Remembering Apollo 11 mission
Sitting my porch, having a drink and admiring Sopris, it’s hard to imagine that 40 years ago I was privileged to participate in argumentatively the greatest achievement of mankind as director of the Lunar Science Team at Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Center working with Mission Control and the astronauts to maximize the science returns of the Apollo 11 mission.
In the early ’60s when I was offered the job as deputy director of manned science at NASA headquarters I was advised that it was a no-win position. The engineers, attempting to do something never before even imagined, considered us an annoyance; while the scientific community could not understand why we couldn’t fly all of their 1,000-pound instruments to the moon. We did become the Cinderella group after several successful Apollo missions and the question arose, “We’ve proved we can land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, so why are we going back?” and someone said, “for science” – and suddenly they loved us.
While often frustrating, our efforts had great rewards. For example, before Gemini conventional wisdom was that, because of atmospheric interference, ground resolution from space was limited from 50 to 100 feet. On one Gemini mission, as a scientific experiment, the astronauts used a commercial, hand-held Questar telescope and were amazed to see planes on runways and cars in the streets. This information was immediately classified, and the “spy-in-the-sky” surveillance program was born.
Working with the astronauts was a pleasure. They were smart, dedicated and very competitive. They were also “jet jockeys” and played hard. With the guidance of the U.S. Geological Survey we conducted intensive geologic field training in igneous areas we hoped resembled the lunar surface. Originally we were told we could have 28 pounds for science. This would have been a rock hammer and a Brunton compass and not much else. As confidence in the engineering grew we were allowed several hundred pounds and developed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP), which delivered a respectable array of instruments to the moon to study its composition, magnetism, seismicity, etc. The crew’s field training paid off in the excellent suite of rock samples returned to Earth.
It’s rather sad to see that somewhere around 60 percent of our population either doesn’t know we’ve been to the moon, or thinks we faked it. I have no intention of getting into the “we faked it” argument. No sense arguing with someone whose mind is made up. I’m sure the lady who wrote the letter to NASA right after Apollo 11 stating that heaven lay between the Earth and Moon, and, since the astronauts didn’t report seeing any angels, we probably hadn’t been to the moon, is still convinced we faked it.
Dick Allenby, Ph.D.
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