"Neil Armstrong: What Really Happened on the Moon"
December 9th, 2010
December 9th, 2010
If I ever wrote, "Today Neil Armstrong wrote in to say..." you can safely assume I'm either a) off my medication or b) I'd just won the space blogging equivalent of the lottery. For NPR blogger Robert Krulwich, it's the latter.
In an article he wrote for "Krulwich Wonders...," Krulwich pondered why the 1969 Apollo 11 astronauts didn't venture more than 90 yards from the Lunar Module. With a whole moon to explore, you'd think Armstrong and Aldrin would be hopping up the nearest mountain, or spelunking down a lunar skylight. Right?
It turns out that his wondering thoughts didn't go unanswered. NASA astronaut legend Neil Armstrong decided to respond to Krulwich's blog by sending him a long email with an uncharacteristically chatty tone.
In the message, Armstrong gave a wonderfully vivid explanation as to what it was like on the lunar surface and why Buzz and himself were limited by what they could do. Although much of Armstrong's text is a matter of historical record, as Krulwich says, "reading between the lines, I kinda think he wanted to do more, go further."
I personally found it really interesting to read a first-hand account of the harshness of the lunar environment. Also, I marveled at the amazing complexity of the 1960's technology they were using.
"It is true that we were cautious in our planning," Armstrong says in the email. "There were many uncertainties about how well our Lunar module systems and our Pressure suit and backpack would match the engineering predictions in the hostile lunar environment."
To ensure the Apollo astronauts stayed cool -- yes, cool, as pointed out by Armstrong: "We were operating in a near perfect vacuum with the temperature well above 200 degrees Fahrenheit" -- NASA had designed a water-cooling system that pumped water around the astronauts' bodies. But this was the first time it was being used, so there were uncertainties about its performance.
To verify the cooling system's performance after a lunar walk, the astronauts got back into the re-pressurized lunar module and "were able to drain and measure the remaining water in the backpacks to confirm the predicted," he points out.
To minimize any unforeseen incidents, the pair had a strict mission plan, but that didn't mean Armstrong didn't stray just a little:
Preflight planners wanted us to stay in TV range so that they could learn from our results how they could best plan for future missions. I candidly admit that I knowingly and deliberately left the planned working area out of TV coverage to examine and photograph the interior crater walls for possible bedrock exposure or other useful information. I felt the potential gain was worth the risk.
Although Armstrong is well-known for avoiding the public's gaze (in stark contrast with his Apollo partner's rapping, dancing and punching escapades), he has recently been very politically active in his defense of plans to return NASA astronauts to the moon. He reiterates his position on the matter:
During my testimony in May I said, "Some question why Americans should return to the Moon. "After all," they say "we have already been there." I find that mystifying. It would be as if 16th century monarchs proclaimed that "we need not go to the New World, we have already been there." [...] Americans have visited and examined 6 locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.
Of course, Armstrong has a point. Just because we've been to the moon doesn't mean we needn't go back. There's a huge number of reasons why we should go back -- from using the moon as a low-gravity staging post for deep space missions to prospecting for rare materials such as Helium-3, a promising isotope to fuel fusion power.
Unfortunately, like all space endeavors, a return mission to the moon is steeped in political spin. The potential science returns are an afterthought. Today we are aiming to send astronauts to an asteroid by the "mid-2020's," where will NASA be instructed to send them tomorrow?
Although the Apollo era was driven by Cold War political posturing, it's hard not to be moved by Armstrong's description of the ultimate adventure he lived through over 40 years ago. It might be some time before we go back.
"Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk"
December 8th, 2010
December 8th, 2010
Well, this doesn't happen every day.
In yesterday's post, I talked about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's walk across the lunar surface back in 1969 and wondered, how come they walked such a modest distance? Less than a hundred yards from their lander?
Today Neil Armstrong wrote in to say, here are the reasons:
* It was really, really hot on the moon, 200 degrees Fahrenheit. We needed protection.
* We were wearing new-fangled, water-cooled uniforms and didn't know how long the coolant would last.
* We didn't know how far we could go in our space suits.
* NASA wanted us to conduct our experiments in front of a fixed camera.
* We [meaning Neil] cheated just a little, and very briefly bounded off to take pictures of some interesting bedrock.
But basically, he says, we were part of a team and we were team players on a perilous, one-of-a-kind journey. Improvisation was not really an option.
But, reading between the lines, I kinda think he wanted to do more, go further. Anyway, read for yourself:
Dear Mr. Krulwich
I was delighted to read your December 7 column on the the Apollo 11 lunar surface traverses, The NASA maps do accurately portray the locations of the pathways used to complete the myriad of tasks we were assigned. And, although I have not checked, I believe the comparison with the size of athletic fields is reasonably accurate.
You asked: “Who knew?"
The answer to that question is: Just about anyone who had any interest in learning the answer. The plan for the lunar surface work was widely distributed and we even did a full dress rehearsal for the press at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
It is true that we were cautious in our planning. There were many uncertainties about how well our Lunar module systems and our Pressure suit and backpack would match the engineering predictions in the hostile lunar environment. We were operating in a near perfect vacuum with the temperature well above 200 degrees Fahrenheit with the local gravity only one sixth that of Earth. That combination cannot be duplicated here on Earth, but we tried as best we could to test our equipment for those conditions. For example, because normal air conditioning is inadequate for lunar conditions, we were required to use cold water to cool the interior of our suits. We did not have any data to tell us how long the small water tank in our backpacks would suffice. NASA officials limited our surface working time to 2 and 3/4 hours on that first surface exploration to assure that we would not expire of hyperthermia. After returning to and repressurizing the Lunar Module, we were able to drain and measure the remaining water in the backpacks to confirm the predicted.
There was great uncertainty about how well we would be able to walk in our cumbersome pressurized suit. My colleague demonstrated a variety of techniques in view of the television camera that I had installed in a position predetermined to be in the optimum spot for coverage of all of our activities. Preflight planners wanted us to stay in TV range so that they could learn from our results how they could best plan for future missions. I candidly admit that I knowingly and deliberately left the planned working area out of TV coverage to examine and photograph the interior crater walls for possible bedrock exposure or other useful information. I felt the potential gain was worth the risk.
It is true that we would have liked to stay on the surface longer and traveled further away from the Lunar Module and the television camera. But we had a number of experiments to install, samples to document and collect, and photographs to take. The time available was fully allocated and we were working diligently to complete our assigned tasks. The Lunar Laser Ranging Retroreflector we installed is still in use today in a variety of scientific experiments.
Later Apollo flights were able to do more and move further in order to cover larger areas, particularly when the Lunar Rover vehicle became available in 1971. But in KRULWICH WONDERS, you make an important point, which I emphasized to the House Science and Technology Committee. During my testimony in May I said, "Some question why Americans should return to the Moon. "After all," they say "we have already been there." I find that mystifying. It would be as if 16th century monarchs proclaimed that "we need not go to the New World, we have already been there." Or as if President Thomas Jefferson announced in 1803 that Americans "need not go west of the Mississippi, the Lewis and Clark Expedition has already been there." Americans have visited and examined 6 locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.
I have tried to give a small insight into your question “Who knew?”
I hope it is helpful.
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