Alexander's Column

Pride in America, Then and Now — Apollo 11

The 50th anniversary of the first step on our moon and the decade of danger and failures it took to get there.

Mark Alexander · Jul. 19, 2019

In a week like most, when the mainstream media is filled with what is wrong with America and praising leftist political neophytes who parrot such sentiments, that relentless collective perspective on our nation is both ungrateful and reprehensible. Bad news is click-bait churn that sells advertising, which is a disgraceful motive for constantly droning about the negatives.

The fact is, the vast majority of Americans — “The People,” regardless of race, gender, ethnic heritage, income, or any of the other categories the Democrat Party and its Leftmedia propagandists use to divide us — the vast majority are good people. And most of what is going on across America, outside the Beltway, is framed in goodness, generosity, and respect.

This week, we are reminded of yet another reason to take great pride in our nation — the 50th anniversary of the first step on our moon and the decade of danger and failures it took to get there.

In 1961, the Cold War was heating up and we were gravely concerned that the USSR’s successful launch of Sputnik 1 four years earlier was a dire warning about the Soviet capability to develop nuclear ICBMs, and dominate space. This mirrors the same major national security threat that the communist Chinese and their puppet dictator Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, pose today. Determined to take the space lead back, John F. Kennedy declared in a speech to Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”*

Pursuing that goal, and all of the collateral technological and industrial advances it would provide our nation, was a major undertaking. It cost our national treasury $25 billion ($115 billion in current dollars), required the effort of more than 400,000 military and civilian personnel, and in 1967 cost the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee, who died in a pre-launch test for Apollo 1.

On July 16, 1969 (years before the age of super-computer modeling and design), NASA launched Apollo 11, manned by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, from Kennedy Space Center to the moon — a 238,900-mile flight, one way. They flew the combined North American Rockwell command module Columbia and Grumman lunar module Eagle atop a huge Saturn V Rocket. Armstrong was a Naval aviator and Aldrin and Collins were both Air Force pilots. Aldrin also had a PhD from M.I.T. and was integral in development concepts for the mission.

On July 20th, mission commander Armstrong and pilot Aldrin separated the Eagle from Columbia, where Collins remained in orbit 57 miles above the moon’s surface. Collins, alone in the Columbia, circling the dark side of the Moon, later wrote, “not since Adam has any human known such solitude.”

Aldrin noted, “Our powered descent was right on schedule, and perfect except for one unforeseeable difficulty. The automatic guidance system would have taken Eagle to an area with huge boulders. Neil had to steer Eagle to a more suitable terrain.”

At 20:17 UTC, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Eagle on the moon and Armstrong announced to the world, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” I recall those words vividly as they were broadcast worldwide.

Charles Duke, CAPCOM during the landing operation, acknowledged their landing, saying, “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!” (In 1972, Duke would command the Apollo 16 mission, becoming the tenth of 12 astronauts to walk on the moon before NASA discontinued the moon missions.)

Recall, that the total computing capability of the lunar module was equivalent to a basic handheld calculator.

Two weeks before departing on their flight, Aldrin and his Presbyterian pastor were contemplating “the right symbol for the first lunar landing.” Aldrin noted, “We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets.”

Recounting what symbol they settled on, Buzz Aldrin wrote: “A little while after our scheduled meal period, Neil would give the signal to step down the ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon. Now was the moment for communion. So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the Scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance system computer. … Then I called back to Houston. ‘Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.’ … I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”

Aldrin continued: “I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ. … I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere. I read: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’”

At the time, few knew about Aldrin’s request for “radio silence” so he could celebrate with the elements and Scripture, because at the time, NASA was fighting a lawsuit from atheists because of a broadcast seven months earlier. On December 24, 1968, Christmas Eve, Apollo 8 astronauts William Anders, James Lovell and Frank Borman, in an unplanned broadcast, read in turn, the Creation story from Genesis.

Six hours after landing, Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface, joined by Aldrin 20 minutes later, describing what he saw as “magnificent desolation.”

As he stepped from the Eagle’s ladder to the moon, Armstrong said famously, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The two men explored the moon for about two hours and 15 minutes collecting 21.5 kgs of lunar material. They deployed an American flag on the moon’s surface, which had been designed and constructed by a NASA scientist who was also a member of Aldrin’s church.

After 21 hours and 37 minutes on the lunar surface, they launched the Eagle back into space and successfully reunited with Collins in the command module Columbia. Notably, two hours before Armstrong and Aldrin departed the moon, Russia’s Luna 15 crashed landed in the nearby Mare Crisium.

As they were returning to Earth, July 23, 1969, Buzz Aldrin stated via television broadcast: “This has been far more than three men on a mission to the Moon. … Personally, in reflecting on the events of the past several days, a verse from Psalms comes to mind. ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the Moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou art mindful of him?’”

Armstrong signed off: “To all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.”

Together they returned to earth. At 16:44 UTC on July 24, Columbia’s drogue parachutes deployed. After splashdown and recovery, they stepped on to the USS Hornet at 17:53 UTC. (Take a 3D tour of Columbia’s interior and exterior, compliments of the Smithsonian.)

In his memoirs, Charles Duke wrote of his mission: “In 1972 aboard Apollo 16, I saw with my own eyes what is written in the Scriptures. In Isaiah 40:22 it says ‘It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.’ And in Job 26:7, it is written ‘He hangeth the earth upon nothing.’ Who told Isaiah that the earth was a circle? … And how did the writer of Job know that the earth hung upon nothing? … This is the Lord I love and serve. This is the Lord who transformed by life. This is the Lord who transformed my marriage. … I used to say I could live ten thousand years and never have an experience as thrilling as walking on the moon. But the excitement and satisfaction of that walk doesn’t begin to compare with my walk with Jesus, a walk that lasts forever. I thought Apollo 16 would be my crowning glory, but the crown that Jesus gives will not tarnish or fade away. His crown will last throughout all eternity. … Not everyone has the opportunity to walk on the moon, but everybody has the opportunity to walk with the Son. It costs billions of dollars to send someone to the moon, but walking with Jesus is free, the Gift of God. ‘For by Grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.’”

Faith was an attribute that some of the Apollo astronauts wrote about boldly, most notably, Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin. He wrote More Than Earthlings: An Astronaut’s Thoughts for Christ-Centered Living. It is a collection of his personal devotionals, and in 1984 he was gracious enough to inscribe a copy of that book that sits amid my small collection of Apollo memorabilia.

Now, 50 years after Armstrong stepped on the moon, private-sector space launches are dominating the skies, and after years of planning, the USAF’s Space Command is preparing to transition into a new military branch, U.S. Space Force.

Additional Historic Notes:

First, regarding Kennedy’s commitment to assert America’s power and ingenuity over that of the communist Soviets, two years after announcing his goal of “landing a man on the Moon by the end of this decade” he had lost confidence in our ability to do that and offered to make the quest for the moon a joint “US/USSR” project.

While Kennedy is heralded for the Apollo space achievements and the well of pride it created for our nation, he was actually in the process of surrendering that achievement to the USSR. This followed a pattern of acquiescing to the Soviets as he had two years earlier when abandoning the Bay of Pigs invasion to remove Soviet puppet dictator, Fidel Castro – and then his capitulation to “resolve” the Cuban missile crisis a year later by giving up our counter-attack missiles in Turkey and Italy – a concession not publicly known until decades later.

In a UN speech on September 20, 1963, JFK announced, “In a field where the United States and the Soviet Union have a special capacity - space - there is room for new cooperation, for further joint efforts. I include among these possibilities, a joint expedition to the Moon.” When he made that announcement, he was well down that path of negotiating that joint project with Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev.

JFK’s “joint credit plan” died with his assassination two months later.

Second, predictably, PBS and other Leftmedia Apollo program profiles, have dragged “racism” into their narratives – not that there wasn’t plenty of that around 50 years ago. Most particularly, they are using the case of one distinguished black fighter pilot, Edward J. Dwight, Jr., to make their point. In multiple profiles, there are claims that Dwight was turned down for the second tier of 14 astronauts because of racism, and that his hopes of becoming an astronaut died with JFK. But Dwight’s disqualification, and that of 300 white pilots, was announced a month before Kennedy’s death. For his part, Dwight declared there were no racial barriers: “We guys in this space business are joined together in a brotherhood,” adding he was “treated just like everybody else.” But that was left out of the PBS profile…

Third, on the subject of the Kennedy clan, the day prior to the Apollo 11 moon landing, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, after partying with a young intern. He left Mary Jo Kopechne to die in the shallow water while he fabricated up a cover story. News about Kopechne’s death was eclipsed by the Apollo moon mission.

And finally, in 1973, Florida reversed Lyndon Johnson’s executive order which renamed the 400-year old “Cape Canaveral” area “Cape Kennedy,” restoring the original name.

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