Sunday, February 14, 2016

Moonwalk

It's an incredible story -- breathtaking, nail-biting, mind-numbing, mesmerizing, awesome, fascinating, ethereal, unbelievable, stupefying, amazing, astonishing, spectacular and more. And one we have taken so very much for granted. For this reason if for no other, I recommend the book Rocket Men by Craig Nelson.

It's an epic moment in history and when Armstrong and Aldrich begin their descent toward the lunar surface, it's a compelling read. Nelson takes you there.

Most of us are familiar with the story, have at least read something about the "space race" that preoccupied so many Americans in the Sixties. The Russians were first in outer space, so like boys trying to outdo one another the Americans needed to be first to land a man on the moon. They accomplished this feat by a strenuous effort of will that involved billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of highly motivated individuals and the best minds science had to offer. When Neil Armstrong finally placed his feet on that unearthly world, he correctly said, "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

In reading this book there are so many details I'd forgotten about this regarding fantastic voyage, if I ever knew them at all. Here are just a few.

1. When the Eagle (the spacecraft that conveyed Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to their final destination in the Sea of Tranquility) descended, the ground was covered with boulders so that there was no suitable place to land. The flew horizontally for several minutes seeking a safe place to touch down, but as they did so they were running out of fuel. The landed with only about 17 seconds of fuel left.

2. Our bodies here on earth stay cool by means of sweat. This process only works because of the atmosphere on earth. On the moon, when Armstrong and Aldrin were running about setting up experiments while carrying 170 pound backpacks, they would have overheated had they not have suits that circulated water and kept their body temps normal.

3.Those 170 pound backpacks were bulky, but only weighed one-sixth their weight, so the mass was less massive than it appears.

4. No atmosphere on the moon means the sun looks different in the sky. And the color of the sky is black, by day or night. our earthly sky appears blue because the gases and particles in our atmosphere scatter the sunlight. Blue light waves are shorter than red ones so that as the light is reflected it's the primary color we see during our day.

5. The engineers who designed the Eagle took so many details into consideration, but still did not know what to expect when it landed. How deep was the lunar dust? They expected it to be deeper than it was, so the prong-legs of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) were longer than needed. The bottom rung of the ladder, when Armstrong climbed down, was more than three feet up and not an easy dismount.

6. The author makes clear that everyone who has gone to the moon has been profoundly moved by the look back home at the earth. From the moon, one can completely cover the earth with one's thumb. The smallness of our world in this immense universe was experienced deeply by each of these men.

7. One of the things I've never heard anyone talk about or write about is how complex and challenging basic hygiene was. Specifically urinating and defecating. Reading this section made it clear to me that space travel is definitely not for everyone. Nor does weightlessness and vomiting seem too exciting to me.

8. The colorlessness of the moon was interesting. "I'd never seen so many shades of grey," one of the astronauts said.

9. Another thing that was striking for the astronauts was how soundless it all was. It was also pointed out that the men did not hear their breathing like you hear in Hollywood outer space films. That was added by the studios.

When you read the reviews on Amazon you'll see plenty of criticism because of the quantity of factual errors. Despite this, and many of the critics agree, it's still a good read and a great reminder of what can be accomplished when people work together for a high goal.

Meantime.... Happy Valentines Day. 

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