

17 – Instead of watching his dad on television during the flight, Mike Collins only wanted to play with his pet bunny, Snowball; after ignoring almost everything about Apollo 11, Marky Armstrong looked up from what he was doing at one point, realized that it was his dad who was on the TV screen, and ran over to hug it.

16 – Much of the heroics needed by astronauts went into enduring what was arguably the world’s worst camping trip. Drinking water was a fuel-cell by-product, but Apollo 11’s hydrogen gas filters didn’t work, making every drink so bubbly that some believe the bravest man on the mission was the Navy frogman who opened the hatch after splashdown. NASA meals were vacuum-sealed in plastic. Cubes of cereal and cookies were eaten straight out of the bag, while freeze-dried entrees (a process that combined flash-freezing with vacuum-s*cking to remove all moisture) needed to be rehydrated through a nozzle with either hot or cold (and gassy) water and kneaded into a mash, which was then squeezed out like toothpaste and was as delicious as it sounds. Of the 2500 calories they were supposed to eat each day, an Apollo crewman averaged 1400. Urinating and d3fecating in zero gravity, meanwhile, were never successfully addressed by any NASA engineering triumph; the latter was so troublesome that agency doctors prescribed foods that produced as little waste as possible, and more than one astronaut spent their entire mission on lomotil to avoid the procedure entirely.

15 – As Aldrin and Armstrong monitored the landscape of their landing path, it became clear that something was off, that they were going to overshoot NASA’s carefully-plotted landing site by about 4 miles. Instead of a computer-controlled touchdown, Armstrong would have to land on the moon himself. During one of his lunar lander training sessions, however, he’d almost died, with 3/5ths of a second to spare. In the Apollo 11 touchdown, he would almost wholly run out of fuel. Astronaut Don Lind: “At the end, all we knew was that the LM was descending at 1 foot per second and scooting across the surface at 47 feet per second, with only about 60 seconds’ worth of descent fuel left. My heart was pounding so hard I was afraid they’d kick me out of the Astronaut Corps.”

14 – NASA’s simulator training worked so well that many astronauts would calm themselves during real-world crises by thinking, “This is just like a simulation.”

13 – In case of disaster, William Safire prepared a speech which President Nixon would have given as the astronauts lived out their final hours. It began: Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. And it concluded: For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

12 – The “one small step for man” wasn’t actually that small. The commander had set his ship down so gently that the legs’ shock absorbers hadn’t deployed, and the bottom of the ladder was 3.5 feet away from the Moon’s surface. Armstrong first stepped onto one of Eagle’s footpads and hoisted himself back onto the ladder to make sure he could get back to his ship before taking the ’small step,’ and then warned Aldrin about how big a drop it actually was.

11 – Armstrong’s first assignment was to immediately grab a rock just in case there was an emergency abort. Instead, he became so engrossed in taking pictures that Mission Control had to nag him 3 times about the sample. Aldrin, meanwhile, had to remember not to lock the door after exiting the LM, since there was no outside handle. When it was his turn with the Hasselblad, Aldrin took very few pictures of Armstrong, all of them a small figure in a vast panorama featuring the Lunar Module. There is today only one good photograph of Neil Armstrong on the moon — one he took himself, reflected in Aldrin’s gold visor.

10 – Armstrong later confessed to astronaut Alan Bean that their next task was the most difficult and frightening one of all: planting the American flag. It turned out that, contrary to many geologists’ conjecture, the moon’s surface (at least in the Sea of Tranquility where Eagle had landed) was a thin sweep of dust covering hard, dense, impenetrable rock. After pounding and sweating away at the task for much too long, Aldrin and Armstrong could only get their flagpole in a few inches. Both were convinced that, live on television with billions watching, they would step back from the flag — which was torsoed with wires to always wave erect in the vacuum of the moon — only to see it topple over into the dust. Amstrong tried patting a mound of dirt at the base to stabilize it, but the situation was so dicey that he and Aldrin spent the rest of their moonwalk carefully avoiding it. NASA had kept secret the manufacturer of the moon flag, insisting that they were bought anonymously. But the president of flag-maker Annin uncovered that it had come Sears, an exclusively Annin retailer. He begged the agency’s Public Affairs Office to publicly acknowledge this, but NASA refused. They said, “We don’t want another Tang.”

9 – Returning to the LM, Aldrin and Armstrong had now worked for over 24 hours nonstop, and needed to sleep. But there was a constant racket from the interior system pumps and the micrometeorites exploding like hail on the LM’s mylar skin. Aldrin: “It was very chilly in there. After about 3 hours it became unbearable. We could have raised the window shades and let the light in to warm us, but that would have destroyed any remaining possibility of sleeping.” Armstrong found that his hammock put him directly in the line of sight of the craft’s telescope, which at that moment was focused on the Earth. For the exhausted but restless flyer, it seemed as if a huge, unblinking blue eye was staring down at him.

8 – Orbiting overhead in the mothership Columbia, Mike Collins, meanwhile, had spent countless hours peering through the sextant trying to determine his crewmates’ landing spot, but he still didn’t know where Eagle was, exactly … and Houston didn’t know, either. The next morning, Collins radioed, “You’ve given up looking for the LM, right?” and Houston replied, “Affirmative.”

7 – Astronaut Nurse Dolores “Dee” O’Hara: The astronauts “have something, yes, that something that men have for whom death is a toy to play with, or who have seen something you haven’t seen. The ones who have been up, especially. They have something, a sort of wild look, I would say, as if they had fallen in love with a mystery up there, sort of as if they haven’t got their feet back on the ground, as if they regret having come back to us … a rage at having come back to earth. As if up there they’re not only freed from weight, from the force of gravity, but from desires, affections, passions, ambitions, from the body. Did you know that for months John [Glenn] and Wally [Schirra] and Scott [Carpenter] went around looking at the sky? You could speak to them and they didn’t answer, you could touch them on the shoulder and they didn’t notice; their only contact with the world was a dazed, absent, happy smile. They smiled at everything and everybody, and they were always tripping over things. They kept tripping over things because they never had their eyes on the ground.”

6 – In the wake of Apollo 11, the speaker at one NASA scientific banquet was British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who had predicted in 1948 that, once a picture of the earth from space had been made, a whole new way of thinking would result. He told the attendees: “You have noticed how, quite suddenly, everybody has become seriously concerned to protect the natural environment. It happened almost overnight, and one can understand how one can ask the question, ‘Where did this idea come from?’ You could say, of course, from biologists, from conservationists, from ecologists, but after all, they’ve really been saying these things for many years past, and previously they’ve never even got on base. Something new has happened to create a worldwide awareness of our planet as a unique and precious place. It seems to me more than a coincidence that this awareness should have happened at exactly the moment man took his first step into space.”

5 – Though JFK had publicly announced, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do these other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” privately, he would ask, “Can you fellows invent some other race here on earth that will do some good?” and commented about getting a man on the moon: “The cost, that’s what gets me.” Twice, Kennedy would propose to Khrushchev that the two merge their efforts in a join US-USSR mission to the moon, but the Russians, not wanting the West to see the limits of their military technology, declined.

4 – Lyndon Johnson’s budget director informed the president, in great detail, the vast amount of money that would be saved by not going to the Moon before 1970. But Johnson demurred, insisting he owed it to John Kennedy to make that deadline.

3 – Soon after President Kennedy’s assassination, his widow sat down with Teddy White for an interview which remained unpublished until 1995, a year after her death. Jackie commented on the various memorial plans that, “I’ve got everything I want; I have that flame in Arlington National Cemetery and I have the Cape. I don’t care what people say. I want that flame, and I wanted his name on just that one booster, the one that would put us ahead of the Russians … that’s all I wanted.”

2 – Fearing a public relations calamity, NASA never allowed Armstrong, Aldrin, or Collins to ever fly again.

1 – Since 1981, the Pentagon’s annual space budget has been bigger than NASA’s.

The Overview Effect: Seeing Earth from the Outside

Writer Frank White coined the term “The Overview Effect” to describe the deep changes that astronauts experience once they see Earth from space. He said, “In 1968, Apollo 8 went to the Moon. They didn’t land, but they did circle the Moon; I was watching it on television and at a certain point one of the astronauts casually said: we are going to turn the camera around and show you the Earth. And he did. And that was the first time I had ever seen the planet hanging in space like that. And it was profound.”


Apollo 8: Earthrise. ©Nasa

Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell said,

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

But you don’t need to have gone into space to have obtained that awareness; some forward-thinking individuals divined the importance of our island earth from their armchairs. In 1948, British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle predicted the change of viewpoint when he said,

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available, we shall, in an emotional sense, acquire an additional dimension… Once let the sheer isolation of the Earth become plain to every man, whatever his nationality or creed, and a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”

Subsequent to Apollo 11, Hoyle spoke at a NASA scientific banquet and said,

“You have noticed how, quite suddenly, everybody has become seriously concerned to protect the natural environment. It happened almost overnight, and one can understand how one can ask the question, ‘Where did this idea come from?’ You could say, of course, from biologists, from conservationists, from ecologists, but after all, they’ve really been saying these things for many years past, and previously they’ve never even got on base. Something new has happened to create a worldwide awareness of our planet as a unique and precious place. It seems to me more than a coincidence that this awareness should have happened at exactly the moment man took his first step into space.”

A recent short documentary, Overview, collects statements from many astronauts who have had this unique experience.

With his famous essay on “The Pale Blue Dot,” Carl Sagan captured the essence of this effect, without himself ever having been in space physically, although he probably plumbed the universe more deeply in his mind than the vast body of humanity.


“… Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known…”.
– Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Recently published at YouTube was a video of the final message of Wubbo Johannes Ockels (March 28, 1946 – May 18, 2014), who was a Dutch physicist and an astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA), riding on Space Shuttle STS-61-A, and becoming the first Dutch citizen in space. After his astronaut career, Ockels was professor of Aerospace for Sustainable Engineering and Technology at the Delft University of Technology. On May 29, 2013 it was announced that Ockels had an aggressive form of kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) with a metastasis in his pleural cavity, and a life expectancy of one to two years. He died from complications of cancer on May 18, 2014, one day after making this video.

A transcript in English of Dr. Ockels’ remarks follows.

“We need some luck. Some other spacecraft. Something, because with what we have now, it’s going to be finished. As an astronaut, you feel excluded to a particular group of people. And those are the people in the majority. They are you, not being aware of the danger in which you live.

But now suppose I’m going to change all of you. Suppose I can transfer the experience which I have to you. Then you would go out and see the earth, and you would see the blue sky, not the blue sky which you see when you go outside; in space you see that you are the only one. The only planet. You have no spare. And so you have to take care of this one only planet.

Our earth has cancer. I have cancer too. And most people with cancer, they die. When in fact, everybody will die. If we make enough people to continuously survive mankind on the earth, we need to conserve our own planet, and you when you have the spirit and the insight and the attitude of an astronaut, you start to love the earth in a way that other people can’t. And if you really love something, you don’t want to lose it.

You know, my wife, she doesn’t want to lose me. She wants to do everything to let me stay alive. That’s the love and attitude which human kind should have to the earth. We do not have 50% of our roofs covered with solar. We do not have more than half of our cars electric. We certainly do not have a production in which there is a reasonable amount of material recycled. We don’t have all these things.

And then the question comes, ” OK, well what’s wrong?” Well, what’s wrong is the mindset. I’m sure, but I can’t claim it, but when I heard 18 April 2013 that I had a very bad cancer, damn kidney cancer, and also changed into a sarcomatoid, which means that, you know, which to slip through all kinds of things [by this he meant metastasis], and this, the doctor, beautiful doctor, and he said you have a fair amount of time. And of course each time I asked him, “what does ‘fair’ mean?” and then he was not very accurate, but he said, “Well, months, maybe a year.”

I got over a year, a good year, because I believed that the good future, and I believed, you know, you can do things with the power, with the mind power. We, we people coming from the same molecules out of one bloody strong star which bursted out, we who have developed over billions of years, life, life, is made by we, we humanity are so strong that we can save the earth – but we also can destroy it. Even a small thing does something.

The overwhelming burden of experience from those who have been outside the Earth’s atmosphere is that this little planet we live on is the only home we have, and we need to take care of it. Even if you happen to be a person of faith, taking the chiliastic view that we don’t need to worry about the Earth because God is going to come down and take care of everything strikes me as irresponsible, and unfair to future generations. Western Artist Stan Lynde captured my own sentiments decades ago:


While efforts are being made by forward-thinking individuals to reduce the damage we’re doing to our planet, there is still much to be done. We owe it to future generations to make a difference now. “Drill, baby, drill” just doesn’t do it for me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Memories of the Hayden Planetarium

I grew up in New York City in the 50s. My mother was a Utah girl who had dreams of going to the Big City to become an actress, and by dint of sheer determination she did just that; but while her roots were in the West, she did her best to make sure her offspring (me) was given as much cosmopolitan exposure as possible. This included regular visits to the Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium.

I have posted a couple of the images below before, but I thought I’d get a few thoughts about this wonderful place of education down in one place. Other images have been gathered from various places around the internet; I have tried to give appropriate attribution where available.

The centerpiece of the Planetarium was the Zeiss projector.

1956, Planetarium 1

Publicity shot for “Pepper Young’s Wife”, TV-Radio Mirror, March 1957, showing the Zeiss Mark II projector in use at the planetarium from 1935 to 1960.

Sitting in the auditorium, watching that behemoth rise up out of the floor, and seeing the stars and planets and nebulæ and galaxies swirling around the ceiling long before Heinlein had written Have Space Suit, Will Travel fired my imagination and gave me a longing to know about what was out there. I remember one show where they gave the audience a little controller and asked them to try aligning two objects in freefall, much the same as a space docking maneuver… it was a great lesson in the nature of inertia.


The control booth of the Star Theatre. I loved that flashlight the operator had which would project a little arrow on the dome – a precursor to today’s laser pointers.

Around the planetarium, as with the modern version and others like it around the country, were scattered various exhibits that I would stare at for hours.

1956, Planetarium 2

Here I am mugging for the photographer (“Look excited! Look excited!”), but it wasn’t much of an acting job. I loved looking at that rocket. A color postcard of the same scene is below:


Photo of a planetarium postcard by Andy Porter. Caption reads, “THE VIKING ROCKET. This authentic 45 foot precision instrument is an actual rocket composed in part of sections recovered from the wreckage of Vikings built by the Martin Company of Baltimore and used by the Navy to probe the upper atmosphere. A rocket like this reached an altitude of 158 miles in May 1954.”


Photo above and text from the archives of the Museum of Natural History: In 1955, the “most notable event of the year” at the Hayden Planetarium was the opening of the Viking Rocket exhibition. “One of the pioneer exploratory vehicles of the Space Age,” according to a 1961 Museum publication, the rocket was one of 12 that launched from 1945 to 1955, allowing new research on Earth’s upper atmosphere to be conducted.

The next exhibit that comes to mind was the orrery in the Copernican room; the original theatre was outfitted with folding chairs.


From a postcard. The description on the back reads: “Copernican Room showing solar system. Animated model of the solar system showing the sun in the center, and six of the nine known planets revolving around it. The planets also rotate on their axes as the real planets rotate, moving always at the correct relative speeds. Circling the Earth is a smaller globe, the moon, while Mars has two moons. Jupiter is shown with four of its eleven moons, and Saturn with five of its nine. Around the walls are shown the twelve zodiacal constellations and in the center of the floor a reproduction of the Aztec Calendar Stone.”

This model, while not to scale and not terribly dynamic, was intriguing in that it represented the orbits of the planets in real time. That meant slowly.  The planets would change imperceptibly, with the inner rocky planets changing somewhat between visits, and the outer planets moving hardly at all. The sun glowed a deep orange.


Closeup of Saturn with five of its then-known nine moons, 10/10/1935. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

It is of interest to note that we have since identified 67 moons of Jupiter, and 62 around Saturn.


American Museum of Natural History Library, image #327132 March 1960. Later, the room was transformed into a more formal auditorium.


The Aztec Calendar Stone

In another room was a place where you could weigh yourself on a series of scales which would show your weight on the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Each scale glowed a different color, and to the eyes of a five-year-old, these were some of the most wondrous things in existence. Cards were provided with which to record your individual results.


Image from Popular Science, August 1952. Explanation from the Hayden Planetarium at their Facebook page:

“Another innovation, which has proved of great popular interest, was an exhibit illustrating the principles of the force of gravity by means of six specially calibrated scales showing the actual weight of the visitor on different planets. In this undertaking the Planetarium enjoyed the cooperation of the Toledo Scales Company.”
– American Museum of Natural History Annual Report July 1950-June 1951

John Pazmino of NYSkies Astronomy pointed out that the effect of different weights was done just at the level of the display, not internally. In other words, the needle went to the same angle on each scale, and only the numbers in the background varied.

The exhibit was later updated and modernized:


American Museum of Natural History Library image #334305 September 1969

Like any good museum, there were souvenirs to be had.


From the collection of Tom Lesser.  I would swear on a stack of waffles that I had one of these; Heaven only knows what happened to it. I was too young at the time to appreciate much astronomy, but nowadays there are some wonderful planetarium and space-exploration programs available online and offline both.

know I had one of these keychain perpetual calendars, and loved it:


Again, sadly, lost in the mists of time.

The Willamette Meteorite was on display as well:

Willamette Meteorite

That is one huge hunk of extraterrestrial iron.

Many, many more photos can be seen at the Original Hayden Planetarium’s Facebook page. The ones I have gathered here represent my clearest memories, but the original planetarium had much more to offer. It was a place of wonder and delight. On my next trip to New York, I must be sure to visit the modern incarnation and see what has happened in the last 60 years or so.

The Old Wolf has spoken.