Saturday , February 4 2023

How we got to the Moon half a century ago Science


From left to right, Apollo 8 astronauts, Frank Borman, Villiam A. Anders and James A Lovell.

Under the influence of Kennedy's commitment to arrive by the month before the end of the decade, in mid-1968, NASA saw it as raw. The January 1967 fire, in which the astronauts had to pilot in the first test Apollo, he had to redesign a good part of the ship. Now, finally, a year and a half later, the job is almost finished and, although there were many polishes to be polished, a new capsule could fly in a few months. Just to test it, without leaving Earth's orbit.

Another problem was the design of the lunar module, a non-serious vehicle that should take two astronauts to the surface of the lunar surface. He continued to over-evaluate and engineers were trying to pass several grams here, others there. NASA has offered bonus extra for every kilogram that could save. Because of this, the ship became so fragile that it was enough to press it with a finger to unite it or even pass through some protective boards. She always had to hang on cranes because her brittle legs could not support her weight.

The lunar module would not be ready to fly on another mission, as planned.

George Lov, then director of the program office Apollo, he realized during a visit to Cape Kennedy where he drove the first Saturn 5 It would take the crew … when the lunar module was ready. And then a brave idea was established: if the main basement, with three crew members, acted well during the first flight, in October, why not send the next to the Moon, even without the landing module?

This would allow testing of navigational navigation techniques, checking the operation of the missile, which never took the crew and checked new computer programs (not yet completed) to direct the way to our satellite. And also, anticipate the intentions of the Soviet Union, which prepared the launch to the Moon, perhaps in December.

In twenty-four hours Hunting developed frenetic activity. He just returned from Cape Kennedy, met with Gilruth, the director of the Houston Center, and Chris Craft, flight operations director, and Deke Slaiton, responsible for the astronaut's office. Everything in less than an hour. He called an urgent meeting at the Fon Braun office in Alabama, where he attended, among others, General Phillips, Apollo Director, Kurt Debus, Director of the Kennedy Center and Rocco Petrone, on launch operations. In three hours the group decided: if it is Apollo 7 I was successful, I would go to the moon for the 8th year.

In three hours, the group decided: if Apollo 7 was successful, 8 would go to the Moon

With a contract under his hand, Lov returned to the Houston-bound plane. At night, a new meeting, this time with the representatives of North America. Would the ship and the software be ready? What problems could they trigger? Saturn 5 at half the load? The previous flight suffered severe vibration problems that threatened to break the fuel lines. And at dawn, a new flight to New York, to project Grumman, who is responsible for LM Would it be possible to use a counterweight simulating the dynamics of a nonexistent lunar module?

NASA's top authorities in Washington have not been notified until the plan has adapted well. The administrator, James Webb, was basically cured. What would be the consequences of a possible failure in an organized trip so fast? But, in the end, he agreed.

In the meantime, there was another problem that needs to be solved. The next team has prepared a test of the lunar module around the Earth, rather than going to the Moon. That was the third year. Slaiton was interrogating James McDivit, the commander of the next mission. Would you be willing to change the purpose of your trip? I do not talk. They were prepared to try another ship under other conditions and there was not any material time to think again about training. So the order of flights has changed. It would be the next team, Frank Borman, Villiam Anders and Michael Collins to drive Apollo 8.

There would be more changes. Collins had to go through cervical surgery, which would mean three months of recovery. That's why he was replaced by James Lovell, his equivalent crew. Tradition has determined that the deputies will become owners in the third following year. Kolins became part of the team formed by Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, who is all that goes well – the pilot would Apollon 11.

October 1968 Apollo 7 fulfilled goals. So the next was scheduled for the next opportunity in which Tierra and Luna took favorable positions. It would be at the end of December. It was possible that it was Apollo 8 Orbit Month for the first time for Christmas.

In addition to the stress of training and preparation for the trip, Frank Borman took extra care. Before the first trip to the Moon, they all expected that as a commander, he had some words suitable for such a historic milestone. But Borman was a military pilot, not a protocol expert, and he did not have the least idea of ​​how to save a compromise.

Many years ago, Bormann and Lovel spent two weeks on board Gemini 7. After returning to the country, NASA sent them to travel for public relations around the world. They were followed by journalist Simon Bourgin, with whom they established an excellent friendship. Borman appealed to him for help.

Bourgin promised to cooperate and transfer the task to his colleague Joe Laitin. With the addition: the flight was almost closed and would have only a few days to write something that is appropriate, especially given the vicinity of Christmas.

Laitin went home and started to knock on his typewriter that night. Not much success. Santa Claus, Jingle Bells … all the threads went through his head and discarded. The occasion deserved something more transcendent. He opened the Bible and began to search the New Testament and his story of the birth of Christ. But he did not find anything of his own will.

It was at dawn, and the floor was covered with smelly papers, throwing away so many ideas. In love, Christine, Laitkin's wife went to see how she was ordered. The journalist was on the verge of despair. "Well," she said, "looking at the wrong book," and he turned the pages to the beginning Genesis: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth …"

All of a sudden, these simple sentences got all the senses Laitkin asked for. In a few minutes, he copied them on a list that will go to Bourg on the next day and this one to Bormann. Written on fire-proof paper – everything on board should be – astronauts stuck them on the back cover of one of the flight manuals. And on December 21st Saturn 5 with three crew on board, flew to the moon.

The start of the trip was not pleasant to Bormann. On the first night, unable to sleep, he decided to take all the sleeping pill. Perhaps it was a pill effect or simply a space adaptation syndrome (suffered from almost half of the astronauts), the fact is that in two hours it woke up with nausea. Twice he withdrew and suffered a case of diarrhea, which left the cabin's atmosphere in a state of disrepair until the astronauts were able to collect floating remains of paper towels. But the problem did not happen again.

During the journey, Lovel made more than fifty stellar position measurements using the sextant on the board. It was just an exercise that was not strictly necessary, as the monitoring stations and the computer center in Houston were following the progress of the ship. But these tests have shown that, if necessary, an inertial unit and a small computer on the road can determine the path with the same precision. Triumf for the MIT team that struggled for years to build the first flyer computer in which integrated circuits were used, was the first to be authenticated at the time.

The 1968 NASA illustration shows the flight enlarge the photo
The 1968 NASA illustration shows the flight "Apollo 8" on the Moon.

Three days after leaving the Earth Apollo 8 He fired his braking engine to enter orbit around the moon. He would have stayed there for ten revolutions and, as planned, during Christmas Eve, Bormann, Lovel and Anders addressed the reading text they prepared, while his television camera sent Earth images of crater and plains parading under his ship. Probably one of the most favorite moments of the entire space program.

When it is Apollo 8 He dropped into Tihomorsk on December 27th, bringing with him the fantastic images of our satellite, the first ones that were directly received from the human crew. And also, in one of the newspapers film, a photo that would be an icon: the blue Earth cried over a desolate lunar horizon like Apollo 8 progressing in orbit.

Nobody could have been sure at that moment, but the race by the month was over. The Soviet Union still did not have its own landing or reliable rocket. His hope that he was able to make, at least, the first round trip, vanished. There was one last and desperate attempt to use robotic probes on rocks, but that was a few months in the future. Six more months, to be precise.

Rafael Clemente is industrial engineer and was the founder and first director of the Museu de la Ciencia de Barcelona (now CosmoCaika). It's the author A small step for [un] man (Dome Books).

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