Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Landing-A Personal Memoir


Forty year seems like a long time. But forty years ago I worked on Apollo 11. I worked for General Electric in Huntsville, Alabama, as a Design Engineer and sub-contractor for NASA. My responsibility included being sure that the wiring in the S-IVB stage of the Saturn V rocket worked!

I had gone to work for GE shortly after the deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Morale was low, but for me it was an exciting time. I can still remember watching the test firings of the Saturn V rocket which was done in Huntsville. Of course, the ground shook just like an earthquake. Every launch became a person experience, it was a participatory event, hoping all went well. And we would do our work with NASA then ride around the tall building where Werner Von Braun’s office was on the top floor. We always looked upward with fascination and awe.

Of particular interest to me, before Apollo 11, was the Apollo 8 mission. It was the first flight around the moon and I was in bed with the Hong Kong flu. On Christmas Eve I got up long enough to hear the astronauts read from the book of Genesis after completing an orbit of the moon. I was very humbled. The next, Christmas Day, I spent time in the Emergency Room, playing $37 (an outrageous price then) to get a shot for the flu. A few months later I received a plaque made for those of us who worked on the program. It included a medal that how been made using materials on the Apollo 8 spaceship.

As Apollo 11 approached we were all anxious. There was so much riding on the event, more so than we realized. I listened last night as Neil Armstrong reminded his audience that the event was a pivotal time for the United States. The Vietnam war was in full swing. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that year. The Democratic National Convention turned destructive. Our nation was in free fall.

On top of that, the Russian Space program was running circles around us. They shot the first satellite into orbit, Sputnik 1, and sent the first life astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit. They were a success story all around. The cold war was on and the victory looked like they would be the winner.

I did not know this until last night, that three days before Apollo 11 liftoff, the Soviet Union, had launched a rocket, Luna 15, to the moon. “Luna 15 was a last minute Soviet attempt to steal some of Apollo 11's publicity by being the first mission to return lunar soil to Earth.” The mission was a failure, however, after completing 86 communications sessions and 52 orbits of the Moon at various inclinations and altitudes, the spacecraft impacted the lunar surface on July 21, 1969. The mission was important in that it saw one of the first instances of Soviet/American cooperation when the USSR released Luna 15's flight plan to ensure it would not collide with Apollo 11. When the American astronauts blasted off, they did not know about Luna 15. Can you imagine what would have happened if these two spaceships had collided on the moon?

On July 20th, we watched every step. The lunar module landed a little after 3 p.m. that afternoon. An interesting thing happened when Aldrin and Armstrong landed. Aldrin is a Presbyterian, and is known for his statements about God. After landing on the moon, Aldrin radioed earth with these words: "I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way." He received Communion on the surface of the Moon, but kept it secret because of a lawsuit brought by Madalyn Murray O'Hair over the reading of Genesis on Apollo 8.[13] Aldrin, a church elder, used a pastor's home Communion kit given to him by Dean Woodruff and recited words used by his pastor at Webster Presbyterian Church. [14][15] Webster Presbyterian Church, a local congregation in Webster, Texas (a Houston suburb near the Johnson Space Center) possesses the chalice used for communion on the moon, and commemorates the event annually on the Sunday closest to July 20.[16]
At 9:56 p.m. CDST, Neil Armstrong took his first step for mankind. It was a time of pride and amazement and the Americans had won the space race to the moon. If the Americans had crashed and the Soviet Union’s Luna 15 had returned to earth with samples, they would have been the victor. Talk about a close call! No overtime.

Later that night, a group of us left prayerfully for Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, with 20 teenagers for a mission trip. We had participated in the landing, now we were off to participate in a different type of mission.

Forty years later, to me this is a day of reflection. Some have thought it was a hoax, even accusing Buzz Aldrin of being a liar and a hypocrite – yes Buzz, at the age of 72, punched him in the face. A much watched You Tube exclusive!

Some moments define a generation. For some of us this was it, just like September 11th will be for others. Events happen that challenge the world. As Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzzaih died,” and things were never the same.

So tonight at 9:56 p.m. I will walk outside, look upwards, and remember with thanksgiving, that forty years ago something spectacular took place on a place far far away, and I need not forget it. “The Eagle has Landed.”

Bro. Dan


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