Forty-four years ago today, Neil Armstrong did what so many of us have done: he burned up much of his ride’s fuel, looking for a better place to park. What makes his experience of this stand out, of course, is that he had a T.V. audience of millions – which makes sense, as he was “parking” a Lunar Excursion Module on the Earth’s Moon, for the first time in history.
Armstrong chanced a “hard landing” – a crash – in order to land someplace without so many boulders; a wise precaution, but I’d expect it made for an adventurous descent. As Michael Collins circled overhead in the command/service modules (nicknamed “Columbia”, after the moon-ship in the 1865 Jules Verne novel, From the Earth to the Moon), Armstrong and lunar-module pilot Edwin Aldrin touched down on another world in their patriotic-nicknamed LEM, “Eagle”, undertaking the biggest little walk two guys had ever taken. They ascended to rejoin Collins, and, less than twenty-four hours after having landed, they were Earth-bound once again, splashing down on July 24.
The Apollo XI “Eagle” had not even landed, before some conspiracy theories dismissed the whole enterprise as… a staged hoax. One legend I enjoy: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hires Stanley Kubrick, having completed a little film entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey, to simulate the first two manned landings on the Moon… never mind how very different his film’s depiction of lunar terrain looked from news footage.
Six more of NASA’s Apollo missions, between 1969 and 1972, attempted to land men on the Moon; all of them reached the Moon (only Apollo XIII, thwarted by its oxygen-tank eruption, failed to visit the lunar surface). Evidence of these adventures remains up there to this day: the flags, the LEM lower stages, abandoned effects of the pilots, and so on. What amazes me is how so many people find all of this material unconvincing.
My mom credits anti-scientific bias for this; I think she’s got a point. Forget the massive propaganda victory a “faked” American landing would have handed the Soviet Union; it seems like sour grapes to deny humanity this great achievement. It’s an odd thing to believe this didn’t happen, despite all the much evidence we have amassed to verify it, and what’s worse, some people seem to need for this to be a hoax. This flight of fancy (perhaps fueled by Watergate-era cynicism) is misplaced. Neil, Mike and “Buzz” flew to the Moon; in doing so, they changed this world.
- 44 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing: ‘We all miss you, Neil’ (nbcnews.com)
- This date in science: First human footsteps on the moon (earthsky.org)
- Apollo 11 Rocket Engines Found From First Mission That Took Man To Moon (dekerivers.wordpress.com)
- National Parks on the Moon? It’s an Excellent Idea (science.time.com)