We got over the moon too soon, Neil Armstrong’s biographer says.
VETERAN NBC reporter Jay Barbree makes a damning point about the US space program as we approach the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing: it’s been 42 years since a manned spacecraft last broke Earth’s orbit.
Despite the shuttle program and its contribution to the International Space Station, Barbree accuses the US and others of spectacularly failing to follow up once its foray into outer space ended with Apollo 17 in 1972.
And if anybody ought to know, it’s Barbree, 80, who is now in his 56th year with NBC and has covered the space program since 1958.
He makes the point about failure not just on his own behalf but on behalf of his good friend Neil Armstrong.
Barbree has done something his friend would have found extremely uncomfortable: he has told Armstrong’s story — from his time as young fighter pilot in Korea to his career as a test pilot with the X-15 rocket plane and beyond his historic moon walk.
The notoriously private Armstrong, who in his twilight years enjoyed not being recognised, agreed to a book by his trusted friend late in his life, but it had barely got under way when he died suddenly after a heart operation.
“He was a friend of Charles Lindbergh, he developed a friendship with him and Charles told him how to keep private because he did that after his baby was kidnapped and he lost his baby,’’ Barbree says. “I tried to explain to Neil the difference was that Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris was on his own dime and his backers’, it was a private venture, whereas the taxpayers paid $US25 billion for Apollo to go to the moon and land. Therefore, they signed contracts at the time that any part of the flight was open to the public; the public paid for it, they were entitled to know .’’
Armstrong read and approved of the first chapter of what became Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight dealing with his ejection from an F9F Panther after hitting an anti-aircraft wire stretched between two mountains.
The wire ripped off half of Armstrong’s right wing and, after grappling with his crippled plane, the young pilot was forced to eject.
The official report at the time, picked up by military newspaper Stars and Stripes, said Armstrong had hit a wire between power lines, which was something he had always wanted to correct.
Barbree had covered some of Armstrong’s flights in the X-15 but didn’t meet him until he joined the Gemini Nine, the astronauts who would take the US space program from the Mercury era into its next phase. But it was the shared tragedy of the death of young children that would make them friends.
“I knew Neil from just being in the news conferences but he came in a restaurant that morning where I was and he could tell I was down so he told me about his little girl that he lost to a brain tumour,’ says Barbree. “So we got pretty close talking about our children that we lost and we developed a trusted friendship. In fact, there are things that Neil told me in confidence that I never put in the book, and I never will.’’
Barbree’s book provides a riveting insight into the man history will remember as the first person to step on a world other than our own, but who had already carved out a name for himself.
He paints a picture of a humble son of small-town America who never actively sought the honour of being the first man on the moon but was determined to do the best he could when it arrived.
He was a man of integrity who refused to capitalise on one of humanity’s greatest achievements and Barbree says there was nothing phony about a man NBC newscaster Brian Williams once observed could have been as wealthy as Donald Trump.
“In fact, he never considered himself poor but he never had any money,’’ Barbree says. “He was comfortable because he was from a small town and he started making his living at the age of 10 — mowing a local cemetery lawn and he got a dollar a day for mowing it.’’
Armstrong was recognised by his peers as a phenomenally skilled pilot who was dedicated to getting it right.
It was Armstrong’s commitment to practising on the lunar landing training vehicle that gave him the skill to land the Eagle after onboard computers almost dumped it in a crater the size of a football field.
But it was the same man whose aversion to public speaking probably led him to drop the “a” out of his historic first words and say “one small step for man” instead of one small step for a man.
“He didn’t know,’’ Barbree says of the reason for the mistake. “I thought it felt like a nervous time for him and knowing the difficulty he had with speech he probably just dropped the ‘a’. I think he did, too.
“It’s like when they looked around to take a picture of the first footprint on the moon and it was covered up. He realised that when he went around to inspect the lunar module he walked over himself and he was quite angry about that.’’
Generally, however, Armstrong was a man who thought everything out thoroughly.
“He was the slowest person in the world taking a decision on the ground but he had the fastest hands of any pilot because split-second decisions (got him) out of trouble,’’ Barbree says. “He was a very unique individual. A lot of times you would go to speak to Neil and you would ask Neil a question and you would see his eyes kind of look off and a lot of times his mouth would start twitching. He’s mulling it over so you come to the conclusion he doesn’t understand what you asked so you start asking it again, and out would come the answer.’’
That trust between the two men meant Barbree was the man Armstrong turned to when, along with fellow Apollo veterans Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and Gene Cernan (Apollo 17), Armstrong wanted to break his silence on the US space program and he gave the veteran reporter an op-ed written by the three space veterans. It was Barbree again who helped write a series of articles about the space program in the present decade and who also helped Armstrong with his testimony before the 2010 Senate hearings on NASA.
Armstrong was dismayed by America’s failure to capitalise on the moon landing and to move incrementally further into space.
“And he didn’t appreciate that, because he never understood after what they did to go land on the moon, we left,’’ the author says. “That made no sense. It still doesn’t today.’’
Armstrong was also unhappy about the fuss made about commercial attempts to get into space and do what essentially had been done before. Barbree says Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is fine but is not doing anything that wasn’t done in the 1960s, and it is not exploration.
“Exploration is developing something new and we haven’t been developing anything new in manned space flight now really for 42 years,’’ he says. “That’s the way I look at it. Not to go knock them but this is what Neil thought about it and … Neil suggested doing it increments and this is what we should be doing.
“We should be increasing our knowledge of going farther and farther in space because we’re all occupants of a spacecraft 8000 miles in diameter and it’s finite, it’s not going to be able to support us always. So if we can’t get off — because this is really our cradle — if we can’t get out of our cradle and go out and explore, we’re doomed.
“That’s the end of the human species.’’
Barbree admits much has been learned from the International Space Station but he notes it remains in Earth’s magnetosphere, which gives us protection against radiation.
But he agrees with Armstrong about the need to go back to the moon and from there to the gravity balancing Lagrangian points to learn more.
“And it’s the only sensible thing to do,’’ he says, noting the folly of building a spacecraft capable of going directly to Mars without developing our knowledge of space flight and knowing how to survive on our own in space.
“(Neil) felt that until we knew how to survive on our own in space we should never be more than three days from Earth or three seconds from being able to talk to mission control.
“Because when you go to land on Mars it’s going to take nine minutes and something on average for that signal to get back to Earth. So mission control’s not going to be any help to you.’’
Barbree believes that a mission to Mars could well be one way and should be preceded by a barrage of unmanned rockets landing supplies. He likens it to the wild west wagon trains, and envisages a colony being set up first before two-way traffic is developed.
Despite the disappointing aftermath to the Apollo program, Barbree hopes that the new Space Launch System and Orion program presage a new US thrust into space. An unmanned Orion vehicle is due to orbit the moon in 2017 but Barbree is optimistic that if a first flight in December is successful, there will be pressure for a manned flight in 2017. A number of astronauts have told him they will be pushing for this outcome.
“That can get us out of low Earth orbit and we’ve got to be able to do that,’’ he says. “And then once we do that and once we start exploring again … beyond low Earth orbit, then I think people will get excited and the knowledge stockpile will increase.’’
By Steve Creedy
With many thanks to The Australian
From You Tube:
Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily.
The Apollo 11 (EVA) began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module's descent stage.
A camera on this module provided live television coverage of man's first step on the Moon. On this, their one and only EVA, the astronauts had a great deal to do in a short time. During this first visit to the Moon, the astronauts remained within about 100 meters of the lunar module, collected about 47 pounds of samples, and deployed four experiments. After spending approximately 2 hours and 31 minutes on the surface, the astronauts ended the EVA at 1:11:13 a.m. EDT on July 21.
Iconic Apollo 11 View of Earth Turns 45
On July 21, 1969 — 45 years ago — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the face of the moon.
The televised views of lunar desolation are the most famous images from this mission, Apollo 11. But Armstrong, Aldrin and their third crew-member, Michael Collins, got some gorgeous views of Earth, too.
This "blue marble" image of Earth against the blackness of space was taken July 16, 1969, the same day Apollo 11 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. Most of what is visible here is the Pacific Ocean, though portions of California, the Pacific coast and Alaska peak through swirling clouds. A Hasselblad 500 EL camera captured this shot.
The trip from Earth to the moon took three days. The crew launched at 9:32 a.m. local time from Florida, after a breakfast of steak, eggs, coffee and orange juice. Within 12 minutes from launch, they were in Earth orbit. From there, they fired their third-stage Saturn V engine (the first two phases had already been jettisoned) and set a course for the Sea of Tranquility on the moon's surface.
The first day was calm and orderly, and gave the crew time to "ooh" and "ahh" over Earth's scenery. In the flight transcripts, Aldrin tells Mission Control that he can see snow on the mountains in California and a clear, smog-free view of Los Angeles. When asked how Baja, California, looks, Aldrin says, "Well, it's got some clouds up and down it, and there's a pretty good circulation system a couple of hundred miles off the west coast of California … OK, Houston. You suppose you could turn the Earth a little bit so we could get a little bit more than just water?"
People on Earth would get a taste of what the astronauts saw the next day, July 17, 1969, when the crew participated in a color television broadcast from 147,300 miles (237,000 kilometers) away.
Editor's Note: If you have an amazing nature or general science photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Jeanna Bryner at LSphotos@livescience.com.
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