The impetus for the Apollo space program came from aviation: invented by the Wright bros. & then accelerated by aerial combat in 2 world wars. Within a decade after 1945, the USA in harnessing flying technology, would lead the world into the jet age & from there, push the boundaries into space (inspite of both the diplomatic arms race & Sputnik satellite by the Russians) as a result of the unstoppable move to push faster & further into unchartered territory -- an extension demonstrated through the weaponry of warfare when in 1959, the first US intercontinental ballistic missile was launched which could travel 3500 miles & destroy cities. Then in May 1960, a U2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis stand-off in Oct 1962. Suddenly, nuclear war seemed inevitable. A more positive project of non-destructive armaggedonish capability was sought echoing the May 25, 1961 famous appeal made by President JFK to a special joint session of Congress in which he called upon American efforts to put a man on the Moon. The goal of rockets & spacecraft would be the ultimate testimony to the progress of humanity thus signifying the impatient drive onward to new oppurtunities. The ensuing labor-intensive venture involved an estimated 400,000 Americans working directly on Apollo XI from flight controllers, technicians & engineers to scientists and seamtresses; all costing $24 billion (about $100 billion today). By 1969, NASA was ready for the big one! The timeline planned down to the last second involved 17,000 people in Cape Canaveral,Florida to handle the take-off & 131 people manning the mission control room in Houston,Texas. 3000 tons of metal & 3 astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin & Michael Collins) then made their journey, taking the hopes of the world with them by setting their sights to conquer the impossible. Apollo XI featured more power than all of the waterfalls in North America combined, was 60ft taller than the statue of liberty & carried a million gallons of fuel enough to drive a car around the globe 400 times. Still, all the teamwork & discipline left the astronauts to face the unknown alone. When they approached the Moon, they did a burn to slow the command module down so they could go into lunar orbit & had that not worked, they would've shot past the Moon into the distant solar system never to be seen again. When the landing craft finally touched down 40yrs ago today, less than 30 seconds of fuel was left. And then came the broadcast pictures from the installed tv cameras, back to mission control with Armstrong's statement, "Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed" followed by his triumphant endeavor to echo the historical defining moment: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The beautiful desolate landscape & the view from the Moon looking at the Earth 240,000 miles away, could only be summed up with the planting of the stars n' stripes. In those minutes for that lone glorious achievement on that summer night, the whole world stared up at the heavens. The lunar landing united the country & was the nation's greatest accomplishment to forever stand as a metaphor in any dream to climb higher & ascend forward. Apollo XI became the first of 9 rockets that went to the Moon, landing 6 out of 7 times with 24 astronauts who would walk the surface.
The mission had set off on Jul 16 at 9:32AM with an estimated 1 million people gathered from all over Florida to see the giant rocket depart. The 3 astronauts having already flown in space during the Gemini program missions, wound up travelling at increased speeds of 24,545mph just under 3hrs into their flight. US Vice-President Spiro Agnew marked the launch as a "new era of civilization entering a new age of discovery". Armstrong set foot onto the Moon as the first human to do so on Jul 21, 20min. after first opening the landing craft hatch (parked near a crater about a foot deep). He described the surface as being like powdered charcoal and spent his first few minutes taking photographs & soil samples in case the mission had to be aborted suddenly. Aldrin followed him onto the surface nearly 20min. later helping to collect data & performing various exercises such as jumping across the landscape before planting the American flag. Both spent a total of 21hrs on the Moon, 2.5 of them outside the landing module. Collins remained in the command module and told mission control he had successfully orbited the Moon in the mother ship Columbia & take-off to return home would be on schedule. The entire event was watched (and Armstrong's words heard) by a live audience of more than a billion people around the world (185 million of them American viewers). Before leaving, the astronauts unveiled a plaque bearing President Richard Nixon's signature and an inscription reading: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind." After filming their experience, they received a message from Nixon in the White House who spoke of the pride of the American people & said, "This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made." After rejoining the Columbia mothership, all 3 left the Moon's orbit on Jul 22 and safely returned to Earth on July 24. The 3 men spent the next 21 days in quarantine at an American military base as a common inspection procedure to make sure no alien organisms were found. The Moon landing marked the pinnacle of the space race & American investment in the space programme declined accordingly with the last lunar module, Apollo 17, landing in Dec 1972. After Armstrong had set foot on the big, round celestial body & uttered his famous memorable phrase, he & Aldrin went on to collect 47lbs of surface material for research analysis. Aside from Apollo 11 (and also Apollo 1's never making it off the launchpad due to the fire in the command module that tragically killed the 3 astronauts on board in Jan 1967), there were 5 other lunar missions in the Apollo program. the one most people remember is the Apollo 13 "Houston, we have a problem" mission in Apr 1970 during which a malfunction on the ship (an exploded oxygen tank) nearly caused the crew to be stranded in space and after the onset of limited power, loss of cabin heat & shortage of water, the crew managed to fix the damage and safely returned to Earth with a succesful splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. Apollo manned-missions 7 through 10 were never supposed to land on the moon; instead they orbited it and tested the command & lunar modules used by the other flights. Of those that did land on the moon, they conducted experiments on solar wind, soil, meteoroids, seismic activity & heat flow. The significance was not only for historical importance but also for the data gathered, enabling scientists to speculate about the moon's formation & composition.
WHO'S YOUR DADDY?
No debates, no arguments & no doubt about it: the US space program was built upon nazi-technology as the work of captured German rocket scientist, the gifted Werner Von Braun, was key to putting Americans on the moon. If NASA has a singular founding father, it's him. Von Braun set the template for future rockets travelling at supersonic speed as the man behind the V1 flying terror bombs (a crude precursor to the cruise missile beginning in May 1944) and the V2 ballistic missiles (Sept 1944) meant to hit London & Paris but his disturbing, highly controversial background cannot be overlooked: as a Major in the SS, he was deeply implicated in the complicity of using over 20,000 slave laborers who were worked to death in hellish inhuman conditions to build the missiles (accounting for more deaths than the weapon ever killed - even before they became operational). Although the cruel policy was endorsed & overseen by SS Gen. Hans Kammler (who supervised the construction of Auschwitz) & another V2 chief engineer, Arthur Rudolph, Von Braun accepted the prisoners without question. His advanced & secretive but very experimental work was still years ahead of the Americans as WWII drew to a close and after Germany's defeat, he was hunted by the Americans, British & Russians for his expertise in the manufacture n' development of propulsion boosters & guidance systems. As a boy, he had once dreamed of rockets to travel to the stars & instead perfected instruments to obliterate civilians indiscriminately, that arrived without warning & were impervious to counter-measures. But he proved to have an ace up his sleeve and traded his knowledge & research in exchange for immunity from war crimes prosecution. Gambling that his worth would outweigh any charges of imprisonment or execution, as extra insurance, he had hidden 14 tons of precious technical drawings, plans, blueprints & data in an abandonned mine as a bargaining chip for his future. On May 2, 1945, Von Braun along with anonther prominent rocket engineer & 5 others surrendered to an American patrol. Stalin was furious that much of the V2 equipment & German personnel had been snatched from right under his nose despite his army's occupation of Berlin at war's end. By mid Jun, 1000 ex-nazi scientists from various German weapons programs had been hastily moved into the safety of the American zone - deliberately shielded to be kept from facing trial. In helping to finish the war against Japan (ironically enough, their allies), their previous accountability would instead be covered up & their lives allowed to begin again in the USA.
In Jul 1945, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on orders from President Truman authorized 'Operation Paperclip' to evacuate the best nazi brains to America to continue their work unhindered. Ostensibly the enemy & prisoners just weeks before, these men now in reality had contracts & fees negotiated for them as well as being promised that their families would join them later. Von Braun was among the immediate first of an initial 120 carefully selected scientists. He & several of his V2 team were setteled in Texas, including one-time colleague Rudolph. They were employed on converting the V2 into an American missile. By Feb 1946, the last of the V2 scientists was on US soil. In 1947 when the former nazi scientists' work were exposed nationally, the scandalous revelation threatened to undermine the whole US missile program but luckily a PR counter-offensive was readily available with the perfect excuse at hand of being locked in the Cold War with the Russians. And so began a concerted image overhaul into the 1950's as Von Braun & the others were trumpeted as luminaries safeguarding the West with necessary armaments - the country needed him as a protector(!) By early 1955 & now an official US citizen, He & 115 others including Rudolph had moved to Alabama where they unveiled 2 new rocket systems (one anti-aircraft & the other a direct descendent of the V2). Having reached a whole new level, the Soviet Sputnik satellite success on Oct 4, 1957 made him even more crucial as the humiliated American govt, faced with the obvious enemy supremacy in the nascent space-race, looked to the former nazi rocketeer. In Apr 1958, President Eisenhower proposed the creation of NASA & Von Braun lobbied hard to be at the heart of the agency. By 1960, he was director of the newly inaugurated George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. In 1961 after huge investment, the Saturn rocket was perfected to carry a human crew but again there was disappointment as that same year in Apr saw Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin become the first man launched into space to successfully orbit the earth. It was a bitter pill for the Americans to swallow & that summer (after JFK's challenge), 'Project Apollo' was born with $4 billion set aside to finance Von Braun's work at NASA. After a number of spectacularly disastrous & fatal failures (such as the Jan 27, 1967 launch pad fire during a test which killed 3 astronauts in just 30 seconds after faulty electrical wiring ignited & ruptured the fuel tanks causing a toxic leak resulting in death by suffocation from noxious fumes) - and even more money given to him - by 1969, his mother-of-all achievements had emerged with the production of the Saturn 5 rocket. It was 8 times taller & 30 times greater the power of the V2.
On Jul 20, 1969, the smuggled out of Germany scientist had played a huge part in one of the proudest chapters in all of American history as he & 100 others of the original Paperclip staff were still with the Apollo team that momentous day. Across the country & around the world (with the Soviets in particular, in a gloomy funk & viewing the day through a solemn filter of national loss n' mourning), the Apollo XI astronauts were welcomed back, hailed as conquering heroes & Von Braun was the man of the hour going on to be heaped with awards & honors including the national medal for science. The allied WWII hunt that began in late 1944 had paid off magnificently for the victors that sought not retribution but exploitation and yet, the looming spectre of the remaining nazi stain with its dark deeds of decades previous would not disappear: Rudolph had retired with a distinguished career in NASA in 1969 but suspicions of his nazi past raised by holocaust survivors led to a 1982 investigation by the OSI. Questioned about his use of slave labor, he protested his innocence but in the end, agreed to renounce his US citizenship & slipped quietly back to West Germany in 1984. His name would be linked to several conspiracy theories involving UFO's & Area 51 and he died in Hamburg in Jan 1996. Von Braun died in Jun 1977 in Virginia, much fated & celebrated with his nazi past almost completely forgotten. Lastly, that same year saw another Paperclip colleague, Hubertus Strughold (who had designed the astronauts' spacesuits & instructed them on gravity) have an aeromedical library named after him as well as induction into New Mexico's Museum of Space History Hall of Fame. During the war however, while in the Luftwaffe as a physician & medical researcher of aviation medicine, he conducted tests in Dachau where prisoners drowned from exposure to freezing temperatures & subjected to excruciatingly painful pressure experiments. Strughold's nazi past caught up to him when a museum visitor recognized his picture on the wall. Having escaped prosecution, he died in Sept 1986 in Texas & by the 1990's, his reputation had been greatly diminished resulting in his name subsequently being removed from the museum in May 2006.
1. The alchemy of astronomical lie?
2. Ground Control to Major Kubrick
3. O.J. Simpson & Kojak in space
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