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Tag Archive: Apollo space program


cernan-2017

Yesterday the last man to walk on the Moon, Apollo 17 commander Capt. Eugene Cernan, passed away at age 82.  Of the 24 men who visited the Moon and the 12 that walked on its surface Cernan leaves only six remaining men who actually walked on the Moon’s surface: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Dave Scott (Apollo 15), John Young (Apollo 16), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).  A three-time space traveler, Cernan was the pilot on Apollo 10 and had previously flown on a Gemini mission.  He served as backup crew for Gemini 12, Apollo 7, and Apollo 14.

“Curiosity is the essence of human existence and exploration has been part of humankind for a long time.  The exploration of space, like the exploration of life, if you will, is a risk.  We’ve got to be willing to take it,”  Cernan said.  Cernan passed away on the annual day America observed the contributions of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he, too, recently recounted a dream.  “I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream.  Today what’s most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality.”

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The best tribute to Cernan and his contemporaries is the continuing exploration and discovery missions of NASA, which will be the subject of several documentaries this year on PBS.  In particular, August will be a big month for space aficionados.

The documentary The Farthest will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager space program.  As discussed extensively previously here at borg.com, the Voyager probes continue their role as the farthest humans have stretched their technology into space.  The only objects to ever enter interstellar space are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.  Voyager 2 was the first to launch forty years ago, on August 20, 1977.

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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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Apollo 13 and President Nixon

Ask anyone who was alive in 1969 what their most vivid memory of a world event was and they’ll likely come up with word of President Kennedy’s assassination or the Apollo 11 moon landing.  To go back in time and replay the mission events that led up to Michael Collins dropping Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface would be nothing but exciting.  This weekend we remember that moon mission that did not result in a lunar landing, Apollo 13, a mission that has been called NASA’s “most successful failure” for the achievement of NASA scientists and three other astronauts:  Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell.

Forty-five years ago the world waited to find out whether these astronauts would make it back to Earth, as chronicled in documentaries like the History Channel’s Man, Moment, Machine: Apollo 13 – Triumph on the Dark Side of the Moon and Ron Howard’s modern classic blockbuster Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon.  But what if Apollo 11 had encountered a similar fate?

In the summer of 1969 the Nixon administration contemplated that outcome.  If something, anything happened to the astronauts on Apollo 11, how would America respond to such a disaster?  Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote a speech for Nixon to be broadcast if Apollo 11 didn’t make it back–specifically if astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were somehow stranded on the Moon.

Apollo 11 mission control

To promote a news series on famous letters on the BBC, actor Benedict Cumberbatch read Nixon’s speech–a “what if?” that we’re fortunate never was actually read by the President.  Here’s Cumberbatch (affecting an American accent) performing the reading:

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