On Apollo 11

by Paul Gilster on July 20, 2009

I sometimes wonder whether Neil Armstrong wrestled all the way to the Moon with what he would say when he stepped out onto the surface. The answer is probably tucked away somewhere in the abundant literature on the Moon landings. I know that if it were me, I’d be turning over the options in my mind for months in advance. What do you say upon achieving what is obviously one of the most significant accomplishments in history? Did Armstrong ponder alternatives even as he descended from the lander?

apollo-11-patch

In any case, the words carried a great truth. Giant leaps are made up of small steps, and not just the first step of a single astronaut leaving a footprint. It wasn’t just a Saturn V that got Apollo 11 to the Moon — it was also Einstein, and Newton, and Leibniz, and thousands of mathematicians, physicists, engineers and yes, philosophers throughout history whose work pushed the possibility forward. This is, not coincidentally, the philosophy of the Tau Zero Foundation: ad astra incrementis. To the stars one step at a time. The operating principle is that each step is a little bigger than the last.

My uncle had come up from Florida for his yearly visit when Apollo 11 landed. I remember that he and I both found one moment in the descent utterly magical. It was when Buzz Aldrin called out ‘picking up some dust.’ Eagle was descending over that fractal landscape — very hard to tell just how high you were using vision alone — but suddenly there was the confirmation. The little craft was low enough that its engine was pushing around dust that had lain undisturbed for millions of years, and here were human beings seeing that with their own eyes.

I used to think that Armstrong’s ‘one giant leap for all mankind’ statement was too canned, a bit of celestial boilerplate. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate it more and more. The philosopher Lao Tzu said “You accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.” Most of us lose sight of the larger picture in the minutiae of daily life, but the small acts are the things we do every day that accumulate and, when chosen well, push the envelope a little bit further. Armstrong and Lao Tzu remind us that it’s time not only to celebrate Apollo 11′s achievements, but also to get back to work.

webjones July 20, 2009 at 11:40

Good post and I agree. Too often here at work the focus is on the endpoint or on the ‘milestones’ and the steps to get to those do not get the attention they deserve. I’ve always thought that Armstrong’s famous statement was the product of NASA publicists and so would, actually, be a ‘canned’ statement. But that doesn’t make it any less meaningful, insightful and relevant.

george scaglione July 20, 2009 at 12:12

i think armstrong probably planed to say what he said but what i heard was “thats one small step for man,one giant leap for mankind”! that “a man” part i am not so sure of. forgive me for what i’m about to say i’ll understand if you don’t choose to print it : but i heard a joke once on tv,what if armstrong had been so keyed up and excited by what he was about to do that he had just stepped off the lem and said…”shit!”that would have been a problem.anyway that was a short 40 years now on to mars! respectfully to all hope i didn’t offend anybody…george

Didac July 20, 2009 at 14:25

Only 2956 days span between Kennedy’s speech and the return to Earth of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. This enormous first success of a space “policy” has been in my opinion a hindrance for future endeavours. Non-technical people assumed a rythm of “incrementis” that was simply non-possible. This 40th aniversary is sad because when the Apollo program was discontinued in 1972, it was assumed that newer Moon missions will take place about the 2000s decade. Anyway, the Apollo program (nine moon missions in four years, six successfull landings, twelve moonwalkers, hours and hours of EVAs, filming, photograph, rocks) was full success to the merit of 1960s American nation.

NS July 20, 2009 at 15:26

I think everyone assumed that Mars would be the next step after the Moon, but of course getting to Mars and back is enormously more difficult. At the time I don’t recall any discussion about travel to an intermediate destination such as a near-Earth asteroid.

I still remember listening with heart in mouth as the LM descended toward the Moon, especially when one of the astronauts mentioned an alarm. I was jumping up and down after the safe landing. For me that was actually a more exciting moment than the first step.

Tibor July 20, 2009 at 18:10

Most sensible people stayed home when sailing ships first set out for the Antipodes back in the 17th and 18th Century, but there was no shortage of business people, writers, adventurers, criminals and dreamers who proved willing to get on those cramped ships to make the journey. In a similar way, calculates physicist Freeman Dyson, rogue elements of our own population will gradually spread out into the Solar System, the same mix of wanderers and dreamers, perhaps, and one that will set its sights not just on the outer planets but the stars that beckon beyond.

These are the closing sentences of Paul’s wonderful public talk in Aosta – now to read in The PI Club (the direct link is here.
We are working hard on setting sails to the stars – and have the honour to stay on the shoulders of many great people, including the Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong. Aldrin and Collins.

kurt9 July 20, 2009 at 21:52

I think everyone assumed that Mars would be the next step after the Moon, but of course getting to Mars and back is enormously more difficult. At the time I don’t recall any discussion about travel to an intermediate destination such as a near-Earth asteroid.

You have to remember that there was another significant space milestone in the 60′s. One no one ever talks about. That’s the Mariner 4 flyby on July 14, 1965 that told us how sucky Mars is. Until then, everyone thought it was like as depicted in Clarke’s “Sand of Mars” where we could build simple dome, farm Martian plants, and run around with only the breathing gear used by people who climb Mt. Everest.

You got to admit that the space dream was dead until Gerard O’neill came out with his space colony idea in the mid 70′s.

When it comes to space, there are only two possibilities to get excited about. The first is our friend O’neill’s space colonies. The other is Heim theory. If none of these work out, you can forget about space as something for you and I.

kurt9 July 20, 2009 at 21:55

Oh, I forgot to mention Venus. Until the Soviets flew their probe there in 1962, everyone thought this was all steamy jungle with a perpetual cloudy sky. Sort of like your S.E. Asia or Amazon trip, only on steroids.

Adam July 21, 2009 at 6:36

Hi All

The more I learn about the time, the more Apollo XI’s success seems a part of an overall mobilisation of the USA’s technological aspects to tackle the birth of a New Age… but one of microelectronics. Space exploration, sadly, was a side-show to the real revolution birthed by the Space Race’s unique needs. And space launchers were a byproduct of the Missile Race.

Consider the plans of the early 1950s. They all assumed a huge manned complement on the orbital stations, because there was no other way they knew of doing meteorology, astronomy, earth observation, telecommunications and so forth. But the 1960s mobilisation taught mankind how to make very clever remote sensing machines and killed the need for the stations of the 1950s Space Cadets.

So do we really need “Apollo” style manned missions to just explore the planets? No. If we go then we should be going to stay. But that’s a whole different proposition to sell the powers-that-be.

keith July 21, 2009 at 8:00

I am sure I read somewhere that Armstrong’s first words were scripted: he did not make them up himself. What’s more it was clearly meant to be “…small step for A man….” and not “…small step for man….”, but he fluffed it. Quite understandable though.

george scaglione July 21, 2009 at 13:14

i have heard that the presidential commission currently studying the future of american manned space flight is considering flights to lagrange points ,near earth objects and the moons of mars! the idea: to take it slow and steady.i say,hey,not so bad! space stations at lagrange points would kinda resemble trek’s star base’s…however – we are a little far off in my opinion from the ability to construct such structures and then transport them to the lagrange points! but a good idea? yes. further to land on near earth objects…that just HAS to be good practice for dozens of other things we will need or want to do.and well,landing on the moons of mars – that just speaks for itself! thank you one and all,your friend george

george scaglione July 21, 2009 at 13:25

keith,sorry i should have answered your thought sooner.yes it is VERY understandable if armstrong technically fluffed his line! yet to say under those circumstances one small step for man or “a” man,well they both seem to make equal sense.never really bothered me much either way.thank you very much your friend george ps but more importantly what is your opinion on the space exploration ideas i have mentioned concerning near earth objects,lagrange points and the moons of mars?again,the very best g

Pat Galea July 21, 2009 at 14:02

“I am sure I read somewhere that Armstrong’s first words were scripted”

You mean he was told to say “Good luck Mr Gorskiy?” :-)

Ron S July 21, 2009 at 14:52

kurt9: “… Mars … everyone thought … Venus … everyone thought …”

Not true.

“…there are only two possibilities to get excited about. The first is our friend O’neill’s space colonies. The other is Heim theory. If none of these work out, you can forget about space as something for you and I.”

The realm of possibilities is not this narrow, even when we stick with known physics. We’ll get there.

P July 21, 2009 at 20:46

Just to continue Adams thoughts – it seems a whole raft of economic. social and technological metrics reached their apogee for the US in the late 60s and early 70s. Is it an accident that that country had the will and ability to conduct Apollo when it did? This was a civilisation at the height of its powers – and it knew it.

The US may have a bigger economy and a larger population now, but its problems with the Constellation program may be an indicator of a culture that has ‘peaked’.

P

kurt9 July 21, 2009 at 22:15

The realm of possibilities is not this narrow.

Actually, it is. The O’neill space colony idea is the only one that offer space as a real frontier for potentially billions of people over time. It also is the only one that is about utilization of the resources that the asteroid and kuiper belts have to offer (which is 99% of the “real estate” in the solar system). The wild card is where we manage to come up with some form of FTL, the two posibilities being Heim theory or some sort of wormhole generation.

Anyways, I’m too young to have seen the Apollo landings. I came of age with Jerry O’neill’s L-5 Society.

James M. Essig July 22, 2009 at 2:43

I was duely impressed as I watched the ABC and NBC News broadcasts on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Lunar Landing.

I was 7 years old when it occurred and just watching the replay brought back a flood of nastalgic memories of the day that it occurred.

The Apollo Missions were the first steps for man to set foot on another world. I believe that the destiny of the future of humanity lies in living out our collective vocation to discover and live in worlds without end.

I do not think there is an adult person on Earth upon having looked up at the night sky to behold the huge array of stars that has not been moved to the core of their being. There is just something ephemeral about the calling of us practicioners of Tau Zero, and us space heads in general that draws interest from those around us who hear us talk about such things. I have family members and inlaws that are not physical science oriented who seem to become very interested when I mention Tau Zero and Centauri Dreams and the kinds of stuff we discuss in these fine venues.

One thing is absolutely certain and that is we all travel inexorably into the future of space time even while still bound to Earth. We will see many more exciting space missions both manned and unmanned in the comming decades. As we reach out into the eternal blackness of space time puncuated by islands of light and worlds without end many perhaps populated by ETI, we will learn more about the mystery of ourselves. Philosophers, theologians, clergyman, psychologists, and the like are drawn to the mystery of the human person. Our road to self actualization, both on an individual level and as a species took one giant step when we first set foot on the moon on that fatefull July day 40 year ago.

keith July 22, 2009 at 8:09

P, I think you raise a very good point. I believe they are having to get engineers out of retirement to work on the difficult bits of the new moon missions. When you say “bigger economy”, that is slight-of-hand economics, equating ridiculous property bubbles and retailing with REAL production.

Unfortunately, you cannot export all your manufacturing and expect all your best brains to continue entering technological professions. I think the US and the west generally is going past its peak in being space-capable.

D'Loach July 22, 2009 at 14:01

“When it comes to space, there are only two possibilities to get excited about. The first is our friend O’neill’s space colonies. The other is Heim theory. If none of these work out, you can forget about space as something for you and I.”

Regardless of if or when these are possible, it is doubtful any of us will be able to do more than relive (or live for the first time) the euphoria of watching the lunar module touch down, except this time with some other body such as Mars. When it comes to making significant advances in space exploration, we need to adopt the mindset of those people who accomplished great things on the order of building cathedrals in Christendom. People who began those works labored most of their lives and knew that there was a slight possibility that maybe, their grandchildren would live to see the finished piece long after they themselves had passed. Sure it sucks that you or I may never live to see the Great Human Empire (or United Federation of Planets or whatever form awesome of interstellar government you so desire) span the galaxy, but as an engineer, if I can work hard and lay the foundations for someone a long time from now to permanantly relocate off-planet, well then it seems like it would be worthwhile to me.

-D’Loach

Administrator July 22, 2009 at 14:48

D’Loach wrote:

People who began those works labored most of their lives and knew that there was a slight possibility that maybe, their grandchildren would live to see the finished piece long after they themselves had passed. Sure it sucks that you or I may never live to see the Great Human Empire (or United Federation of Planets or whatever form awesome of interstellar government you so desire) span the galaxy, but as an engineer, if I can work hard and lay the foundations for someone a long time from now to permanantly relocate off-planet, well then it seems like it would be worthwhile to me.

Absolutely right. And kudos on taking a long-term approach to these intractable problems — we all do what we can, and if we persist, we can make the ultimate day of success just a bit closer. That’s good enough for me.

george scaglione July 22, 2009 at 14:51

kurt,yes mars/venus everybody thought!!!! reminds me of the old joke…do you want to make god laugh? tell him your plans. seems to be true! also who actually could be suprised if armstrongs words where scripted?lastly kurt i see your point i myself was 20 years of age when armstrong set foot on the moon.you know everybody,the plans being advanced by the presidents commission on human space flight are really cool and really,in my opinion useful !! what we would build and learn and do to land on near earth objects would have to fit in six ways from sunday with a whole bunch of cool things that we will want to do anyway!!! at the risk of rambling on…in a couple of weeks i intend to visit princeton university for the day as a tourist,(love the place and it is only 33 miles distant from my desk where i presently sit) is there any space oriented attraction there of which any of us is aware?? would love to take a look if there is.as always i am more than open to any comments any or all of you may have.sincerely your friend george

kelvin July 22, 2009 at 18:22

As a teenager wondering into a staffordshire potteries museum, I was totally awed by the site of an Apollo exhibit, including newspaper clippings from President Kennedy’s wonderful speach and models/space suit from the space programme. “….to do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard” has become a fundamental philosophy in how I approach problems in life – always taking the hard route. Back then I was in dire poverty and struggling with no clear road ahead. Don’t under estimate the effects such a powerful achievement as the Apollo programme can have on inspiring a no-body to want to be a some-body and to make a difference to our small world. What we need to do now is inspire the current generation, many of which are lost and only have ‘celebrities’ to look up to – false heroes. Back to the moon and on to mars is where we need to be going, now, fast and with nations in unity.

Peter July 23, 2009 at 9:40

I don’t believe we can surely say now (nor ever in the future) that a) such a theory (like Heim theory) is the best hope for interstellar missions nor that b) such an experimental physics or engineering breakthrough is likely to occur next year or thousands of years from now. So I take issue again with the ‘incremental steps’ philosophy- looking at the history of physics (with the obvious example of the atomic bomb) it seems more like an amalgamation of ad hoc legendary breakthroughs, the exact details of which are seldom predicted.

Pat Galea July 24, 2009 at 14:01

“Sure it sucks that you or I may never live to see the Great Human Empire (or United Federation of Planets or whatever form awesome of interstellar government you so desire) span the galaxy, but as an engineer, if I can work hard and lay the foundations for someone a long time from now to permanantly relocate off-planet, well then it seems like it would be worthwhile to me.”

Absolutely!

Furthermore, I fully expect that the way the problems are eventually solved may not look anything like the way we see them now. The solutions may indeed rely upon sudden leaps that we simply can’t foresee. But that’s not a problem. We have to start somewhere, and it’s amazing how often ‘obsolete’ ideas find a new purpose at a later date in a different context. How often do we read reports that some new technique is based on some long-lost idea from the 19th century that only now can be applied realistically?

Who knows what great ideas our attempts may spark, even if we’re not exactly right on the details?

george scaglione July 25, 2009 at 13:45

pat,just read what you have stated above and you are very correct! yes,we may never see a united federation of planets!? crazy.you know what just crossed my mind!?lol i have no way of knowing your age,but : do you recall a tv show entitled “rocky jones space ranger” -wasn’t there a federation of planets on that!? you know how loooong it has been since i thought of that show? think i am refering to like 1954 or something! but back to my point – we are all here on tau zero because i dare say we all agree that any work we can do now visavie space craft and flight of the future is well worth it! very true also my friend that the actual future may not look like our imagination of it now! lol have a picture…in my garage of all places…of a “lunar landing” in the year 1949! looks nothing like the real apollo missions.in fact the space craft kinda resembles a v-2 rocket of the type used about 4 years before the picture was drawn.you make good points.respectfully your friend george

Mike Prather July 26, 2009 at 16:28

Just thought it was also worth mentioning that while the physicists, engineers, philosophers and other learned folks dreamed up the possibility and the technology for getting us to the moon, there were a much larger number of artisans, craftspeople, and administrators who did the meat and potatoes of actually getting the Saturn V and Apollo modules built and who also shared in that same dream. Don’t forget that there’s no production line factory for a moon lander – any enterprise like this will be hand made. And those are the kind of jobs we could use right about now.

george scaglione July 27, 2009 at 9:34

mike,yes sir! i am very happy and proud to be able to strongly agree with your ideas as expressed above!!!! my,now long deceased father in law was one of the mechanics who actually worked on the LEM vehicles! i see your point. all the very best,your friend george

Administrator July 27, 2009 at 9:43

Mike Prather writes:

there were a much larger number of artisans, craftspeople, and administrators who did the meat and potatoes of actually getting the Saturn V and Apollo modules built and who also shared in that same dream.

Absolutely right. Well-spoken!

ljk July 28, 2009 at 14:23

Neil Armstrong says he thought about what he was going to say when he
stepped on the lunar surface during his Apollo 11 journey to the Moon.
NASA did not tell him what to say. And he did slip while saying that
immortal phrase by leaving out the word “a” in “That’s one small step
for [a] man….” Makes the whole event even more human to me.

FYI:

Before the Apollo 12 mission launched in November of 1969, astronaut
Pete Conrad had a bet with a female reporter that NASA would tell him what
to say when he stepped on the Moon for the first time. Conrad proved her
otherwise when he put his booted foot on the lunar regolith and said
“Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long
one for me,” a reference to his relatively short stature.

Ronald August 3, 2009 at 12:55

@kurt9: too narrow indeed and not even entirely correct: the colonization of Mars, first by means of self-sustaining and growing colonies (domes and the like), later through terraforming *is* a real possibility (according to rather knowledgeable folks like Fogg, Zubrin, Birch, McKay, Ahrens and others) and in fact much more feasible than the O’Neill colonies, which, as I and others have often argued, are really very risky from the inescapable point of view of island biogeography (the smaller the habitat, the greater the extinction risk by stochastic (chance) events, or the scientific version of shit happens).
Furthermore, there are other, more recent, off-shoots from the Heim branch, not just Dröscher-Hauser, but also Tajmar and recently also Raymond Chiao.
It is true though, in my understanding, that all of them are geared towards some kind of anti-gravity/inertia-free drive.

ljk September 4, 2009 at 10:04

September 3, 2009

LRO Images Apollo 12 Landing Site

Written by Nancy Atkinson

Back in July when the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team released stunning images from several Apollo landing sites, it was not possible at that time to image the Apollo 12 site, the westernmost landing site, due to operational constraints.

But now LRO has taken a good look at Oceanus Procellarum and the wait was well worth it. Easily and clearly visible are the Lunar Module descent stage and Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP), along with astronaut tracks, and the Surveyor 3 spacecraft.

“There are only so many locations that can be imaged at one time,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator of LRO’s Camera, LROC. “Not every target can be imaged every time around. I’m glad we had to wait another month, it was very exciting to see this image a month after the excitement of the first round of Apollo landing sites.”

LRO is slated to orbit the moon for at least another 12 months, which means Robinson and his team have many more imaging opportunities ahead of them. In mid-September the spacecraft’s orbit will be lowered, allowing LROC to acquire even higher resolution images of the Apollo and Surveyor landing sites.

For higher resolution images and more info about about the Apollo 12 site, check out the LRO website.

http://www.universetoday.com/2009/09/03/lro-images-apollo-12-landing-site/

ljk January 16, 2010 at 0:04

January 14, 2010

Searching for Moon Rocks Here on Earth

Written by Nancy Atkinson

Wanted: Moon rocks. Whereabouts: Unknown.

Alarmingly, some of our Moon rocks are missing! After the Apollo Moon landings, then-U.S. President Richard Nixon distributed approximately 250 displays containing lunar surface materials from Apollo 11 (1969) to the 50 states and various other countries around the world, and then later gave away 135 rock samples from Apollo 17 (1972).

But NASA is finding that a surprisingly low percentage of these precious rock samples — which are encased in acrylic and mounted on a plaque along with the intended recipient’s flag — can actually be located.

Robert Pearlman at CollectSPACE.com has put together two lists, and the whereabouts of only 42 of the Apollo 11 rock samples are known, while only 61 of the Apollo 17 rocks have been located.

Earlier this week, an article in the Honolulu Advertiser rejoiced that Hawaii’s missing Moon rocks had been found in a locked cabinet. The rocks weren’t technically lost, an advisor to Hawaii’s governor said, they just didn’t know exactly where they were.

Full article here:

http://www.universetoday.com/2010/01/14/searching-for-moon-rocks-here-on-earth/

ljk September 20, 2010 at 19:46

Review: Footprints in the Dust—

Forty years after Apollo, what more can be said about this legendary program? Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to come up with new angles to retell the story of the Moon landing missions and more.

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1696/1

ljk September 29, 2011 at 8:20

A fellow has used Google Moon to compare how things looked for Apollo 11 as they historically descended to the lunar surface in July of 1969:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/28/apollo-11-descends-to-the-google-moon/

ljk October 22, 2011 at 3:21

NASA Sets Guidelines to Preserve Apollo Moon Landing Sites

by Leonard David, SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist

Date: 21 October 2011 Time: 06:00 AM ET

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico — NASA has begun drafting guidelines to protect the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 landing sites, listing them as off-limits, and including ground-travel buffers and no-fly zones to avoid spraying rocket exhaust or dust onto aging, but historic, equipment.

Robert Kelso, NASA’s director of lunar commercial services at Johnson Space Center in Houston, has taken a hard look at future revisits to the Apollo sites and how to protect U.S. government artifacts on the moon.

Kelso has carved out a set of guidelines intended to safeguard the historic and scientific value of more than three dozen “heritage sites” on the lunar surface.

Full article here:

http://www.space.com/13346-nasa-guidelines-protect-apollo-moon-landing-sites.html

ljk February 29, 2012 at 22:55

An interactive retelling of the Apollo 11 mission to Luna:

http://wechoosethemoon.org/

ljk August 25, 2012 at 17:18

Neil Armstrong has passed away today at age 82:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/neil-armstrong-first-man-to-step-on-the-moon-dies-at-82/2012/08/25/7091c8bc-412d-11e0-a16f-4c3fe0fd37f0_story.html

To quote:

In an interview, Hansen, author of “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” cited another “special sensitivity” that made the first man on the moon a stranger on Earth.

“I think Neil knew that this glorious thing he helped achieve for the country back in the summer of 1969 — glorious for the entire planet, really — would inexorably be diminished by the blatant commercialism of the modern world,” Hansen said.

“And I think it’s a nobility of his character that he just would not take part in that.”

ljk August 25, 2012 at 17:35

Neil Armstrong e-mailed a space blogger about the Apollo 11 mission in 2010, uncharacteristically enough:

http://philosophyofscienceportal.blogspot.com/2010/12/neil-armstrong-speaks.html

And about those first words Armstrong said when he first stepped on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969:

http://philosophyofscienceportal.blogspot.com/2009/06/neil-armstrongs-one-small-stepanalysis.html

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