Sunday, July 20, 2014

First Man - On the Moon draft


Every once and a while is time to remember why this site is called Moon Traveller Herald. It is a nod to the first lunar landing. It occurred on July 20, 1969, and for me, there are things that happened before and things that happened later, but that moment was the great pivot point of the modern world as it was a certain apex of technology. Hasn't really been surpassed, has it? Those days brought pictures not just of the moon, but of earth as seen from the moon. And that has been a repeating theme of Moon Traveller Herald – to look at things as at the remove of the moon.

Steady, skilled experience – cool, calm, collected, focused and dedicated was Neil Armstrong. Everything seemed to put him on path to being the first man on the moon, a trip that itself has some major tension. How did he get there?

*He built models. Bigger and bigger, as  a boy. He had his pilot's license before he was 16, before he had a driver's license.  May have once damaged plane on power lines while landing. Had to get a hay truck to tow rented plane home.

*A carrier pilot, In Korea, barge balloon n antiaircraft cable cut off 6 to 8 feet of his wing. He stabilized plane and ejected over ocean.

*He went where no X-15 pilot had ever gone: Over Pasadena. In X-15, nose too high (he was concerned about experiment, one he'd helped create), bouncing back into space, thus with no aeronautic controls. But he waited it out, and successfully landed. He had tremendous focus.

*In first US space docking, with Athena, when onboard Gemini thruster malfunctioned (stuck, kept firing), and the combine went hurly-burly (1-revolution-per-sec),  he knew where the switches were, what they did, all in a terrible spin. "He activated a solution under extreme circumstances and I got to say It was my lucky day to be flying with Mr. Neil Armstrong" said Gemini  8 co-pilot David Scott, on a PBS special.

*Can forget the last-second ejection from the crashing Flying Bedstead.. and afterword to go back and do some paperwork, with no remark on the event to a his office colleague.

This summer I have been "at a remove" - reading a biography of the Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong: First Man. A remove since I partook via book on tape/CD, as I made many commutes to South Shore of Boston. Humming along in my PT Cruiser, set the controls for lunar excursion, yknow. Not just a remove, it has been a walk in time, as my friend Sam Burkhardt would say, as I grew up along with the space program, and probably a technology writer now as a result.

The book is a look at a man who was something of a cypher. He was a technical hero - but in his era you had to be literally brave too. By that I mean it was not just technology that took us to the moon. It was guts too.  First Man was an able survey of the mix that was Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong had the Midwestern pilot drone attitude down cold. He was seen as cool but there also burned a fire. Both cool and hot was the first human on the moon.

Coming in for a landing did he think of his landings - not all pretty - as a boy in Ohio?He'd been at it since he was young, getting a pilot's licence and a driver's license at about the same time. No, he would not be thinking of Ohio, the airport, and phone or electrical lines to avoid - but what he learned there, in Korea, at Edwards Air Force Base in the California dessert - it all no doubt was with him on that moon landing. 

Uninterruptible, he was deep thinking as always on the fateful night , and going to land that thing come hell or high water. There were alarms going off - fuel was running short. And he wouldn't look at any of those things too intendly - not to be distracted. For me, this book is the story of how he got there. 

Before the moon, before Projects Gemini and Apollo, Armstrong was already a famed test pilot. His coolness when a prototype model LEM blew up [he ejected from the Lunar Landing Test Vehicle (LLTV) with not much time to spare] was part of his legend.There are arguments as to how the accident occurs - I defy you looking at the video to place yourself in his shoes ( and tell me what you would have done ) - as it turns out the test pilot lot is a snipey one - it goes with the territory - to argue about what could have been differently - chewing on the cud of catastrophe, ultimately, to gain insight that might save your own behind one day.  

One of many surprises: Armstrong saw his trip and its meaning in the light of the ecology thinking of the day - as a call to think in terms of the Spaceship Earth.(To be continued.)

If find myself on the old Interstate this summer I actually am not reading "First Man" but am instead listening to it as book on tape (actually, a CD) as I commute. Interesting Mittyesque moments, those!

[[[[[[[[[[[[[ Note: This post is underconstruction....]]]]I am starting this post as a placekeeper to mark the date...45 years after the moon landing .. and I will peck away at finishing it, and adding pictures and such subsequently.


>50,000 ft up when the PDI commenced.
>Yaw right 10deg.
>Go for PDI.
>Powered Descent Insert.
>Buzz focused on the readouts.
>From the Nav computer.
>Eagle started down.
>One minute to ignition.
>13 minutes to landing.
>Neil, ever enigmatic.
>Buzz, on other hand, chattered all the time, "like a magpie".


His coolness when a prototype model LEM blew up [he ejected] was part of his legend. From this transcript I detect a call out that I take it as his descent engine had 30 sec of fuel left about 26 sec before he landed. Armstrong himself was a thinker, an engineer first, a pilot second, except when the opposite order was required. A difficult read. Isolated. On a mission. Norman Mailer, almost unable to describe Armstrong, the essential cypher, cam to the insight that he was "extraordinarily remote."


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