“I got the Earth coming up…it’s fantastic!”

From the Apollo Flight Journal and the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, this is the best annotated Apollo 11 descent footage I’ve seen yet. The 16mm/6fps film, shot from the top of Buzz Aldrin’s Lunar Module window 50 years ago later today at about 4pm Eastern, starts after a 3-minute explanatory intro. You’ll want to watch this full-screen.

That descent is the subject of the 12-part “13 Minutes to the Moon” podcast*, which you can find here. What they did to prevent those 1200-series program alarms on future missions is discussed in the comments on the Tindallgrams post.

Twenty-five hours later on 21 July:

Bigger and bigger the LM gets in my window, until finally it nearly fills it completely. I haven’t touched the controls. Neil is flying in formation with me, and doing it beautifully, with no relative motion between us. I guess he is about fifty feet away, which means the rendezvous is over. “I got the earth coming up…it’s fantastic!” I shout at Neil and Buzz, and grab for my camera, to get all three actors (earth, moon, and Eagle) in the same picture. Too bad Columbia will show up only as a window frame, if at all.
– Mike Collins in Carrying the Fire

And it sure is fantastic. A large version of this one is in my upstairs hallway.

The best of the 23-photo sequence taken by Mike Collins during approach and stationkeeping; click for a 4163×4125 version

Collins, one the most personable of the Apollo astronauts, narrated this week’s Google Doodle, where the animation was nicely done – and, I’ll add, more accurate than the animations in some recently-produced documentaries.

When I saw the animation below in the 3rd episode of Smithsonian Channel’s new “Apollo’s Moon Shot” series (edited to add: shown again in episode 6), I made a rather unpleasant just-ate-a-lemon face and said “Ack!” to no one in particular. The series is otherwise very good, with Andrew Chaikin, author of the iconic A Man on the Moon, one of the talking heads, and National Air & Space Museum curators showing historic objects, but see here: During Transposition and Docking, Collins used the sixteen tiny Reaction Control System thrusters, a photo of four of them below the screenshot, on the sides of the Service Module – each producing just 50 pounds of thrust – to move gingerly with short puffs. Using the Service Propulsion System engine’s 20,000 pounds of non-throttleable thrust as their animation showed would have been overkill in quite a literal sense, with the result two destroyed spacecraft, three dead crew, and probably one dead Project Apollo. This is just the sort of nit I’m not hesitant to pick.

I’m certain Chaikin will have had his head in his hands when he saw this in the completed episode. Gee, you’d think the producers would run stuff like this past someone with even passing knowledge of Apollo before sending it out into the world, wouldn’t you? I dunno…maybe someone who was already under contract to the production…say, how about Chaikin? How embarrassing for them.

One of the four Service Module Reaction Control System quads. The assembly, whose housing includes heaters, is about 33″/83.8cm x 25″/73.7cm and the engine nozzles have a 5 and 5/8″/14.3cm diameter.

*Over the nine hours of “13 Minutes to the Moon,” I noted only one minor error – in episode 10, when presenter Kevin Fong says CAPCOM Charlie Duke instructs the crew to “rotate Eagle and redirect their antenna.” Duke was actually giving them the pitch and yaw values (-9, +18) for the steerable S-band antenna, which Aldrin entered on the guidance computer using Noun 51 – Desired S-Band Pitch, Yaw Angles. Rotating the entire LM for better radio reception during descent would have been kind of a big deal, and inadvisable, which is exactly why that antenna was steerable. In any case, I’d say a single small mistake in nine hours is not a bad error rate.

The round black antenna pointed at Earth is the steerable S-band

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4 thoughts on ““I got the Earth coming up…it’s fantastic!”

  1. parislights says:

    Lalo, who was the “poet” astronaut that went to the moon? I seem to remember it was someone part of a later mission.

    -p

    • lalmon says:

      That was Al Worden, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 15 – he published a book of poems in 1974 called Hello Earth: Greetings from Endeavour – a couple excerpts are on his site at that link. Those are actual poems, but I think Collins’s book is often nearly poetic in its thoughtfulness.

  2. parislights says:

    was just thinking how it might have been if we had heard a womans voice in that mix of mission control, the astronauts…i remember as a girl imagining what it might be like to do that. The first wpman that i remember in Sci-fi fiction that had some sense of agency and was not a stick figure was the Sigourney Weaver character Ripley in Alien.
    -p

    • lalmon says:

      Right through to Apollo 13, there was only one woman in Mission Control at Houston, Poppy Northcutt, who had to put up with a lot of crap (a YouTube interview is in that article).

      At the Kennedy Space Center, only one woman was in Firing Room 1 of Launch Control during Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan – good article here. She put up with even worse crap the first day she sat down there – someone basically told her to get out – but after some calls were made, later that day Kennedy Launch Control director Rocco Petrone, a gruff guy who once physically removed a contractor engineer from a meeting because the engineer was trying to bluff his way out of pointed questions rather than saying “I don’t know”, made a point of coming onto the floor to publicly welcome her at her station. I’m sure he wasn’t speaking sotto voce, either – in fact, he was probably incapable of it.

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