Desiré Gonzales – July 21, 1999
On the 30-year anniversary of the landing by the United States of two astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin, many things are coming to light.
On July 20, NASA had a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, which contains thousands of artifacts, including the Apollo 11 Command Module, moon rocks, spacesuits and photographs. Vice President Gore presented the three astronauts of Apollo 11, Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins with the Langley Gold Medal for aviation.
“They blazed a path farther than any we had ever known,” said Gore. He also reflected on how much an accomplishment the landing indeed was, considering the limitation of science and technology at that time. Gore said that the onboard computer could only hold one-twentieth of a typical diskette used by modern computers. “Compared to what we take for granted today, it is even more astonishing that this feat was pulled off with the technology tools you had at your disposal at the time,” he said.
On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Apollo lunar module, Eagle, on the moon’s Sea of Tranquillity with precious few seconds of fuel to spare and announced to all the world, “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Mere hours later, Armstrong descended a ladder taking the last step with the famous quote, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” He and Aldrin became the first human beings to walk on the lunar surface. Collins, the third member of the Apollo 11 crew remained in lunar orbit aboard the command module, Columbia.
Also surfacing today, literally, was the Liberty Bell 7, piloted by Virgil “Gus” Grissom, from 15, 000 feet of ocean water — 3,000 feet deeper than the RMS Titanic. It finally saw the light of day, or rather darkness, appearing at the surface at 2:15 am.
When Liberty Bell 7 landed on the deck, Jim Lewis, the original helicopter pilot who had tried to retrieve the sinking capsule 38 years ago was reported as saying, “Look, my recovery line is there.”
“Yeah, right where you left it,” said Max Ary, a director of the museum in Hutchinson, Kansas where the capsule will now reside and who will head the refurbishment process. “The top of it looks brand new,” said Ary. Then, when he took a look at the corroded inside, he was reported as saying, “We’ve got a little work to do.”
On July 21, 1961, after flying for a mere 15 minutes in orbit around the earth in a successful mission, Grissom’s Mercury capsule splashed down. As a Marine helicopter was recovering the craft, the hatch blew off and began to rapidly fill with water. As the capsule started to drag down the helicopter, it was cut loose and sank beneath the waves 90 miles from the Grand Bahamas. Grissom was safely rescued but faced many questions about how the hatch was triggered. Grissom later died on the launch pad in the Apollo 1 fire which also killed Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
The capsule’s hatch was not recovered and it is doubtful that it will ever be found therefore leaving the mystery of the blown hatch to the ages.
Something else also surfaced recently that puts a sober spin on the anniversary of the lunar landing — a memo dated July 18, 1969. It was discovered in the National Archives and is from William “Bill” Safire, Nixon aide, to H. R. Haldeman. The memo is titled, “In the Event of Moon Disaster.”
The two-page document covers what should be done in the event that the lunar landing crew became victims of a disaster on the moon and were unable to return. Prior to the president’s speech, Nixon was to telephone each of the widows-to-be. Then, after the president’s statement, and at the point when NASA ends communication with the men, a clergyman was to proceed with a ceremony at sea ending with commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep” and end with the Lord’s Prayer.
The full text of the memo reads as follows:
To : H.R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire July 18, 1969
IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT:
The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN:
A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.