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Tag Archive: Apollo program astronauts


Feel like you’re late to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing?  In addition to online and televised events we discussed yesterday here at borg, you have several other ways to look back at Apollo 11 this week as we approach the anniversary of the Moonshot this Saturday.

Last year’s Todd Miller documentary Apollo 11 is back in theaters for a limited engagement.  Check local listings or the film website here for participating theaters.  Also in select theaters is the new documentary Armstrong, narrated by Harrison Ford.  Both Apollo 11 and Armstrong are also available now on Vudu.  Based on James R. Hansen’s book, the movie First Man, although neither an uplifting, exciting, or celebratory film about Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong, it does illustrate the personal toll, the lives lost, and the downside of life as an astronaut (probably save this one to view without the kids).  On Netflix, you’ll find a different but fascinating angle in Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo.  National Geographic’s Apollo: Missions to the Moon, Apollo’s Moonshot, and Al Reinert’s For All Mankind can be rented or purchased on Vudu.  And The Lunar Rover: Apollo’s Final Challenge is available for viewing free right now on Vudu.  Most of these can also be viewed with Amazon Prime.

You can get any book these days overnighted to you from Amazon.  Just beware there are a lot of substandard books out there and many self-published without any actual insight into Apollo 11.  Many others are highly recommended.  Just after the Moonshot Apollo 11 command pilot Michael Collins wrote an autobiographical account, Carrying the Fire, available in a new edition.  Collins also recommends Jim Donovan’s Shoot for the MoonNo Dream is Too High provides lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin’s personal life lessons from Apollo 11 and his life.  The historical account American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley has been praised by critics and historians including Doris Kearns Goodwin.  BBC science correspondent and ex-NASA astronomer David Whitehouse wrote Apollo 11: The Inside Story.  Jay Barbree has written the most definitive account of mission commander Neil Armstrong in his Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight.  And the most recent work on Apollo 11 is this year’s well-reviewed One Giant Leap by Charles Fishman.

Get the new stamps and pre-order your own first day covers from the U.S. Post Office here (the yellow dot indicates Tranquility Base, landing site of the Eagle).  And don’t forget the U.S. Mint still is selling its 50th anniversary commemorative coins.  See our discussion of them earlier this year here at borg.  Stay away from the original memorabilia unless you’re an expert–fakes are for sale all over the Internet this year, especially items like space-flown patches and astronaut autographs.

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It seems like something big is going to happen Saturday, right?  With CBS providing stream re-broadcasting in real-time the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969–heading 234,000 miles to the Moon, until Neil Armstrong’s foot first hit the dust of the Moon’s surface four days later on July 20, 1969–a viewer glued to their computer or streaming TV could convince himself/herself that it’s all happening right now.

Most Earthlings today, and certainly Americans of the past few generations now only know of Walter Cronkite from his inclusion as himself with historical CBS footage spliced by Ron Howard into his film Apollo 13.  Cronkite, long thought one of the best broadcast journalists of all time, was a staple in homes for decades, and as anyone new to the Apollo 11 project will find, was the key hand-holder of the public as they first witnessed humanity’s greatest adventure.  Spliced between news coverage for new viewers and fans of all things retro may appreciate the vintage TV commercials all just as they originally aired.  Astronaut Wally Schirra accompanied Cronkite for the broadcast.  U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew spoke after the launch, which was also attended by then-former President Lyndon Johnson.

Check here and your local news for events nationwide this week celebrating the 50th anniversary event–every city and science center has some kind of commemoration.  Twenty-five years ago I worked at the Smithsonian Institution at the Milestones of Flight display at site of the Apollo 11 capsule for the countdown to the Moonshot, which was accompanied by speeches from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, the Vice President Dan Quayle and other dignitaries, and I was able to see the Armstrong spacesuit as a worker behind the scenes firsthand.  Twenty-five years later the capsule, the Command Module Columbia, is still on display across from the Wright Brothers Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air and Space Museum.  Armstrong’s spacesuit has been restored this year and was unveiled in a new display yesterday at the museum, unveiled by Vice President Mike Pence and members of Armstrong’s family.  The suit remains one of the most important objects in the history of humans.

You can find the complete official NASA-sponsored events at the NASA website here, with many opportunities in Washington, DC, and via the Internet for those at home.  Today’s #1 astronaut, the recently retired Peggy Whitson, holder of several Earth records for her space travels, can be found as part of the television coverage of the week.  Cronkite’s account of the moon landing and moonwalk will stream again on July 20 at 3:17 p.m. and 9:56 p.m. Central.  Re-live, again, or view for the first time, the lift-off coverage by CBS here:

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Apollo 14

I have been lucky enough to meet three Apollo astronauts and one of those was Edgar Mitchell (pictured above, right), who passed away this week in Florida at age 85.  Forty-five years ago–February 5, 1971, he landed on the Moon.  I met him at Planet Comicon in 2004 and quickly learned he was not an ordinary convention guest by any definition.  Sure, all astronauts seem to walk and talk like daredevils, and he was only the sixth of twelve men to walk on the Moon’s surface.  But Dr. Mitchell also came away from his Moonwalk with a universal view of life different than any other astronaut before or since, and left NASA to spend the rest of his life exploring the strange and the paranormal.  For Mitchell, it was not a question of aliens having visited Earth, the question was “where did they come from?”

Ed Mitchell was born near Roswell, New Mexico.  A member of Boy Scouts and DeMolay, he completed flight training in Hutchinson, Kansas, and went on to fly Douglas A3 Skywarriors in Okinawa, serving aboard both the USS Bon Homme Richard and the USS Ticonderoga.  He earned a degree in industrial management before joining the U.S. Navy, and after taking his basic training in San Diego, he earned an aeronautical engineering degree and then a doctorate of science in aeronautics and astronautics.

Edgar Mitchell Apollo 14

He was selected to be an astronaut in 1966, and was the backup Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 10, and then the actual Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 14.  A month before I was born, in February 1971, he spent two days with Alan Shepard, the first American in space, sharing the longest time humans ever have walked on the surface of the moon.  It’s the journey well-known for Shepard hitting a golf ball across the lunar surface.  On his way back to Earth, Dr. Mitchell had an epiphany of sorts.  He sensed a greater, universal consciousness and a connection.  He retired the next year and spent his life exploring the consciousness and paranormal phenomena.  He frequently spoke of his beliefs in extra-sensory perception, of a government cover-up of alien life, that an alien craft did crash at Roswell, and that the Cold War was in part prevented by extra-terrestrials–our experiments in atomic weapons drew alien visitors to Earth.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, is the 1972 novel that was adapted into the television series The Six Million Dollar Man.  Long out of print, it is only available today via libraries or used online bookstores.  I managed to track down a copy via Amazon.com for only a few dollars.  My assumption was that this would be a dated story, but that it could be similar to the novels that it claimed to be like in its cover statement “In the explosive tradition of the The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man.”  Both The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man were by Michael Crichton, and having enjoyed both of those years ago I figured this was worth a try.  I was more than happy with this book.

First, it is a medical thriller more than a dramatic work of science fiction. Cyborg focuses on the details of witnessing the crash of a NASA stunt vehicle and an Air Force emergency response team’s reaction to a man who barely survived such a crash.  More than anything I have read before, this absolutely reads like an early Michael Crichton novel, including his way of incorporating scientific details, but not too much detail to bore the reader.  Cyborg has characters you care about, characters dropped into strange circumstances made very real.

Caidin’s description of the crash was as an eye-witness of sorts, and the first three chapters read like nonfiction.  Written before the space shuttle program, this type of mission reflected real missions of the time between the days of Apollo and the shuttle program, honing the technology leading to the first real mission with Space Shuttle Columbia.  Shockingly, the crash scene is like a foreseen account of the actual real-life disaster of the Columbia space shuttle.  The gritty realism of the first three chapters sets up the reader for a believable entry into the un-real that follows.

Colonel Steve Austin is a stunt pilot who had already served as astronaut on the last moon mission, the last man to walk the surface of the moon.  Waiting to go off as an astronaut on some Skylab mission he is now at a Mojave Desert test launch, which is vividly described.  Jan Richards is his girlfriend, all too familiar with being the spouse of an astronaut and the circumstances that come about on launch days, and although she has been there before, she is still nervous.  We learn quickly that Colonel Austin is a stunt pilot every bit like the Chuck Yeager as detailed in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  He is confident if not cocky.  Like Han Solo, in response to his girlfriend’s “I love you, Steve Austin,” he responds, “Same here.”

The fact that author Martin Caidin actually participated in the real-life NASA counterpart to the program in which Austin crashes adds a heightened realism to the novel.  Caidin was on site when a pilot suffered a similar terrible accident–the same type of disaster that aired at the beginning of each Six Million Dollar Man episode and makes up the first part of the novel.

Steve Austin, seriously injured as a triple amputee, gets not prosthetics, but improved-upon artificial limbs and an artificial eye.  But first we get accounts of medical triage, a play by play account of the cutting off of Austin’s blood loss, the overall success of protecting the body from burns because of the NASA flight suit, loss of both his legs and left arm, loss of eye through metal debris in the cockpit, skull damage, jaw damage, skin damage, assessment of respiratory damage, standard procedures from placing the intubation tube to removing the space suit from what remains of his body.

Doctor Milton Ashburn, head of emergency response, after hours go by, finally utters the words “He’ll live.”  But then all the conflict and story begins, starting from the lowest of places: “If you love that man like I do… then pray that he dies.”

If you’ve seen people recovering from surgeries, it is all about pain and lots of recuperation time.  It’s what I thought was missing for the first third of the book, then Caidin goes into detail about nerve endings and compensation for missing limbs.  To the layman even in 2012 it all seems to make sense.  Instead of brushing over the details of creating a cybernetic organism–a cyborg–he details all the processes and only in the last 20 percent of the novel do we get to the reason the government is willing to pay $6 million to keep this one man alive, and more than that, make him superhuman.  It is of course to make him a super soldier.

As storytelling is concerned, Cyborg is part Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, part Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Sphere, part Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage.  There is something exciting when a team of experts in varying fields come together to achieve some purpose that no one initially believes will work.  It’s the formula that worked so well several times for Michael Crichton.

The second third of the novel brings the realization that this in a real and thoughtful sense is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only it is the story you can imagine a young 19th century author wanted to tell, as she obviously thought this type of medicine would be possible one day.  As the science is concerned, if it was not exactly possible to do in 1972, it certainly could be more possible today.  Despite the fact that this was written before the pervasiveness of computing, Caidin includes many references to computers, to micro-electronics that would one day be microchips, and bionics that would one day become the beginning of nanotechnology.

Once we get past months of recovery, recuperation, and therapy, and Austin getting to know his new body and abilities, the last third of the novel is a cross between Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger mixed with any number of 1960s military intelligence operation stories, like The Guns of Navarone.  First Austin goes on a deep-sea mission, using mechanical dolphins, off the coast of Surinam.  He then moves on to a desert mission in North Africa–a Seal Team Six type operation mixed with a True Lies international arms story where Austin teams with an Israeli soldier named Tamara.   The ending is about survival, and whereas Austin upon learning of his triple amputee state remarked that the doctors should have let him die, when he finally is left in a hopeless situation he learns he really wants to stay alive.

Great survival references are included in the final chapters including a bit about the real-life B-24 bomber downed decades ago in the desert called the Lady Be Good (documented in an episode of the History Channel’s History’s Mysteries in the 1990s).

Cyborg is surprisingly not dated considering it was written in 1972.  There is the odd focus on male-female relationships reflecting 1970s men-women workplace relations, but nothing as cringeworthy as I’ve read in 1950s pulp novels.  It probably helps that Caidin doesn’t spend any time on things like clothing descriptions, the very thing that makes the TV series a bit hard to watch today.

I’ve had the fortune of meeting and talking to three of the 12 surviving United States Apollo program astronauts who flew to the moon, and their confidence and character were well mimicked by Caidin’s account of the fictional Colonel Austin.  Clearly Caidin spent time with these guys in real life, and it is reflected in his book.

Cyborg is a great candidate for re-issue.  The TV series opening episodes follow the novel very well, with only the most minor of differences, like which arm that is lost and replaced.  It was also good to see that Phil Hester and Kevin Smith’s Bionic Man comic book series, which we review here periodically, is faithful to the spirit of both the series and novel, although it takes more of the TV series changes on in its monthly story.