“13 Minutes to the Moon” podcast

After listening to the first episode, which was well done, I can recommend the new “13 Minutes to the Moon” BBC World Service podcast, promoted as “The full story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and prevented it from going badly wrong.”

It will run for twelve episodes – if they’re all 45 minutes like the first one, that will be nine hours total.

Background on the series: Apollo Moon landing: The 13 minutes that defined a century

Programme site: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2

Podcast page (RSS link at upper right): https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2

 

Carrying the Fire now weightless

16 July 1969: Collins suiting up in a frame from this year’s “Apollo 11” documentary film

Mike Collins, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11, wrote what is considered one of if not the best of the astronaut memoirs, Carrying the Fire, originally published in 1974. It’s finally been released as an ebook, so I’m rereading it in its weightless form now. If you read it after watching his recent hour-plus Aero-Astro classes at MIT here, it’s quickly obvious that he had no ghostwriter for this book – a rarity in such memoirs. It’s fully and delightfully in his own voice.

Gemini and Apollo astronauts underwent both tropical and desert survival training in case they reentered – or aborted during launch phase – away from recovery forces and ended up in entirely the wrong place; cold weather training wasn’t needed because the orbital mechanics of Gemini and Apollo flights dictated paths near the equator. Wrapping up the narrative of his Air Force tropical survival school training in Panama, he has this to say in the book:

“Somewhere along the way I picked up a couple of hundred companions, chiggers, evenly distributed from the waist down. I cannot adequately explain to the unchiggered what they are missing. My dictionary says simply that chiggers are ‘the parasitic larva of certain mites.’ It doesn’t say they are also abominable little red creatures who burrow into your skin, where they ultimately die. Uneasy in their terminal tunnels, they either jump about or dig deeper, or secrete some irritant, or something; at any rate they itch like crazy. Friends are always pleased to offer remedies. ‘Rub them with Scotch and sand. They’ll get drunk and stone each other to death.’ They merely itch worse when they (or you) have a hangover. ‘Have you tried an ice pick?’ The most popular notion (false) is that they can be suffocated, and I have heard doctors recommend covering each spot with clear nail polish. Why clear rather than blush pink (my natural color) I cannot say, but I can say with authority that it doesn’t work either, nor does the iodine-like chigger medicine sold in pharmacies. The only thing to do is wait ten days for the truculent little bastards to die or depart, leaving behind a cratered field of battle not easily forgotten by the landowner.”

The moon within five years?

Really?

Show me the money.

One guess as to what it was that cost that much

“Was it worth it all? It certainly was to me personally, which obviously makes me suspect as an objective witness to the expenditure of $24 billion of the taxpayers’ money. Besides, I frankly gave little thought to the financial end of the space program, just as I never considered what percentage of the GNP Flash Gordon might reasonably twit away exploring the caverns of Mongo.”

Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 11

Cinnamon tree just out of range

Chang’e 4 (left arrow) and its rover captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera on 8 February

The source LROC article is here. As to the title: The Chang’e lander is named after the goddess of the moon and the rover, Yutu 2, takes its name from the large jade rabbit said to accompany her. Both were mentioned as Apollo 11 orbited the moon prior to landing. From the mission transcript:

095:17:28 Capcom Ron Evans: Roger. Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

[Chang-O is also spelled Ch’ang O and, in the more modern rendition, Chang’e. Chang’e was subsequently adopted as the name of the Chinese unmanned lunar exploration programme, the first spacecraft of which was launched in 2007. The third in the series, Chang’e 3, was the first to land which it did autonomously on 14 December 2013 in Mare Imbrium. The rabbit’s name of Yutu, stated by Evans as not reported, was given as the name of the first Chinese lunar rover, delivered to the surface by Chang’e 3 and it translates to ‘Jade Rabbit’.]

095:18:15 CMP Michael Collins: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.

Chang’e

Update 2 May 2019: Much closer Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter views can now be seen in the LROC posts Above the Landing Site and Chang’e 4 Rover on the Move

Apollo 11 documentary update

The trailer for “Apollo 11” is out, and the reviews for its premiere last week at Sundance are quite enthusiastic, so there’s a chance of it having more than the very limited theatrical release Sundance-selected documentaries usually get. Here’s hoping.

“It’s one thing to boast about the specs of these images, and quite another to see the spruced up footage for yourself. It’s rare that picture quality can inspire a physical reaction, but the opening moments of ‘Apollo 11,’ in which a NASA camera crew roams around the base of the rocket and spies on some of the people who’ve come to gawk at it from a beach across the water, are vivid enough to melt away the screen that stands between them. The clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you’re suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else.”
– David Ehrlich, Indiewire

I was glad to see that, at least in the trailer, they used none of the footage previously seen in the 1972 “Moonwalk One” documentary.

“There was one guy, his name was Urs Furrer, and he was a well-known cameraman. He was a big guy – his name means ‘bear’ and he was big like a bear. I’d look for him because I knew that he could put this camera on his shoulder. I don’t know how much it weighed with a thousand feet of film on it; it was a ton. But he could use it like a handheld camera.”
– Theo Kamecke, director of “Moonwalk One”

Found Apollo footage

Crawler-transporter in a widescreen 65mm Panavision frame from the found footage

A new documentary called Apollo 11 that features never publicly seen footage is in its final stages. That footage is part of a miles-long cache that’s been squirreled away in the National Archives ever since a planned MGM Studios project on the story of Apollo was cancelled in 1969. After the cancellation, some of the footage was used in the 1972 Moonwalk One documentary – included below – and the unseen footage being used now is the leftovers from both of those projects. Vanity Fair has the details on the discovery here.

A few weeks ago, the new film was selected as one of the documentaries that will be premiered at the Sundance Festival early next year. If I wasn’t in the final few months of my five-years-to-debt-free project, I think I’d give serious consideration to visiting Utah for the first time. I’d have to find something else to do as well, of course – I rarely make even a local trip without at least two purposes in mind.

From the Vanity Fair article:

In May of last year, [director Todd] Miller received a startling e-mail from [National Archive and Records Administration archive supervisor Dan] Rooney. “I was used to the way in which archivists and librarians communicate, which is typically very monotone, very even keel,” Miller said. “But I get this e-mail from Dan, and it’s just insanely long and full of exclamation points and bolded words.” Rooney’s staff had located a cache of old reels that he identified as the “65mm Panavision collection.” (In this format, the negative is shot on 65-mm. film and then printed as a 70-mm. positive.) “The collection consists of approximately 165 source reels of materials, covering Apollo 8 through Apollo 13,” Rooney wrote. “Thus far, we have definitively identified 61 of those 165 that relate directly to the Apollo 11 mission, including astronaut mission preparations, launch, recovery, and astronaut engagement and tours after the mission.”

Apollo 11 teaser trailer:

Moonwalk One full version, from 1972. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, a much better recently-restored copy is free there.

I’m a wee bit more interested in this film than First Man.

“I take back any bad things I ever said about MIT — which I never have.”

The quotation is from Mike Collins, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11, as their spacecraft entered lunar orbit. He was commenting on how well the computer had controlled their Lunar Orbit Insertion burn, adjusting their course to velocities accurate within a tenth of a foot per second in all three axes – essentially perfect. In full, from the onboard audio recording:

Minus 1, minus 1, plus 1. Jesus! I take back any bad things I ever said about MIT – which I never have.

Collins wrote the best of the astronaut biographies, Carrying the Fire, and he turned 88 today. He’s behind the moon in this crew photo, when all three of them, born in 1930, were 39:

MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics curriculum includes a graduate semester devoted to “Engineering Apollo” – where twenty-six class sessions barely scratch the surface, according to the professor in the first video below – itself one of those twenty-six classes. Collins was a guest there in 2015 and last year.

Apollo 17 documentary

I happened upon an excellent 104-minute documentary from 2015 I’d never heard of before, titled “The Apollo Experience: Apollo 17” and linked below. It’s among the best single-mission Apollo documentaries I’ve seen and I figured I should mention it here because it has to be pretty darned obscure for me to not know of it.

I have the complete lunar surface videos from the mission – the boxed set pictured at the end of this post – but this documentary puts EVA highlights in context with explanatory captions and follows the mission from training to splashdown. The archival footage throughout is of the highest quality I’ve seen and quite a treat on a fifty-inch television.

The overall quality is high enough that I forgive the engine noise the producers added to some radio transmissions, along with other low-key add-ons like electronic “beep-beep” effects. They did them in a fashion subtle enough that, while I knew immediately that they were their additions, I wasn’t compelled to say “Wut?” and put on my just-ate-a-lemon face.

Timeline’s YouTube channel is worth exploring as it has hundreds of other history documentaries. Some, like this one, come from obscure satellite channels, but it appears a large percentage of their content originally aired on Channel 4 in the UK.

“So Over the Moon” – a rebuttal by Frank Borman himself

From the fact that it featured prominently in last week’s The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4, I gather that the Frank Borman segment a few weeks ago on “This American Life” titled “So Over the Moon” has gained a fair amount of traction. The conclusion of the TAL segment was that the Apollo 8 mission he commanded bored him, wasn’t enjoyable or interesting at all, and was in the end just a battle in the Cold War to him.

Based on past talks he’s given, one in particular, I begged to differ and sent this to the “This American Life” folks:

Regarding the “So Over the Moon” segment of episode 655, please relay to David Kestenbaum the link below of Frank Borman giving a talk at the National Air & Space Museum on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Apollo 8 in 1998. I think Borman actually did have at least a little fun going to the moon and it held his interest a skosh more than he let on recently. Yes, he emphasizes in his 1998 talk the race against the Soviets as the most important part – as he’s always done – but he also tells great stories and cracks jokes left and right about the Apollo 8 mission during his 73-minute talk. He’s a funny guy – the opposite in some ways of the man I heard on TAL a few weeks ago.

My 2015 article linked below includes a 6-minute clip I placed on YouTube of a portion of Borman’s talk plus a link to the full-length 73-minute video on C-SPAN’s site.

We all get grumpy from time to time; perhaps it just wasn’t the best time to speak with him.

What he shared of his wife Susan’s condition on TAL would beat anybody right down to the ground. They married in 1950. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through.