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Archive for the ‘moon landing’ Tag

Remembering the Moon Landing

Do you remember where you were when the first humans landed on the moon? I was in my parents’ living room, watching CBS on a black-and-white television at oh-dark-thirty. I had just turned five earlier in the month (which tells you how old I am now if you do the math).

You might not have existed yet (I’m getting pretty old), but those were exciting times. Except…we didn’t have the video, so we really only got half the story.

The footage of the LM descending, with its foot visible through the window, makes me hold my breath every time I see it, but we didn’t see that at the time. That camera had to come back to Earth and have the film developed.

And now, knowing that (a) the onboard computer was overloading so they had to land manually, (b) the original landing area was full of boulders that would have destroyed the LM, and (c) they had 17 seconds of fuel left when they finally set down, the story is even more intense.

You’d never be able to tell how fraught the situation was from those calm voices we were hearing at the time. Even reporting how little fuel was left or the error codes on the computer, they didn’t sound like they knew they had a pretty good chance of dying, although I understand (now) Commander Armstrong’s heart was beating like a hummingbird’s.

I just need to say here, he was a very, very, very good pilot. I’m sure Aldrin and Collins were also very very good pilots (they wouldn’t have been there otherwise), but that landing is proof that Armstrong had Mad Skilz-with-a-capital-M-capital-S.

I’ve been a passenger in a small aircraft landing on some questionable surfaces (dad was a pilot and we went into Idaho wilderness areas once or twice), and, well, I’ll say it again. That footage makes me hold my breath every time I see it, and I’ve been watching it almost obsessively for the last week or two every time someone else shows it on one of the 50th anniversary shows.

First Man On The Moon, yeah, but that was opening a door and climbing down a ladder. The landing was where Neil Armstrong-the-legend was made. We simply didn’t know that until later.

There are so many story lessons in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Raising the stakes for the hero, putting him up a tree and throwing rocks at him, taking away supports to force him to solve the problem on his own. Making use of the fact that he’s a [bleep!]ing fantastic pilot. That might be why it’s so compelling 50 years later. For once, reality makes a great story.

And the story is also making use of what isn’t said. There’s a pause after the telemetry says the Eagle has touched down before the famous announcement. You know, we all know, that Armstrong and Aldrin were looking at each other thinking, “Holy [bleep!], we did it. We’re sitting on the moon!” during that silence.

Much like when Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (and I had to look up his name, which is a shame) turned to each other and said, reportedly almost in chorus, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!” after landing an Airbus 320 on the Hudson River.

Neil Gaiman tells a story of being at a function and standing in the corner next to Neil Armstrong (both introverts, so of course they were standing in the corner). Armstrong said to Gaiman (paraphrasing), “I’m not sure I belong here. These people have all created things. I just went where they sent me.” Gaiman said he reminded Armstrong that he had been sent to the moon.

If I had been there, I might have been able to remind him that he made the whole billions-of-dollars mission work with that landing. But that would be a different story.

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