IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON ----------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc email@example.com www.nyskies.org 2007 September 9
Introduction ---------- The NYC chapter of National Space Society is about the most active of chapters, hosting regular monthly meetings with inhouse or outside speakers. It also runs special events like the annual 'Allies in space' show to highlight space exploration projects. This year's event is on November 3rd at the City University Graduate Center. Click the link on the homepage of www.nyskies.org. The chapter also has occasional social events to let the members interact informally. One such event was the viewing of the new movie 'In the shadow of the Moon' on Saturday 8 September 2007. We convened at the chapter's meeting room in New York University, heard some news and announcements, collected handouts. Then at 4:30PM we walked to the cinema.
New York showing -------------- The film is a documentary of the Apollo lunar flights narrated by their own astronauts. It is directed by David Sington and moderated by Ron Howard, of 'Apollo 13' fame. It is really the words of the astronauts, in candid dialog, that propels the plot. Also included are filmage not previously publicly shown, mostly ground-based shots of training and preparation for the flights. The movie debuted at the Hayden Planetarium at an invite-only showing on Wednesday the 5th. This was attended by press and Museum officials, plus a select few spacefaring advocates. Chapter president Harold Egeln and NSS executive director George Whitesides were among the guests. The reception after the showing featured five Apollo astronauts to mingle with the audience. The public opening was on Friday the 7th at Landmark's Sunshine theater on Houston St, 1st-2nd Av, Lower East Side. This was a brisk walk from NYU, at Washington Square. The closest subway, under the theater's sidewalk, is 2nd Av, IND Houston St. Others a walk away are Grand St, IND 2nd Av[!]; Bowery, BMT Nassau St; 8th St, BMT Broadway; and Astor Pl, IRT Lexington Av. Buses run in Houston St, 2nd Av and 1st Av. The film plays for several weeks at least at this cinema at various hours of the day. Tickets are $10.75 for adults. At the 5:30PM show we attended, the house was 1/3 to 1/2 full, or about 100 people. Almost all were young or older adults, with only a couple children.
Apollo flights ------------ The Apollo project was the culmination of nine years effort to land a human on the Moon and return him safety to Earth. It was sparked by the 1961 State of the Union address by President Kennedy. The project proceded in stages, beginning with suborbit and brief orbit flights of Mercury capsules holding one person. The next step was a two-person orbit of many days in Gemini capsules. Apollo 1, the dry run of a simulated launch, ended in a fire that killed its three-person crew. The capsule was filled with pure oxygen at one atmosphere pressure, a factor that intensified the fire. Apollo 2 thru 7 were Earth orbit flights to test maneuvering and navigation techniques. Apollo 8 was also planned as an earth orbit flight. Then, word got out that the Soviet Union was about to send a crewed capsule on a lunar round-and-back ride within weeks. Apollo 8 was redirected for a round-and-back lunar ride, which was successfully flown in December 1968. Apollo 9 and 10 were also lunar flights to practice maneuvering near the Moon but not to attempt a landing. The spacecraft were slugged against any such trick. Apollo 11 was the first of three shots at getting onto the Moon by the end of the decade in July 1969. If it failed, two more shots were on the books for September and November. With the success of Apollo 11, America won the moon race. For good measure, we sent Apollo 12 to the Moon and back in December 1969. The film emphasizes the Apollo 11 flight, but the astronauts commented on the entire series, right thru the last one in 1972. Since that last Apollo flight, no one ventured into space farther than low Earth orbit. In fact, the US didn't even send a robot probe to the Moon for the next 25ish years! And, to this year, 2007, we sent only two such probes, Prospector and Clementine.
The astronauts ------------ The movie was carried by ten Apollo astronauts, shown mainly in face-only scenes with flashback to the incidents they described. The ten are Aldrin, Bean, Cernan, Collins, Duke, Lovell, Mitchell, Schmidt, Scott, and Young. Among them, every Apollo mission is covered. Conspicuously missing was Armstrong. From his own wish he passed up a role in the film, but supports it thru publicity. He is, never the less, incorporated in the collateral filmage and dialog by the other astronauts. One thing that haunts many spacefarers is the antiquity of the Apollo crews. They are all in their upper senior years! The closeup scenes magnified their senior features, turning them into your grandfather or elder uncle. Well, there are no new lunar astronauts; the last flight was, uh, 35 years ago.
The message --------- 'In the shadow of the Moon' is a pure recounting of the Apollo era, like that of other films on historical episodes. There is no latent agenda, no agitation for reviving human lunar exploration, no recruiting or enticing for astronaut careers, no solicitation for space exploration funding. The movie did portray the social climate of the 1960s with scenes from the Vietnam war, civil rights and feminist movements, college campus unrest. Otherwise, it was narrowly the emotions and feelings of the crews that in the circle of humans who traveled to the Moon. There was a short segment about the 'moon hoax', quickly trashed by the astronauts. If we did fake the initial lunar flight to fool the Soviets, why did we then fake it eight more times? The astronauts speak of anxiety in flight, worries, quick thinking for problems, musings while on the Moon, body reactions, appreciation for Earth. Only at the very end, a couple mentioned the importance of looking after the Earth as the home of human and other life, in contrast to the utterly lifeless and hostile Moon. The audience has to read into this the genesis of the modern environmental movement.
Audience reaction --------------- The particular audience at our showing exited more or less without excess expression. The older folk chatted about how they remember the Apollo news as youths. The younger ones, not even born yet in the 1960s, hazarded that Apollo must have been an interesting phase of history. No one mentioned the current NASA project for returning to the Moon, President Bush's Moon-Mars-Beyond theme, beating China/North Korea/Iran/Mali/Nicaragua. No one expressed even a wish that we could be still exploring the Moon by human visits.
Other Apollo items ---------------- Separately from the instant NSS social, I learned of other curious Apollo items. First, there were supposed to be missions thru Apollo 20 into the mid 1970s. Apollo 20 was cancelled to release a Saturn V rocket for Skylab. Apollo 18 and 19 were scrubbed because the space race was over. The command capsule for the Apollo 18 is on display at the Cradle of Aviation museum, Mitchell Field, Long Island. Apollo 18 was targeted to the Aristarchus plateau, Oceanus Procellarum, to investigate transient luminous outbursts reported in and near crater Aristarchus. The Saturn V was the largest heaviest rocket in routine service. The Soviets tried their own super rocket but it never achieved a good flight. All exploded or were purposefully destroyed within seconds after liftoff. No rocket of comparable size and bulk was fielded by any entity since then. The last remaining Saturn V fuselage is displayed, mounted horizontally in sections, at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. Two others are at Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center. NASA has on the drawing boards the Ares rocket, a sort of modern Saturn V. It is billed as the booster for human flights to the Moon and Mars. With a lift of some 40 tons of payload, the Ares could be a handy way to field major new automated or robot solar system craft. Yet, no spacefaring group -- not even those who build or design spaceprobes -- is seriously pushing to use it for such missions.
After the show ------------ When the theater let out, Harold Egeln handed out notices of Allies in Space and NYSkies website, as leftover litterature from the chapter meeting, We then, six from that meeting, walked to Moonstruck diner on 2nd Av near 5th St for supper. We rehashed the movie and bantered about human space flight.