Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another anniversary: the return of Apollo 11

Saturday, I wrote about it being the 44th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing. That day 44 years ago is something that most people who were alive and conscious of world events at the time remember.

But today is the anniversary of a day in the US space program that is at least as important but which rarely gets recognized. It is the 44th anniversary, today, of the return of the crew of Apollo 11 from the Moon, and it is the fulfillment of the second part of the goal set by John Kennedy of sending men to the Moon and returning them safely. Kennedy also said on the day in 1962 that he set this goal that we, as a society, chose to do that not because it was easy, but because it was difficult.

And it was difficult, and was done with, it is said, significantly less computing power than is contained in the low-end laptop I'm writing this on right now. The landing was, of course, important. But so many things could have gone wrong to strand the astronauts on the moon, or strand them orbiting the moon, or send them careening out into the solar system with no way to get back...and those are only a few of the things that could have gone wrong.

So, I think it is important to also mark the day that Apollo 11 and its astronauts made it back home safely.

Not that there wasn't at least one hiccup in the landing procedure. When the command module splashed down into the Pacific Ocean, it landed upside down and stayed that way until the astronauts activated flotation devices that righted it. I suspect that at least a few folks at NASA flashed back to the splashdown in July of 1961 of Liberty Bell 7 after a suborbital flight, part of the Mercury program, when Gus Grissom nearly drowned after the capsule's hatch blew unexpectedly, sending the capsule to the bottom of the ocean and nearly drowning Grissom. But, all was well and the three astronauts were picked up and deposited on the ship that had come to meet them.

Even that was not the end of the mission, however. Once on the ship, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were decontaminated and put in quarantine for three weeks just in case they had brought any bad bugs back from the moon. Still, this is a day to remember. We not only sent men to the moon, we managed to bring them back alive and in one piece each.

No comments: