The Impossible Pictures
A million things had to go perfectly on the morning of November 9, 1967 in order to get the picture I wanted.
Arch Smith, the man who invented the technique, assured me that it was impossible.
I still thought I could do it, but only if ten thousand people all did their jobs perfectly, and if Mother Nature cooperated.
The launch itself was a long shot.
Nineteen sixty-seven had already been a tough year for NASA - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - and they were improvising to try to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s dream of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of the decade.
In January a fire in the Apollo capsule during a routine test session that had killed three astronauts: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.
The Apollo 1 fire, as it became known, threw the whole Apollo schedule into chaos. There was less than three years left to figure out what had happened, fix it, test the most complex machine ever built and use it to send astronauts to the moon and bring them back again safely.
After 10 months of testing, NASA was ready to launch the very first Saturn 5 rocket on November 21, 1967.
Gemini’s two rocket motors produced a total of 474,000 pounds of thrust.
By comparison, the Saturn 5 rocket, which had more than 3 million parts, produced a thundering 7.6 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
That was so much power that they could not start all 5 motors at once, so they started the ignition sequence 3 seconds before liftoff.
To paraphrase one of the astronauts, imagine sitting on top of thousands of pounds of high explosives in a vehicle built with 3 million parts... all provided by low bidders on a government contract. read more...
My next project
Nineteen sixty-eight was a rough year in the United States.
Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had both been murdered.
There were riots and major American cities were on fire, literally.
Every day newspapers carried the names of young American soldiers who were being killed in the war in Vietnam.
People were marching outside the White House chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today.”
Before the end of the year, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he’d had enough, he was quitting, and would not seek reelection.
The whole country was angry, frightened, and depressed.
As we neared the end of 1968 NASA realized that they only had one year left to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.”
So they decided to double up on their tests and they scheduled the scariest launch yet, and run two major tests:
First they would put men on top of the rocket. Lock them into the Apollo capsule like the one where three astronauts had died the previous year.
Then, instead of just launching them into orbit, circling the earth a few times and bring them back down, they would send the to the moon.
Not to land on the moon, just to orbit the moon a few times.
Once they got the schedule worked out, they realized that the astronauts would be circling the moon on Christmas day.
That could make it the greatest Christmas celebration of our lifetime, or a Christmas that we would all want to forget.
It wasn’t until many years later that NASA confirmed what we all suspected:
They figured the odds that Apollo 8 would make it back to earth safely and that the crew would survive were no better than 50-50.
What we never suspected is that NASA asked the astronaut’s family members what they thought, and they were unanimous:
It is worth the risk - let’s go to the moon!
Naturally that was a picture I had to take. read more...
July 16, 1969 at 9:32:00 am EDT
Neil A. Armstrong (2), Commander
Edwin E. Aldrin (2), Jr., Lunar Module Pilot
Michael Collins (2), Command Module Pilot
Armstrong stepped on the moon July 20, 1969 at 10:57 pm EDT