SPEAKER: This is the production of Cornell University.
BUD JERMY: Good evening, and welcome to the second of the summer series. My name is Bud Jermy, And first of all, I want to thank Dean Katherine Boor of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for the use of the hall. Also, there is an extra lecture. On August 1, Joyce Carol Oates will be speaking. And so you're welcome back for that.
Award-winning science journalist and space historian, Andrew Chaikin has authored books and articles about space exploration and astronomy for more than 25 years. He's best known as the author of A Man on the Moon-- The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, widely regarded as the definitive account of the moon missions.
First published in 1994, this acclaimed work was the main basis for Tom Hanks' 12-part HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, which won the-- I'm sorry-- the Emmy for best miniseries in 1998. And he spent eight years writing and researching A Man on the Moon, including 150 hours of personal interviews with 23 of the 24 lunar astronauts. Apollo 13's Rusty Swigert had died by that time.
Apollo moonwalker Gene Cernan said of the book, "I've been there. Chaikin took me back." In fact, James Cameron has called him "our best historian of the space age." A graduate of Brown University, Andy served on the Viking missions to Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was a researcher at the Smithsonian's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies before becoming a science journalist in 1980.
He is now a visiting lecturer at NASA, teaching about the human behavior aspects of success and failure in spaceflight projects. He's also an amateur musician and songwriter, but he didn't bring his guitar today. Aw.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: If only you'd asked.
BUD JERMY: Yeah. We would have had to pay him extra, though.
He also has been an occasional space artist and is one of the founders of the International Association of Astronomical Artists. And he'll tell us a little about that, too, right?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: [INAUDIBLE]
BUD JERMY: Andy, "Apollo Plus 15-- Why the Moon Landing Still Matters."
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Bud. Thank you all for being here. It's a pleasure to be here, my first visit to Cornell. It's very nice to have a reason to be here at Cornell. And I want to share a journey with you tonight that is not only the journey of Apollo 11 to the moon but also a personal journey.
And so if we can bring the lights down on me a little bit because I don't want anything to interfere with the screen. I would like to start out by showing you one of the most cherished-- Actually, other direction.
Go the other way, [INAUDIBLE]. I want to start out by showing you a cherished image from my youth.
There we go. Those of you who are as old as I am or older will remember this. This is what it looked like when we actually got to see the first human beings walking on the moon, walking on another world for the first time in human history. And through a kind of miracle of technology, we were able to witness it as it happened.
This was truly a new era of exploration. We didn't have to wait for the letters to trickle back from the frontier. We didn't have to wait months for the explorers to return from their journeys before we could get a sense of what they had experienced. Now we could literally witness it as it was unfolding.
And so for a couple of precious hours on Sunday night of July 20, 1969 and into Monday morning, July 21, we were able to sit spellbound in front of what I have sometimes called a midsummer night's dream. The pictures were sort of magical and ghostly, but somehow that seemed to fit.
For me personally, this was the culmination of many years of anticipation following space missions. This is me in April of 1969 on my first visit to the Space Center in Florida as an advance birthday present. And you can see that I'm a lunar module or LM hugger from way back.
And I told my parents that they shouldn't even think about sending me to summer camp because there was no way I was going to be anywhere but in front of the TV-- [AUDIO OUT] Apollo 11 happened. When the launch happened 50 years ago yesterday morning, I was in front of the TV. I was in front of the TV for the days that it took the astronauts to reach the moon. And then I remember vividly on the Saturday before the landing, they went into lunar orbit, and we saw color television pictures from orbit and that they narrated.
Finally, the big day arrived, Sunday, July 20. I remember watching the landing. I remember that it was a little bit beyond me to comprehend all that I was hearing. It was something that was hard for me to follow, all the numbers that I heard Buzz Aldrin reading over the radio as they got closer and closer to the moon.
But the one thing that I did understand completely and was so intensely focused on was the moment that came that night just before 11:00 PM Eastern Time when Neil Armstrong emerged from the hatch of the lunar module and onto a platform where he pulled on a ring attached to a cable. That cable caused a equipment tray to lower like a drawbridge. In that equipment tray was a black and white television camera, which began transmitting.
Armstrong made his way down the ladder and to the bottom of the ladder, standing in a foil-covered footpad. And I want to play you now what I saw, what so many of us saw. We were tuned to CBS. There were only three networks back then. I know that seems impossible to conceive today.
But we were watching Walter Cronkite and his coverage of the moonwalk. And I want to play you the tape of what we saw and heard. And here it is.
NEIL ARMSTRONG: I'm at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about one or two inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine-grained as you get close to it. It's almost like a powder. Down there, it's very fine.
WALTER CRONKITE: Boy, look at those pictures. Wow. It's a little shadowy, but he said he expected that in the shadow of the lunar module. Armstrong is on the moon. Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American standing on the surface of the moon on this July 12 1969.
NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one great leap for mankind.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Did you notice how Walter Cronkite almost talked over the most important--
And so my memory of watching Neil Armstrong take the first human footstep on the moon is also tied to the memory of my mother saying, "Shut up, Cronkite."
Well, at that point, I was absolutely-- fascinated is not the word. I had a fanatical fascination with Neil Armstrong. And I really was determined somehow to meet him at some point. Now, I was 13 the summer of Apollo 11. But a couple of years later, my parents took me down to Washington, DC on a little trip just to sightsee.
And, of course, for me, sightseeing in Washington, DC meant NASA Headquarters. So I dragged my parents to NASA headquarters. We visited the office where they had all the photographs. And I managed to score a couple of neat photographs of astronauts in space suits, which was-- my real passion was the space suit at that time.
Anyway, I made a little comment about-- somebody said, is there anything else that you would like? And I said, well, you don't happen to have Neil Armstrong's autograph around here, do you? And I should add that I was having a recurring dream at this point of meeting Neil Armstrong and going up to him and telling him that I was just a space nut. And then in the dream, he refused to sign an autograph. Now--
Some of this was because I knew how reticent he was. But that was just the dream. So anyway, the reply was, well, he works in this building. Well, my heart just about stopped. And I realized that he was no longer a working astronaut. He was now working at NASA Headquarters.
So he was not in that day. I determined that I would go down the next morning and try to meet him. And my mother said, you can't just go down to NASA Headquarters and meet Neil Armstrong. Well, in those days, you could.
Because the security was not anything special So I'm 15 years old. I look like I'm about 8. I get into a taxi. I tell the taxi cab driver, drop me off at NASA. He drops me off at the wrong building, which is a couple of blocks away. I walk the rest of the way to NASA Headquarters. I go up to the top floor where Neil Armstrong's office was. I go down to the office.
The secretary shakes her head, no, he's not here. And I glance into his office, and I see the model of the X-15 on his desk, and I'm just completely dejected. And I'm walking down the hall, and there he is. And he's walking towards me. He's carrying his briefcase. I still remember the initials NAA on the briefcase. And I said, my name is Andy Chaikin, and I'm about as interested in space as you can get.
Anyway, he did sign the autograph. And I said to him, nobody will-- and here is the picture that I took with my dad's little Minox camera. Those of you in the audience who are old enough to remember, you remember the little Minox spy camera?
The pictures, the negatives were about this big. Anyway, that's Neil signing the autograph for me. And then I said to him, nobody's going to believe me if I don't have a picture. And I was looking around for somebody to take the picture when Neil took the camera and took this picture.
And so this was my nirvana moment at age 15. And he was very kind. Now, flash forward to 2002, this is many years after he and I had gotten to know each other through my interviewing him. And we were at a commemoration of Apollo 17 at the Air and Space Museum. And I decided to get another photograph. And so here we are. And my wife, Vicki, took that one.
And so this is really the amazing journey. This is kind of symbolic of the life that I've had. I've made the transition from just being a space-drunk kid to being a space historian and actually getting to sit down with these guys-- not just Neil, but all of the guys who flew to the moon except for Jack Swigert and being able to talk to them at great length about that experience, which has been absolutely amazing to me. It's even amazing to me now.
And for tonight's talk, because it is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, what I want to do is share with you some of the stories that I heard from Neil and Buzz in particular and tell you a little bit about how I've come to understand that mission in a new way.
So this is a picture of Neil Armstrong on the moon. Now, many of you may not have seen this before. In fact, if you're a student of Apollo 11 at all, you've probably heard that there are no good pictures of Neil Armstrong on the moon. For some reason, it never occurred to Buzz to point the camera at Neil and say, hey, Neil, turn around.
Say hi. Wave. Do something. Let me take a picture of you. But anyway, when I was researching my book, I went down to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. And I was going through all of the onboard movie footage that the astronauts shot. And, of course, on Apollo 11, there was a movie camera in Buzz's window that was set up to record not only his first step on the moon but also his collecting the first sample of rock and dust in a little scoop called the contingency sample.
Well, I'm watching this in the office of the guy who's sort of the librarian for all the movie footage. And I noticed that at one point, Neil has his outer visor, the one with the gold reflective coating, raised so that you can see his face. And I made a mental note. This is in 1986.
Well, in 2005 or so a guy named Mark Gray, who was producing a series of Apollo DVDs, wonderful DVDs called Spacecraft Films, he gave me an HD transfer of all of the onboard 16 millimeter footage. And I was able to get this frame of Neil after he collected the contingency sample where you can clearly see that it's him.
And it may not be as good as a nice Hasselblad still photo, but it's something. And I had the great pleasure of giving this to Neil in 2007, a very large inkjet print that I had made. And he was very pleased with it, very pleasantly surprised. He had no idea that this existed.
But I want to tell you a story about this picture, because this picture of Neil was taken before Buzz had left the spacecraft. It was only minutes after Neil took his first step on the moon.
And when I interviewed him in October of 1988, one of the questions that I wanted most to ask him was what it actually felt like to take that step off of the lunar module on to the alien dust of another world? And I said to him, did it feel like a moment of cosmic contact, contact with another world?
And what he said really surprised me. He said, you know, in my mind the landing was the real emotional high. At that moment, he said, in my mind, that was human contact with the moon. It was at the moment we landed that we were in the moon's gravity field, and it didn't matter that we were 20 feet above the surface as opposed to when I got out, and the thickness of his boot would have been just a couple of inches.
And then he said, if it hadn't been for the fact that everybody else was so focused on it, I wouldn't have paid much attention at all to the business of getting out, and climbing down the ladder, and taking that first step. So that was a real surprise to me. And it took me a while to really digest it and understand why he said that.
And I think the first thing I need to tell you about why he said that relates to who Neil Armstrong was. Neil Armstrong was fundamentally the essence of the engineering test pilot. OK? That was his profession. That's what had driven him to learn to fly airplanes.
He wanted to actually design airplanes. But he figured that flying them was a good way to learn about designing them.
Well, he became, as you know, an outstanding pilot, and a test pilot at the Edwards Air Force Base, and the precursor of NASA, the NACA, National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics High Speed Flight Station.
When he was at Edwards he flew everything from bombers, to fighter jets, to the rocket powered X-15. The X-15 took him up to the edge of space. And he was pointed that way even before there was a space program. In fact, he said to me that he doubted he would live to see humans in space in his lifetime in the middle 1950s. That was his thought.
Well, things certainly changed. And he found himself as an astronaut. And when it came to flying in space, and particularly flying the Apollo 11 mission, he saw it as an engineering test flight, just like his colleagues did.
And the landing on the moon was the most difficult part of that mission, especially since nobody had ever done it before. It was the most complex part of the mission. It was the part with the most unknowns. It was the part that most had the chance for things to go wrong. It was basically a controlled fall out of orbit, with only enough fuel for one try. So that should give you some idea of the pressure that he was under in trying to carry out that first landing.
Now, of course, there were a lot of people working on the problem. How do you do it? How do you even practice it?
And Neil, actually before he became an astronaut had worked on the problem of how do you practice landing on the moon? Way back in the early '60s he had given thought to how you would create a trainer that could fly-- even though it was still on Earth, how could you develop a trainer that would fly as if it was in the moon's 1/6 gravity.
Well, they figured that out. And by the time Neil was assigned to Apollo 11, he had already flown this strange vehicle called the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, the early version of the Lunar Landing Research vehicle. And what you see here is basically a framework. And in the middle of the framework is a jet engine. And that jet engine is hooked up to a computer that is constantly providing the weight of the vehicle as it changes over time by using up fuel.
The jet engine is programmed to counteract 5/6 of the gravity-- the weight of the machine. The remaining 1/6 is controlled by rocket engines, which the pilot-- sorry. Over here. The pilot, in this case, Neil, would be able to control from the cockpit.
And not only that, but by flying this thing, you learn to change direction. How do you change direction if you're flying balanced on a rocket? You're basically balanced on the exhaust of the rocket.
Well, let me show you what that looked like. So here's the LLTV taking off. These are bursts of steam from hydrogen peroxide altitude control thrusters.
And in order to change direction, you literally have to tilt to one side or another to direct a little bit of the rocket thrust to one side and point you in a different direction.
Here he is coming down for the final descent. Now, this was a very dangerous machine. And you can see here, this is Neil flying it in the spring of '68. Look what happens.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: The machine crashes and burns. Neil comes down on his parachute and narrowly avoids the fireball. The only thing that he suffered was a pretty severely bitten tongue from the kick off the ejection seat. And so he was a little grumpy from that. But otherwise unfazed. In fact, the other astronauts didn't even know that anything had happened to him.
One of the other astronauts, Alan Bean, told the story that he was standing around the water cooler. And one of the other astronauts said, hey, did you hear that Neil bailed out [INAUDIBLE] LLTV. And Alan was right next door to Neil's office. And he hadn't heard Neil say a thing. And he went in, and he said, Neil, they just told me you bailed out of the LLTV this morning. And he said, yeah. It was just back to work. Another day at the office.
Well, the complexity of that landing, and the unforgiving nature of that landing really influenced his perspective on that mission. And he has said many times that by the time he actually was heading for the launch pad-- and that's what you see here, 50 years ago yesterday morning, he figured that he, Buzz, and Mike Collins probably had a 90% chance of getting back to Earth alive, but only a 50-50 chance of accomplishing the landing on the moon. He fully expected that something would go wrong that would prevent them from getting to carry out that landing, and that a later crew would have to try again. So that was literally in his mind or had been in his mind as Apollo 11 lifted off.
The lift off, of course, was perfect. So was the departure from Earth, beginning a trip out to the moon of about 69 hours or so. On the way out to the moon-- this is another still from onboard motion picture footage. And what you see here is, in the command module Colombia, Neil is studying a photo map of the landing site. He's basically studying up on the landmarks that he will see as he and Buzz descend to the moon.
And the plan was that he would be able to look out the window and tell by means of a special grid on the window, combined with some numbers from the computer, he would know where they were headed. And if he didn't like the look of that particular spot, he would be able to nudge his hand controller in one direction or another to change the aim point.
OK. That was the plan. And you can see on the right there, a picture of the Earth that they took after they were already over a day, day and a half, or two out into space, 100,000 or 200,000 miles away.
Mike Collins made the comment to them while they were on that trip out from Earth to the moon that they should play a little mental game with themselves and pretend that their quote, unquote real mission had not begun yet, and that the real mission would not begin until Neil and Buzz crawled into the lander Eagle, and separated from Mike in the command ship Columbia. And at that moment they could let themselves really feel the weight of the responsibility that was on them. So it was a good little mental trick to avoid becoming too keyed up before it was really necessary.
Well, here is the moment of the real mission beginning. And what you see is the lunar module Eagle photographed by Mike from Columbia. Here is Neil in the window, getting ready to fly that landing.
And it began with a 30 second firing of this descent rocket right here, 30 second blast to lower their orbit. They start out at 69 miles above the moon in a roughly circular orbit. That 30 second rocket firing will shift the low point of their orbit down to just 50,000 feet.
This was part of the way NASA designed these missions. They did it in a very clever way. Because if you had a problem between the time you did that burn and the time you actually got down to 50,000 feet, you didn't have to keep going. You would come back up and be able to rendezvous with the mothership. OK? So they always had bailout points built in. OK? That was part of how they mitigated the risk of doing something that nobody had ever done before.
Everything went fine. They got down to 50,000 feet. And they ignited this engine once again. And now they left the engine running. And they were flying more or less horizontally.
So most of the thrust of the engine was used to slow them down, like a big break. OK? And they got lower and lower. And as they got lower, they gradually tipped a little bit, a little bit, a little bit more forward.
And this was a time when they were having some problems with communications. That was a very tense time for the folks in mission control and the flight director Gene Kranz, and his guys. They had to get enough data to give them the go for this powered descent to the moon. The last 12 minutes of the descent was called the power descent, because this engine was running all the time.
And the data was coming in and out. It was a really nerve racking time. They finally got enough data to give the go ahead. They started the engine. They began to slow down.
Now, here's where things got really dicey. All of a sudden-- well, the first thing that happened was that the landing radar on the lunar lander began to collect signals from bouncing off the moon, and giving them readings on their altitude. Buzz, being the computer operator, was comparing the altitude that the radar said they were at with the altitude that the computer thought they were at based on its mathematical model. And he was comparing those two numbers. And all of a sudden, they got an alarm in their headsets. And there was a number on the computer that said 1202.
They had no idea what this meant. And at one point Neil said, give us a reading on the 1202 program alarm. And it's one of the few times that he actually came on the radio during the descent. Most of the time Buzz was doing the talking over the radio. That's why you only hear Buzz's voice on that tape of the landing.
Neil was talking to Buzz occasionally over the intercom. But on this occasion he was so concerned-- they were both so concerned, because they were worried that the computer was going to abort the landing.
Now, the guy you see in the picture was a 24-year-old flight controller named Jack Garner. 24 years old. And he's the hero of this story, one of the heroes of this story.
When the 1202 alarm came, Jack Garman was in a back room. He wasn't even in the main mission control room. He was in a back room. And he knew exactly what it was. He had a crib sheet with all the alarms.
This is just one small part of his little crib sheet. And you could see, 1202 is a kind of alarm called executive overflow. That means it's got too many tasks to do in its computation cycle. And so it truncates its list of tasks, goes back to the top, and starts over. And the concern was, would it then give up working altogether?
Well, Jack Garman knew that, in fact, if the alarms were not continuous that they would be OK. It was only if it was a continuous alarm signal that they should worry. If it just kind of came up, went away, came back, went away, they were OK. And, by the way, they could figure out a way to lighten the computer's workload.
And the main thing that gave them a bit of confidence, the other mission controllers, was that the lunar module was still flying correctly. The computer may have been overloaded, but it was still doing the most important job of controlling the thrust of the lander's rocket. That was so crucial, because there was only enough fuel for one try. So the computer had to be in charge of the throttle. And it also was controlling the flight path.
Well, I want to play you a little clip, an audio clip that I just discovered a few weeks ago, getting ready for this anniversary. And what you're going to hear is the announcement over the spacecraft to ground communications of the alarm. You'll hear people on the flight director communications loop in mission control talking about it. And then you're going to hear Jack Garman. And I want you to listen to how calm he is.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
SPEAKER 2: Looks good.
SPEAKER 1: Looking good to us. Over.
SPEAKER 3: Is it accepting it, guys?
SPEAKER 1: The 1202.
SPEAKER 4: Standby.
SPEAKER 1: 1202.
SPEAKER 5: 1202. 1202 alarm. 1202. What's that?
SPEAKER 3: 1202. 1202 alarm.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE] has not occurred. And we're fine. It has not occurred again. OK. We're go. Continue.
SPEAKER 4: 6 plus 2. Get a reading on the 1202 program alarm. We're going [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 3: We're going that [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 2: Roger. We got you. We're go on that alarm.
SPEAKER 1: If it does reoccur will we go?
SPEAKER 3: Roger.
JACK GARMAN: If it's continuous it makes it no go. If it reoccurs we're fine. Do we have de-enable? So now the computer's taking your velocity data as well.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Sorry. It's a little garbled. But you can hear how calm his voice is. He says, if it doesn't continue, we're fine. It's like he's talking to an excited toddler.
Put the milk down.
Anyway, as I say, he's one of the heroes here. But the other hero is the flight director, Gene Kranz. Because two weeks before the mission they were doing a simulation of the landing, and they were at the mercy of the simulation instructors, who were diabolical people. They would throw in simulated malfunctions and try to catch the flight controllers in gaps in their understanding. And the astronauts.
And they threw in some computer alarms. And Kranz's team blew it. They ordered the landing. And after the simulation was over, the instructor said, you guys really blew it. This was not an abort scenario. If you'd known how to handle these alarms, you could have kept going.
At that point Kranz turned to his computer guys and said, you guys need to be ready for any conceivable alarm that could come up. And that's why Jack Garman had this beautiful crib sheet. That's a beautiful example of how they succeeded in the quest to go to the moon. That's part of the Apollo success culture.
Well, the alarms were so distracting that Neil didn't get a chance to look out the window. He was too worried about whether they were going to able to keep going, or whether they'd have to abort.
And when they were about 750 feet up he finally got a chance to look out the window. Buzz gave him a little number from the computer. He looked along his grid line here. And what he saw was this boulder field next to this enormous crater. This thing is the size of a football stadium. These boulders are the size of cars.
AUDIENCE: Oh, Jesus.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: And that's where the computer was taking them.
And this is classic Neil, over the onboard voice tape. On the intercom, on the onboard voice tape you hear him say, pretty rocky area.
That's all he said.
Now, I have to give you one other little detail about this that came up when I interviewed him. Before I interviewed any of these guys, I read everything I could get my hands on, including the debriefings that they gave after they returned from the mission.
And in the debriefing for Apollo 11, Armstrong said that when he saw these boulders, for a split second he thought to himself, huh, I wonder if we could slow down quick enough to land near one of those boulders. Because the geologists would be overjoyed if Buzz and I could get out and hammer off a piece of lunar bedrock.
Because even though he only had like two days of geology training for this mission, he understood the fact that big boulders next to a big crater probably came from deep down. And that meant that there were pieces of bedrock from the moon.
Well, he decided in the next split second that they were going a little bit too fast and there were too many rocks. And so at that point he took over semi manual control. And he flew past the big crater and looked for a safer spot.
And I said to him, I got to tell you, it blows my mind that in the heat of the moment you were actually thinking about the geologists. And he sort of chuckled. And he said, yeah, I didn't have that much courage.
So anyway, this was going on. Don't forget. He was not speaking over the radio when he said this. He was only talking to Buzz over the intercom. Nobody on Earth knew, nobody in mission control knew that he had spotted this enormous crater and these enormous boulders. All they knew was that he was taking a lot longer to get down than he ever had in simulations. And everybody was aware of the dwindling fuel supply.
So the fuel supply is going down and down and down. And Neil knows this too. And as they get closer to the moon, he finally finds a good spot. He's flown past this big crater. And now he's got to get down the last 100 feet, 75 feet or so going straight down, vertically down. And he's got to bring it down slower, and slower, and slower.
And what he starts to notice as they get below 100 feet is that the surface is suddenly becoming blurry. And he's looking out the window. And the surface is suddenly-- it's like it's wrapped in some kind of haze. And he realizes that the haze is lunar dust that's being kicked up by the blast of Eagle's rocket engine.
And no human eyes had ever seen dust kicked up by a rocket engine on an airless world in 1/6 gravity before. So this was a phenomenon that nobody had anticipated. In the moon's 1/6 gravity, the dust didn't billow up like it does here on Earth. It didn't form a big billowing cloud.
You have to think about the fact there's no atmosphere. And so each dust particle was like a tiny little cannon ball on a ballistic trajectory, a ballistic arc. But there were millions of them. And they were all going out in all directions from where the blast of the engine was hitting the ground.
And so these were streaks of dust that were radiating outwards. And they were very confusing to his perception of motion. He wanted to try to come straight down. He did not want to be drifting backward, because he didn't want to land in a place he couldn't see. He didn't want to come down with one foot on a boulder or in a crater. He didn't want to be going sideways at any appreciable speed, because he didn't want to risk breaking off a landing leg.
So during that last 30 feet, 50 feet, 40 feet, 30 feet down to the surface, he was really struggling. And what he did was he realized he could see rocks sticking up above the blowing dust. And he used those as reference points.
What I want to do now-- oh, and I'll tell you one other thing that he told me, which was that in the back of his mind he knew as they got down below about 50 feet, 40 feet, it was literally too low to abort the landing successfully. You literally could not punch off the descent stage, light the ascent rocket, and go back into orbit fast enough to avoid crashing.
So that was called the dead man's curve. You had to go ahead and land. Never mind the fact that mission control is calling out 60 seconds, followed by [INAUDIBLE] seconds.
What do those numbers mean? It means you've got 60 seconds or 30 seconds until you've either got to land or abort. Well, Neil understood that below a certain altitude you can't even really pull off and abort. But he told me that in the back of his mind, he knew that once they got below about 40 feet, 30 feet, if the engine quit, they'd probably be OK. They'd just fall onto the moon.
He said it wasn't in the front of my mind. But it was in the back of my mind. Not a very elegant way to carry out the first landing on the moon, but at least they would have been OK.
Well, what I want to show you now is a wonderful animation that was done by my friend John Knoll. John Knoll is the creative director at Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects place that does all the Star Wars movies, and Pirates of the Caribbean. And John is a lifelong Apollo nut, like me, and like so many others. And about 15 years ago, or even a little more than that he did this animation using the actual data on the lunar module's orientation and position.
So this is as close as we can get to having somebody flying alongside Eagle, recording it on film. And you'll hear the audio of Buzz reading off the height above the surface, the speed of descent, and the rate of acceleration across the surface. And then you'll hear that call for 60 seconds, 30 seconds, and then the actual landing. So here we go.
BUZZ ALDRIN: OK. 75 feet. [INAUDIBLE] looking good. Down a half. [INAUDIBLE] forward.
SPEAKER 3: 60 seconds.
BUZZ ALDRIN: Lights on. [INAUDIBLE]. Now, 2 and 1/2. Forward. Forward.
40 feet down. 2 and 1/2. Picking up some dust. 30 feet. 2 and 1/2 down. [? Great ?] shadow.
Four forward. Four forward. Drifting to the right a little. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 3: 30 seconds.
BUZZ ALDRIN: Forward. Good. [INAUDIBLE]. Contact light. OK. Engine stop. [INAUDIBLE] descent.
SPEAKER 3: [INAUDIBLE].
BUZZ ALDRIN: [INAUDIBLE] auto descent and command override off. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 3: We copy you down, Eagle.
BUZZ ALDRIN: Houston, Tranquility Bay here. The Eagle has landed.
SPEAKER 3: Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Yeah. Yeah.
BUZZ ALDRIN: Thank you.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: That was a real cliffhanger. And because again, nobody knew about the big crater. Nobody knew.
So now you understand why Neil Armstrong considered the landing the emotional high of the mission, and why he only thought they had a 50/50 chance of pulling it off. And why he felt such a sense of satisfaction at having been able to carry this off, knowing that he was part of a team that really amounted to about 400,000 people. I mean, he never lost sight of that.
At this point they were on the moon. They were given the go ahead to stay on the moon. And they did not have to lift back off again because of some problem with the vehicle. They knew they were there to stay for a while. They had several hours to eat a meal and power down the systems until the next day.
And then finally, they got into the rest of their suits, the helmets, the special moonwalk helmets, special gloves, special boots to pull over the shoes of their spacesuits. Neil came out first, and then Buzz came out. And they spent a couple of hours walking around on the lunar surface.
And this is a wonderful image of Buzz that Neil took. And it really brings to mind one of the most interesting things that I got from my conversation with Buzz about the moonwalk.
Notice the horizon that you see in the background. Well, it's less than a mile away. I think on Earth the horizon's about, what? Three miles away? Is that right?
I can't remember these things. But the horizon is pretty close on the moon. The moon is only about a quarter of the size of the earth. And, of course, there's no atmosphere. So you don't have atmospheric haze to give you a sense of distance. So anything that was on the horizon, any rocks that were on the horizon looked just as sharp as the rocks that were right at your feet.
But the most amazing thing that Buzz told me was that as he walked around, he realized that he could sense the curvature of the moon. He said, it wasn't like you were standing on the knoll of a hill. It wasn't as pronounced as that. It was more subtle. But it was definitely there, that he could tell that he and Neil were literally standing on a sphere. That's not something that we experience here on the Earth. But he experienced it on the moon.
Of course, the beauty of the moon doesn't really come through in these photographs. But they both called it a beautiful place. Neil said it has a stark beauty all its own, much like the high desert of the United States. Buzz coined a beautiful phrase to describe the moon, magnificent desolation, which I think is the best two word evocation of the moon that I've heard.
Well, they really didn't have a ton of time on that moonwalk. They were able to put out a couple of experiments. A solar powered seismometer was one of them. The other one was an array of prisms that was used to bounce a laser beam from the Earth to the moon and then back again as a way of refining our measurements of the moon's distance.
They picked up rock samples. Actually, Neil did that. Two different periods during the moonwalk Neil was able to gather samples of rock and dust. And he did a super job.
In fact, the only geologist to walk on the moon, Jack Schmidt, who was on the last landing, said that Neil's performance on Apollo 11 was absolutely spectacular, despite the fact that he had had such a limited exposure to geology training.
One of my favorite moments in the moonwalk happens very late in the moonwalk. Buzz is hammering in a core tube to get a sample of the dust right below the surface. And Neil decides to run back from the lunar module to a crater that's about 80 feet in diameter. He had flown over it just before going into that final vertical descent. And he figured, I can't go into the crater, not without Buzz around in case I should fall down. But at least I can get some pictures. And maybe they'll see some exposed bedrock in the walls of the crater.
So Neil really motored back here. You can see it on the TV. If you zoom on the TV, if you go to the YouTube of the Apollo 11 moonwalk and you zoom in a little bit, you can see him really charging out of the field of view. And one of the geologists who had trained the astronauts was home watching the TV, and he suddenly saw Neil galloping out of frame and said, where's he going? Like there'd be some horrible monster just off the frame.
And I asked him about it. I said, wasn't the rule that you were supposed to stay within the field of view of the TV camera? And he said, oh, I don't know if there was a rule or not. But I knew it wasn't going to take a lot of time. So I did it.
Anyway, here's a cool thing. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been in orbit around the moon since 2009, has a camera that's so good that you can see not only the bottom half of the lunar lander and the experiments, but you could see Neil's tracks. As he ran back.
This little crater here is this.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: So here you are. And the tracks go all the way back to when he ran back to the lunar module. He was only gone for about three minutes. And Buzz had no idea what he was up to because he was hammering in a core tube.
So like I say, that's one of my favorite moments in the whole thing. And the next day-- they got back into the lander. They tried to sleep. It was very difficult to sleep.
Not only because they were keyed up psychologically, but because it was quite cold in the cabin, unexpectedly cold. And they didn't exactly have the most comfortable sleeping arrangements.
Buzz curled up on the floor. Neil sat on the kind of cylindrical cover to the ascent rocket in the back of the cabin, and stretched his legs out on a little tether that he rigged up.
The next day came the real moment of truth, which was the lift off from the moon, which is depicted here in a wonderful painting that was done by one of the other moon walkers who became an artist after he left NASA, Alan Bean, my dear friend and mentor who sadly passed away last year. But in his lifetime he did a number of wonderful paintings of the Apollo missions. And he's, of course, the only artist who ever walked on the moon. So he kind of has the market cornered on that one.
But this was another fascinating aspect of my interviews with Neil and Buzz, because I asked both of them, I said, what was your thought process about knowing that that engine had to work or you were stranded on the moon?
And buzz said to me, look, everything had been done to ensure the reliability of that engine. And that's true. I mean, they designed that engine to be as reliable as humanly possible. And he said, everything had been done to stack the deck in our favor. So why would I think about it not working?
So that was his point of view. That's how he felt. When I asked Neil about it, he said, yeah. I thought about it. And he said he had tried to get them to give him some kind of way of manually starting the engine in case the electronics didn't work. Even though they had redundant electronics, they had backup electronics, and everything else in the engine, almost everything in that engine had backups. But indeed, if it didn't work, could you just manually open the valves? And because the engine was designed, it didn't need an ignition system. All that you had to do was open the valves. And when the propellants flowed together, they would ignite on contact.
But they weren't able to give him the manual ignition system. And so he just accepted the risk. And fortunately, this is what happened. And about three days later they splashed down in the Pacific.
And this was kind of a funny moment. I'm not talking about the picture on the right. The picture on the right is everything it should be, the mission control team waving flags, and the sign that says task accomplished, July 1969.
Meaning Kennedy's challenge. Of course, Kennedy had been assassinated almost six years before. But Kennedy, of course, had challenged the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the '60s and return him safely to the Earth. Well, we put two men on the moon and returned them safely.
But what I want to point out to you is that they're sitting in the life raft wearing these strange garments with little air canisters, face plates. And this is one of the recovery frogmen. Or I guess this is the frogmen, and these are the three astronauts.
They were worried, some people, not anybody who knew anything about the moon was worried about, would they bring back moon germs? Really. I mean, I'm not kidding.
And anybody who knew anything about the moon-- I mean, the moon, first of all, for starters, no air. OK? Temperatures of 300 degrees above zero in the sun and 300 degrees below zero in the shade. Not exactly a vacation spot. Nothing to block lethal radiation from the sun from raining down constantly on the surface.
All of these things. In fact, one of the scientists said if you were going to build a sterilization machine you would build it to be like the moon. But there were people in other countries who were very nervous about it. And so politically, NASA had to develop some sort of contamination prevention.
And Neil said it very eloquently. He said, look, it's a very unlikely event with a huge consequence. And so you have a finite chance of something bad happening.
So what their plan was that they would get them from the spacecraft to the aircraft carrier. They'd put them in a quarantine trailer. They'd fly the quarantine trailer back to the mainland and back to Houston. And they'd attach the quarantine trailer to a whole facility that was under quarantine, where they had the moon rocks, and the guys would be kept in quarantine until it was clear that they didn't come down with any moon bug. OK?
There was just one little gap in that quarantine train, in that whole procedure. And that was after the spacecraft splashed down, the swimmers from the Navy came and put a flotation collar around the capsule to keep it stable. And the astronauts didn't have these biological isolation garments in the spacecraft.
So what happened? The swimmer opened the hatch, tossed in the garments, and then closed the hatch. What could possibly go wrong there?
The Andromeda Strain is just sitting in the capsule going, oh, I shouldn't come out yet? All right.
Anyway, there were no moon germs. Everything worked out. And I want to point out that Apollo 11 is not the end of the story. Right?
Apollo 11 was just the first of six successful lunar landing missions. And by two years after that, 1971, July and August of 1971, Dave Scott and Jim Erwin of Apollo 15 were living on the moon for three full days. They brought along a battery powered car. Right? Cause they're American.
No. Seriously, it was an incredible thing. It allowed them to go for miles across the surface. They went up the side of this mountain, which is 11,000 feet high. And they went hundreds of feet up the side of this thing where they found rocks that were 4 and 1/2 billion years old, almost as old as the moon itself.
And they went to the edge of this giant canyon here. They took [INAUDIBLE] lasting over seven hours, a full working day out on the surface of the moon. Three moon walks on that mission. Same thing on Apollo 16 and 17. And then the program was all over.
And in retrospect, it seems almost unfathomable. In fact, the commander of the last lunar landing mission, Apollo 17, Gene Cernan, said once that it was almost as if President Kennedy reached into the 21st century, and grabbed a decade out of the 21st century, and spliced it into the 1960s. That's what it feels like.
And so we're left with a very strange situation. And I have felt this many, many times, especially on these anniversaries when we look back. That we haven't been back to the moon in over 40 years, 45. Now it's 47 years since the last humans walked on the moon.
And this is a picture of the moon from the International Space Station. This is as close as we get to the moon now, and as close as we've been to the moon since 1972 is seeing it from Earth orbit.
And it reminds me of a story that I heard from one of the top engineers at NASA, a guy named Max [? Vajay, ?] who was the chief designer of the Mercury spacecraft, the Gemini spacecraft, and the Apollo command module.
And he told me a story that sometime in the 1970s he went to Galveston Beach with his dear friend Bob Gilruth, who, of course, had been the driving force behind the Houston Space Center, and was one of the giants of Apollo. And they were walking along the beach. And there was a big, full moon up in the sky.
And Bob Gilruth turned to Max [? Vijay. ?] And he said, you know, Max, someday people are going to try to go back to the moon. And they're going to find out how hard it really was.
Well, actually, I think that is one of the great lessons of Apollo. And we'll talk more about this in a minute. But it really was a lot harder than we realize, even today.
And that's what Gilruth was talking about, all the stuff that you can't write down, that you can't put it in a NASA document, an experience report. All that kind of lost corporate knowledge is part of why it's so hard to go to the moon.
And, of course, the conditions that created Apollo will never come again. We went to the moon because we were trying to beat the Russians at the height of the Cold War. And that's why Apollo was funded like a war.
And I actually teach this material at NASA these days. And one of the things I tell them is, we had two things right at the starting gate that helped make Apollo a success. One was a very clear and compelling goal that came from the top. And the other was sufficient resources to carry out the goal.
So it's great when I hear people say now, well, let's go back to the moon in five years. And NASA's kind of gearing up to try and do that. But the question is, are they going to have the resources that they need to actually solve the problems that will come up?
But I want to just tell you what I think of as the three great legacies of Apollo, which are still enduring, and will endure. And one of them is what I call the spirit of Apollo, the lesson in human collaboration. OK?
Apollo was almost like the country decided to run an experiment in doing very difficult things with large numbers of people. Like I said, 400,000 people at the height of that program. And every one of them felt a sense of responsibility for making that program a success. Every single one of them knew that it was, in some way, up to them for us to get to the moon and carry out Kennedy's directive.
And this is a very rich subject that I've spent the last eight years delving into. And this is what I teach at NASA. But I think one of the great legacies of Apollo is that lesson in human collaboration. And I will say one thing, which is that one of the things that we had to learn to do in Apollo was to rise above our differences. We went to the moon out of a spirit of competition with the Russians. But within the United States, within the Apollo team, we had to learn to rise above our tribal divisions, which are sort of hardwired into us.
So NASA versus its contractors. Or one group at NASA versus another group at NASA. We see these kinds of tribal behaviors everywhere, in every organization, all through history. But in Apollo they had to rise above that stuff in order to ultimately succeed. And that's one of the great benefits, one of the great lessons of Apollo.
The Second great legacy, of course, is the science. And this is a picture of the very first Apollo moon rock that was cleaned off. They were all covered with dust. Well, when they picked them up from the surface they were covered with dust. And by the time they got them home, they'd been jostling around in a whole box full of rocks and dust. And so they had to clean them off.
And this is a rather humble looking representative of the Apollo samples, the very first one to be examined up close. And it is a piece of basalt, a rock that formed from molten lava.
Now, basalt is the most common rock in the entire solar system. You'll find it everywhere that there is a solid surface. Almost everywhere, I should say. Not quite everywhere. In the outer solar system you don't find too much basalt. But in the inner solar system there's plenty of it.
And this is very much like the basalts that you would find if you went to Hawaii. The only difference is that if you went to Hawaii and picked up a piece of basalt, it might be 100 years old. It might be a year old. It might be a week old. Because, of course, Hawaii is still erupting.
This piece of basalt is over 3 and 1/2 billion years old. And that happens to be rather young for a moon rock. So what the moon rocks gave us was a window into the earliest history of the solar system.
In fact, the Apollo samples became the key that unlocked our entry into the cosmic library, to be able to page through the earliest history of the solar system.
It is on the moon that that early history is recorded most clearly and cleanly, because we don't have the oceans on the moon. There is no water. There's no air. There's no plate tectonics. There aren't the things that have wiped out the early history on the Earth.
So the moon and the moon rocks really became the Rosetta Stone for decoding the early history of the solar system, which, of course, is the entire foundation for our understanding of how we got here.
One of the things that the Apollo samples told us was that giant impacts were absolutely pivotal in shaping the moon and the other planets. And we know that a giant impact probably killed the dinosaurs. And probably giant impacts helped shape the origin and evolution of life on Earth at many points. So that is the second great legacy of Apollo.
And the third great legacy is the perspective that we got from going so far away from the Earth, even though it's right next door in terms of cosmic distance. It's right in our backyard compared to Mars or the outer planets.
But yet, human eyes went out and saw the Earth so small that you could literally hide it behind your outstretched thumb.
Try that right now. Just put out your thumb. And imagine hiding the Earth behind, everybody you've ever met, everything you've ever seen before behind your thumb. And imagine how that would make you feel.
Well, the astronauts may have had different feelings than you and I would have. But they all felt something. And most of them describe a sense of fragility of the Earth. They talk about the Earth. As Jim Lovell of Apollo 8 and Apollo 13 said he called it an oasis, a grand oasis in the vastness of space. It was the only color they could see in the universe compared to this very black and white, and gray moon, a lifeless moon. And the beauty of the Earth and the fragility of the Earth was something that stayed with them.
And it definitely had its impact on life down here, because it helped jumpstart the environmental movement. It's no accident that just 16 months after astronauts first orbited the moon we had the first Earth Day. So this is something that continues to inspire us.
And as I say, if we want to do hard things, one of the things we have to do is rise above our tribal divisions. And what do we get from this view of the Earth? We realize, if we're paying attention, that we're all one tribe. And that can be very hard to comprehend today in today's culture. But we've got to get to that realization if we want to prosper as a society and as a species.
And I will just leave you with Neil Armstrong's thoughts about his own status as the first man on the moon. It was never a title that he ever used about himself. He was very self effacing, very modest.
I mean, he understood his talents and accomplishments. But he told me, he said, I don't focus on self-satisfaction or being first. And what he took satisfaction from was being able to contribute to the broad scope of human accomplishment, to make his contribution to, as he put it, getting to a higher plateau from which to look from. And so it's one of the things that made me admire him as a person and as a historical figure. And so I think that's a great way to end up.
Thank you very much. And let's take some questions.
Who has a question? Please raise your hand. And I'll--
AUDIENCE: What is the size of that rock that you showed?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Where are you? Question.
AUDIENCE: You labelled it Rosetta stone.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Oh, OK. Great.
AUDIENCE: You labelled one rock, Rosetta Stone. And I wonder how large that rock is.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Let's take a look at it. So here's a ruler. And I believe these are centimeters. Yeah. These are centimeters. So maybe like so.
AUDIENCE: What's it worth?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Ha.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: More than we've got. Priceless.
AUDIENCE: What do you think of the idea that some companies are trying to make trips to the moon as a sort of hyper luxury vacation?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I wish I earned more money.
That's what I think.
No. Seriously, I think it's cool. I'm a little bit nervous that not everybody will have the respect for the experience that I would hope people would have. But I could be wrong.
But I also think it's going to be very hard to do. I mean, I just think it's very risky. And it's going to continue to be very risky.
Having said that, I would still go.
AUDIENCE: Yes. In your many, many interviews with a lot of different people, was there any mention of UFOs?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: UFOs. I'm trying to think if anybody ever mentioned a UFO. No. The answer to that is no.
I know that everybody thinks they saw UFOs. But they really didn't. I mean, there were some things that they saw that they could not identify. But that doesn't mean that they were alien vehicles.
For example, on the way to the moon Buzz-- or they all saw through the sextant, the optics something, some object that was roughly in their flight path but at some great distance.
It was probably a panel that had come off the third stage booster at the time that they separated and then turned around and got the lander out. So there's nothing truly mysterious about these things. But it certainly appeals to people to imagine that maybe they saw an alien vehicle. But they didn't.
I will say, though, that when they came back from the moon on Apollo 8, Billy Anders was at a reception. And Arthur Clarke was there. And he kind of went over to Arthur Clarke. And he said, Arthur, come here. I got to tell you about the monolith we saw on the far side of the moon.
And he said for about a second he had him going.
AUDIENCE: When do you speculate that we're going to go to the moon next?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Sorry.
AUDIENCE: When do you speculate that we're going to go to the moon next? [INAUDIBLE]
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I hate to make these guesses because I'm always wrong. I'm never able to do it.
I think if we stick with it, given right now as a starting point, that we maybe could get back in 10 years. I don't think it's going to be 5 years, the way NASA hopes it will. But don't quote me. I think it's going to be tough to get back in 5 years. I think it'll be more like 10. But I'm willing to be surprised.
And look, it's possible that the first people to go back to the moon won't be us. China has a very vigorous space program. And they definitely want to put people on the moon. And they might be able to do it in less than 10 years.
But building lunar landers, and making reliable engines that you're willing to put human lives at stake, that's tough stuff. That's tough stuff. And it costs a lot of money.
AUDIENCE: Since there's no erosion on the moon, cause it's caused by wind, how long do you think Neil Armstrong's steps would stay on the moon?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Well, there's one form of erosion on the moon that I didn't mention. And that is micro meteorites. So tiny little pieces of rock and dust that are left over from comets are always zooming through space. And, of course, the moon has no atmosphere.
If you go out later this summer, August 12 I think it is, 11 to 12, the Perseid meteor shower. How many of you have heard of the Perseid meteor shower?
Take your kids out and show them the Perseid meteors. And you won't regret it if it's a clear night. And it's a dark night. And you're patient. You got to be a little patient.
You'll see some meteors. And those are pieces of comet dust that are burning up in our upper atmosphere at a height of about 60 miles. But on the moon there's no atmosphere. And so those pieces of rock and dust come all the way down to the surface. And they're traveling at thousands of miles an hour.
So they're the reason that the moon is covered with this blanket of dust all over the place. And that has the effect of eroding things over very long periods of time.
So the footprints that Neil and the others left on the moon will not be there forever. They will probably be there something less than a million years.
AUDIENCE: NASA actually has two divisions, as I understand it, atmospheric sciences, earth sciences, as well as the space science. What do you think the priorities ought to be? Try to solve climate change on Earth, or go to the Moon and Mars again?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I don't think it has to be an either/or. I think obviously climate change is a crucial priority that should take precedence. Unfortunately, the political climate hasn't allowed that up to now. And that's got to be an international effort.
I think going back to the moon and going on to Mars should be an international effort. And I don't think-- what I'd like to see happen is I'd like to see people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk figure out how to do spaceflight more affordably and sustainably. And I think they're working very hard on that right now. And they've already done some very impressive work.
And so my hope is that we would be able to go back to the moon and go to Mars as a part of a sustained international effort, even at the same time as we would be addressing mitigating climate change.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. So from your study of Apollo 11, are there any books or summaries that you would recommend to the general public for us to read?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I could think of one.
But there are quite a few books, even besides mine, The Man on the Moon.
There's a wonderful book called Apollo, the Race to the Moon. Apollo, the Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Cox. And that book really tells the story of Apollo through the minds and eyes of the engineers and the flight controllers. And it's the best book if you want to understand how they did it. I highly recommend that book.
Other than that, let's see. Mike Collins wrote an autobiography called Carrying the Fire. That's the best of the astronaut written books. That's another great one.
If you want to learn about the science of Apollo, there's a book called To A Rocky Moon by Don Wilhelms. To A Rocky Moon. Don Wilhelms. And that is a very thorough account of how we came to understand the moon scientifically. So those are a few that I'd recommend.
And my wife is very kindly bringing over a copy of A Man on the Moon to show you what it looks like.
It's an old addition.
Thank you, Joe.
AUDIENCE: So you had mentioned that resources are one of the reasons--
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I'm sorry. Start again.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned that resources were one of the reasons why NASA hasn't been able to send a person to the moon. Why not collaborate on missions with other space organizations?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Absolutely. We should collaborate with other space organizations. We should go to the moon as an international cooperation.
Why continue to make it a nationalistic thing? Why fight the last war all the time? Why be stuck in a Cold War paradigm when the Cold War ended 30 years ago? Let's do it as an international effort that would not only mitigate the cost, but be an inspiration to people all over the world. I'm completely on board with that.
AUDIENCE: So your talk was amazing. And to remember that period is really something.
So first of all, the fear of space germs, very real. That was every kid. You were smarter than the rest of us. But yeah. I was terrified of space germs.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I wasn't thinking of that then.
No. I did know that the moon was very hostile. Space germs would be the most wonderful discovery that we could possibly make. Because it would mean that life got started in more than one place in the solar system.
And here and at Cornell we have people like Jonathan Lunine who has worked very hard to try and get a mission to, in this case, the satellite of Saturn, Enceledas, which is a small, icy world with an ocean of liquid water underneath the icy crust.
And there are also plumes of water geysers coming out from one of the poles of Enceledas. And he wanted to do a mission to fly through those plumes with very sophisticated life sensing instruments.
And unfortunately, NASA didn't pick that. Such stiff competition from the funding for those missions, it didn't get chosen. But maybe sometime in the future.
But even microbial life founded on Mars or on one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, that would be one of the greatest discoveries in human history.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I have a cultural sort of question. So in the movie First Man, the Ryan Gosling movie-- well, the Neil Armstrong movie that Ryan Gosling played him.
So there is this moment where they imply, if not actually depict Armstrong tossing maybe a little bracelet, a memory of his daughter who had died. I'm sure that really happened.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: No. Not really.
That was a very frustrating episode for me, that movie. And it is a Hollywood movie. It is a distortion, in my view, of the actual events, especially the flight of Apollo 11 as it's depicted. But I also don't think it captures Neil, who he was.
I would much rather you go see the documentary that has just come out, which Vicky and I are going to go see on the day of the anniversary next Saturday in Saratoga Springs, New York called Armstrong, which is a two hour documentary, which is full of home movies that his family shared, and interviews with people who knew him and worked with him. And from everything I've seen, that really does capture who Neil was.
I mean, Neil was not some kind of robotic figure. OK? He wasn't. When he was comfortable with you, he was warm. He was very funny. He had a kind of sly wit, tart sense of humor, self-deprecating. And, of course, a consummate professional. But that is not how he is depicted in First Man, unfortunately.
Now, I will say this. They did convey the fact that he went through an awful lot of trauma. And nobody had done that before. And so that part of the story is true. I just think that it was not balanced. That's my feeling.
AUDIENCE: I recall an old photo-- I think it was in the Apollo missions-- of the astronauts inside the capsule with something labelled, "Warning, nuclear engine."
ANDREW CHAIKIN: No. Not Apollo.
AUDIENCE: Not Apollo.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: It sounds more like Thunderbirds Are Go or something. Doesn't sound like any real space vehicle that I've ever heard of. Unless you're thinking of 2001 A Space Odyssey.
AUDIENCE: No. No. It was astronauts. And where they were, it said nuclear engine.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Not in an actual flight vehicle.
Here's the thing about nuclear power. They could never, up til now anyway, they've never been able to figure out how to make a nuclear reactor small enough that would provide enough power and be safe to fly as a space vehicle. That's the first problem.
The second thing is, you can't use a nuclear engine to get off the Earth or do anything that requires an awful lot of thrust. What you can do with it is you can use it to create very high temperatures or create a lot of electricity that would then be used to shoot out things like a stream of ions. And that's a very low thrust type of propulsion. It's very efficient, though. And so you can let it run continuously.
And we've actually had robotic spacecraft that have used iron propulsion. Not with a nuclear reactor. But that's something for the future. It's never been done in any kind of flight version.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Chaikin, let's get back to some personalities of astronauts. Now, I think Apollo 11 was the greatest mission ever, from a humanistic and science standpoint. But let's talk about Apollo 12.
Did Pete and Al really have a good time?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Oh, boy.
AUDIENCE: Was it really that good?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Yeah. They were kind of 180 degrees away from the way Neil and Buzz came off on the radio. Pete Conrad was this kind of effervescent personality, just always cracking jokes. Again, a consummate professional, but you can hear the laughter in his voice.
I mean, even when they had the lighting strike-- they launched Apollo 12 into a thunderstorm. And when I tell you what happens next you'll understand why they don't do that anymore. The spacecraft got struck by lightning twice in the first minute of light.
And it created some tense moments. But ultimately, they were able to continue the launch. And if you listen to the tape recordings, the onboard voice recorder, they're laughing their heads off. It's just amazing. The three of them, they're like camping buddies on a trip to the moon together.
And Pete gets down on the surface. And he's singing. He's cackling. And at one point he says, as he and Alan are running across the surface, he says, you know what I feel like, Al? You ever see those pictures of giraffes running in slow motion?
Can you imagine if that had been the first moon landing and we had Pete Conrad as the first man on the moon. It would have been a whole different vibe. Yeah. They had a good time. They really did.
And this Saturday HBO is rebroadcasting the mini series From the Earth to the Moon, which is based on my book in high def. They've done a new treatment of it in 4K. And the episode called "Is That All There Is," I think it's episode eight I believe, is the Apollo 12 episode. And you'll see how much fun they had. And it's very nicely recreated there.
AUDIENCE: Thanks for the talk.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: How many long do you think it will take for a man to get to Mars?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: How long do I think it would take for humans to get to Mars?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Wow. That's an even tougher problem, because Mars is so far away. To go to Mars it's about seven months or so to get there. Then you've got to live on Mars for about a year. And then you've got to spend about seven months coming home.
And so one of the hardest things is you've got to have a space ship that won't break. Or if it does break, you've got to have the ability to create spare parts on board, maybe with a 3D printer that can replace the broken pieces. And so we don't know yet how to build a spaceship that's that reliable.
Another problem is that there's a lot of radiation that you're exposed to when you go that far away from the Earth and you're in space for that long. And so we've got to learn how to keep people healthy.
When you go to Mars you're so far away from the Earth that you can't talk to people over the radio like a normal conversation, because it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes for your radio signals to go one way. And then another 10 or 20 minutes for them to get back. So if you say, Houston, we've got a problem, you basically can go watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory before you get an answer.
So for a lot of reasons, I think it's going to be a very long time before we see humans going to Mars. But maybe by the time you're grown up you'll be just the right age to be part of it. Let's hope.
AUDIENCE: What kind of man made objects still exist on the moon? And are there ongoing scientific studies being done there?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: So the astronauts left behind a number of things, in addition to the bottom half of the lander. The flags they planted, which, by the way, probably have been highly degraded by exposure to solar radiation after all these years.
They also left some personal items. Charlie Duke, for example, left a picture of his family on the dust of the moon. Dave Scott left a small aluminum sculpture symbolizing a fallen astronaut with a little plaque naming all of the astronauts and cosmonauts, Russian and American, who had died in the course of space exploration. A number of other personal items, things like that, experiment packages.
And in terms of ongoing studies, the real ongoing studies of the moon are being done robotically now. The picture I showed you that showed Neil's tracks was from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. That mission is a spectacular treasure trove. It's still returning data.
We've had other missions that have mapped the gravity field of the moon in great detail. We've had other missions that have explored the very, very, very thin, very thin, I'm talking about millionths of the pressure that we have down here, atmosphere that surrounds the moon, and the behavior of that very thin envelope of gases, mostly from the sun really. Behavior of lunar dust and so forth.
And, of course, there have been-- the Chinese have put a couple of landers and rovers down on the moon, including on the far side of the moon for the first time. India has now I believe just launched a mission to land a rover on the south pole of the moon and explore that area, which is a very promising area for us to send humans because the temperature extremes are much less. And also we know now that there is abundant ice buried in the floors of some of the craters at the lunar poles where they've never been exposed to sunlight.
So for the time being anyway, what we're learning about the moon is coming from robotic missions.
AUDIENCE: If we go back to the moon, as a public mission or an international mission, is it important for people to be on that mission, on the moon?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Well, I personally feel that it's important for people to be on them. Because I think we need to be able to hear human voices coming to us from places where nobody's ever been. I think that's part of what makes life exciting and fulfilling for us as human beings. I think it's deep in us that we want to experience even vicariously the act of going where no one has gone before, and seeing what no one's ever seen, and knowing things that people have never known before. Or giving us the means of finding out things that no one's ever known before.
I think it's also good to send people, because it's harder to do. And it pushes us to be more creative and more innovative. And we've seen with Apollo that that spins off into the culture.
We have here the Bill Gates Computer Center. But that center would not exist without Apollo. Not just because Bill Gates was so motivated growing up in Apollo, but because the technology to make the computers that we take for granted was a direct result of the space program in the 1960s, which was a great spur to innovation in microelectronics.
So I mean, I could go on, and on, and on. But I think there are a lot of reasons why, yeah. You want to have people as well as robots.
AUDIENCE: I was struck about when you said the 24-year-old mathematician, Garman, who was kind of brought at this moment, which kind of draws my question. You've interviewed so many astronauts, engineers, and scientists at NASA. Is there a common thread, or can you comment about the leadership and structure that made that successful that just kind of came out of all your interviews?
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Well, I think the astronauts are a very small subset of what made Apollo successful. I mean, if you want to talk about astronauts, yes, there are some common threads. They're all highly intelligent, all very competitive, and all very professional.
But having said that, we would not have gotten to the moon without, for example, Bob Gilruth, the head of the Space Center in Houston, and the culture of success that he created around human spaceflight.
And what you saw with Jack Garman was one prime example of that success culture, which is the trust that the management put in the very young people that they had hired. And Jerry Griffin, who was an Apollo flight director said to me recently that, in his mind, one of the reasons we got to the moon was because decisions were made at the lowest level possible rather than the highest. And that that level of trust was felt in both directions. The managers trusted these young people who were in the trenches. And the young people not only trusted, but in some cases idolized their leaders for the way that they led.
So I think that's one of the most important aspects of the success of Apollo.
AUDIENCE: This is going to be the last question for tonight cause we're over time by a lot.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Chaikin, thank you very much. I really enjoyed the talk. But I've also really enjoyed reading and rereading your Voices From the Moon.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Oh, thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: So my question is kind of relating--
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Co-authored with my wife Vicki.
AUDIENCE: Very good. Congratulations on that.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Of all of the astronauts-- obviously you've interviewed everybody, all the Apollo astronauts except for four, if you include the Apollo [INAUDIBLE].
ANDREW CHAIKIN: No. Except for just Jack Swigert.
AUDIENCE: I was going to say, except for the Apollo 1.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: Oh. Oh. I see what you mean. Yeah. The Apollo 1 units. Of course.
AUDIENCE: What would be the one thing, of interviewing all those men, that surprised you the most in their comments about their experiences that you did not expect to hear, or you were really surprised to hear? And talk about it.
ANDREW CHAIKIN: I think the thing that surprised me when I was going through the process of interviewing them was that I didn't see myself in them. And I'll explain what I mean.
I thought that going to the moon would be just a total zap. That was the word I used to use. That if you got to go to the moon, it would just blow every fuse in your head for a while. I mean, it would be that amazing. OK?
And for the most part, I didn't hear that. Instead I encountered a group of professionals who were doing a job that they were trained for, that they were the best at in the world, and they happened to be lucky enough to get the chance to carry it out.
And that's how they viewed it. That's how they experienced it. Pete Conrad told me, look, I was a pilot. I was a test pilot. I was in it for the flying. If I had to do some exploring, so be it.
Now, having said that, there were variations. I mean, Bill Anders from Apollo 8 said that if he could have walked on the moon, he would have been happy to go to the moon by barge.
No flying at all. He just wanted to be heading down that ladder and setting foot on the moon. That was one of the things that he really wishes he'd been able to do.
But most of them did not come back changed in any significant way. The only two really who come to mind were Ed Mitchell on Apollo 14 and Jim Erwin on Apollo 15. Ed Mitchell had what he called a shift in awareness on the way home, looking at the Earth, a kind of altered state of consciousness in which he experienced the universe as an intelligent entity. And it really shaped the rest of his life after he got back, the pursuit of that perspective.
Jim Irwin, on the other hand, came back and said that he had felt the presence of God on the moon. And he became a Baptist minister. And he was a wonderful guy, and totally sincere.
But those were the only two astronauts who talked about the moon experience in what I would call a transformative way.
I continue to look for transformation in other astronauts. I've even had the chance to speak to astronauts while they were in space. And I remember asking one of them, do you feel like you're on the cutting edge of human experience? And there was just silence. And I said, or do you just kind of not think that way? He said, yeah. I kind of don't think that way.
So I feel a little bit like Don Quixote there. But I think you do hear a sense of wonder. You hear a sense of awe. Especially in the younger astronauts, you hear a sense of shifted perspective, precious experience.
One of the shuttle astronauts said to me, it's almost like you know a really big secret. And that was a beautiful statement, cause it really gave me a sense of the emotion, that content that she carries around with her from having lived in space for six months.
Anyway, look, I hope some of us in this room get to have the experience and then come back and share it. That would be very cool, and maybe start opening that up.
Anyway, thank you so much.
SPEAKER 7: This has been a production of Cornell University on the web at Cornell.edu.
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Half a century after humans first landed on the moon, space historian and author Andrew Chaikin discussed the enduring legacies of the Apollo program at Cornell University on July 17, 2019. The lecture was presented by Cornell University's School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.
Chaikin is best known as the author of “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts,” widely considered the definitive account of the missions. The book was used as the basis for Tom Hanks’ Emmy-winning HBO miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon.” Chaikin is now a visiting lecturer at NASA, teaching about the human behavior aspects of success and failure in spaceflight projects. Chaikin has authored books and articles about space exploration and astronomy for more than three decades. Writer-director James Cameron ("Titanic," "Aliens of the Deep") called him “our best historian of the space age.”