Remembering Apollo 11

| 66 Comments

The 1960s were heady days in more senses than kids today might suppose. It wasn’t all Haight-Ashbury and pot and hippies with flowers in their hair. I spent a couple of years in the military in the early 1960s down at the Cape launching early versions of Polaris missiles into the Atlantic missile range, or sometimes into the Banana River if the range safety officer saw fit to push the destruct button. (As a side benefit I got to participate in the Cuban blockade in 1962 aboard a U.S. Navy ship.) Those were the Project Mercury years of the manned space program, and one would occasionally see one or another of the original seven astronauts around the Cape or in Cocoa Beach (anyone remember the Cape Colony Inn?), and we’d marvel at how they’d stuff themselves into a tiny Mercury capsule atop an Atlas rocket and blast away into near-earth space. Watching those launches in 1962 and 1963 I never thought then that I’d work on their successor systems and watch the fruits of that work take men to the moon.

As most readers of science blogs already know, the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter has just returned photos of five of the six Apollo landing sites on the moon, including one (Apollo 14) where the foot trails made by astronauts are visible! And those are preliminary images. The LRO team promises 2x or 3x better resolution when the orbiter is in its final orbit.

One of those sites is special to me. In the mid and late 1960s I was a member of a group in Honeywell’s Development and Evaluation Laboratory (later in the Systems & Research Center) that was charged with stress testing components of the Apollo Command Module control system. We tortured reaction jet controllers, abused thrust vector servo assemblies, and kicked around translation and rotation hand controls for months. We soaked them in vacuum chambers, cycling the temperature up and down on a 12-hours on, 12 hours off schedule, subjected them to over-voltages and under-voltages, shook them on vibration tables, and generally tried to see how bad we could treat them before they failed. Out of all that testing came the final versions that were installed in Apollo Command Modules and flew in them, including the version that flew in Apollo 11.

On the day that the Eagle – the Lunar Excursion Module associated with the Apollo 11 flight – landed at Tranquility Base, my wife and I had gone to the Minneapolis Humane Society to adopt our first dog, Beau. We got home in time to watch the television broadcast and see the blurry video of Neil Armstrong stepping off the LEM ladder. (R.I.P. Walter Cronkite, who broadcast the landing that day in 1969 and who died yesterday.) It was an amazing feeling – a combination of elation and relief – to know that the landing had been successful. All the people who worked on the manned space flight projects over the years after John F. Kennedy committed us to going to the moon within a decade were proud to have contributed to the mission. I sure was that day, and I still am. I left the Apollo program after our part of Apollo 11’s development was finished to work on other prototype spacecraft and aircraft systems, but knowing stuff I worked on took humans to the moon is something I’ll be proud of until I die.

66 Comments

Thanks for sharing your memories, you must pinch yourself sometimes, knowing you had a part into that great adventure. I do have one question though Why aren’t you posting this on UD or some such aren’t all engineers ID’ist?

I was 11 years old at the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. Watching it on a B&W Zenith TV in a neighbours apartment. I was simultaneously stultified, elated, and proud as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

I just heard that Walter Cronkite died. He was as much a part of the space program in the sixties and seventies as the program itself. Walter was the one that told the story. He was a great man during great times.

-DU-

The moon landing was accomplished by evolution. Evolution produced RBH and all of his drives and desires. There’s no more to be proud about here than there is in being proud about a thunderstorm.

At almost 15 I was still politically clueless (a brief “anti-America” phase that I now regret soon followed), but I had been passionate about science at least since age 3, standing outside with the neighbors looking for Sputnik. I was probably never more optimistic about the US’s future than in 1969 - Vietnam war notwithstanding. Alas, the public’s value of science was near a peak and soon began a steady decline that continues to this day. Now more than ever before, people need to heed the warning of Paul Gross: “Everybody who has undertaken in the last 300 years to stand against the growth of scientific knowledge has lost.”

Anyway, goes without saying that owe Richard B. Hoppe many thanks, not just for fighting anti-evolution pseudoscience, but for many other impressive accomplishments.

springer said:

The moon landing was accomplished by evolution. Evolution produced RBH and all of his drives and desires. There’s no more to be proud about here than there is in being proud about a thunderstorm.

Dave… is that you?

-DU-

Unfortunately I was just a baby during the Apollo moon landings. If I could go back to any point in time, it would be 1968-1970 so I could experience Apollos 8-13 (along with Woodstock, the Beatles, and so much else). Those were the true glory days of the US, IMO.

By the way, I think the Onion has the most succinct summary of Apollo 11:

Onion Classic Headline July 21, 1969

(warning NSFW)

To continue our conversation from the Disco Tute Dance thread again, it’s amazing how everyone sort of considers the landings to be old hat now (although I think I heard it’ll take MORE than a decade to go back again) and how special it was at the time.

I’m sad that Uncle Wally didn’t quite make it to the 40th anniversary. I’ll always remember his reporting during the space shots.

And thanks, RBH (and those of thousands of others [in on the conspiracy!?!?]), for your contributions.

You know, it’s funny–today at the fast food joint I was talking to a retired military man who’d been doing telephone system work at Redstone at the same time my ole man was helping Von Braun with vibration-induced component failure problems. We mostly talked about the hugeness of the project, but then he looked straight at me and said “at that time, you would never have seen a huge anti-science movement in the US. We knew we needed the best science possible–and you certainly wouldn’t have seen any self-styled conservative attempting to sabotage science education.”

Kengee said:

Thanks for sharing your memories, you must pinch yourself sometimes, knowing you had a part into that great adventure. I do have one question though Why aren’t you posting this on UD or some such aren’t all engineers ID’ist?

I was a Navy-trained engineering technician in those days, working at Honeywell 4 to midnight and going to the University days working on degrees in cognitive science and anthropology.

It was my 20th birthday.

I cried.

fusilier James 2:24

Isn’t it interesting that many of those that reject evolution also deny the successes of the Apollo program? Are there any psychologists out there who can explain this rejection of both science and success? (or at least refer some good readings)

cronk said:

Isn’t it interesting that many of those that reject evolution also deny the successes of the Apollo program? Are there any psychologists out there who can explain this rejection of both science and success? (or at least refer some good readings)

Evolution is evil and wrong, so is science: that’s because science, evolution, and reason are the harem harlots of the Devil, after all [/sarcasm]

Stanton said:

Evolution is evil and wrong, so is science: that’s because science, evolution, and reason are the harem harlots of the Devil, after all [/sarcasm]

You’re not so very far from the attitudes of a later offshoot of Calvinist tradition, as interpreted through the folkways of the Scots borderers/Ulster protestants who became a strong influence on much of evangelical America. A very strong visceral rejection of intellectualism was and is evident in that culture.

I’m not sure where it comes from, seeing as Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics and even mainstream Calvinists all showed considerable respect for learning, at least. The attitude might predate Protestantism itself, but I suspect it is rooted in the old Border values, which include extreme, almost insane pugnacity, clannishness, hatred of government and distrust of strangers, plus anything-goes pragmatism and unfettered individualism amounting almost to disdain for law.

Anybody who has read, say, George MacDonald Fraser’s accounts of the Border reivers will recognise the mindset. Joe Bageant’s “Deer Hunting with Jesus” specifically makes the link. It’s understandable, given the history. But when it involves specific rejection of science, because science is automatically distrusted as a part of an egghead conspiracy, something’s very wrong, and it has to go.

Thanks for the great reminiscence, RBH. What a wonderful post.

You can re-live it all in real time at wechoosethemoon.org. Nostalgic, thrilling and triumphant all at the same time. I feel 10 years old again.

Anti-intellectualism is a crucial plank for any in-group/out-group attitude policing effort. All totalitarian movements and governments use it. Stalin used it, Mao used it, Mussolini used it, Bin Laden used it, and, of course, the Liberal Bashing Industry uses it.

cronk said:

Isn’t it interesting that many of those that reject evolution also deny the successes of the Apollo program? Are there any psychologists out there who can explain this rejection of both science and success? (or at least refer some good readings)

I listen to right-wing talk radio in the car. Host Michael Medved is a known anti-evolution activist, but other hosts and most guests and callers are just misled or potentially misled about evolution. It’s hard to tell if they have been misled because the topic is rarely evolution. I doubt that most guests and callers deny the success of the space programs, or of other major sci/tech successes. And when the subject is education in the US, hosts, guests and callers unanimously agree (& I do too) that the status quo is horrendous. But when they call for major improvement it invariably concerns history and literature, never science. The problem is not so much denial or dislike of science, but that science is simply not a priority.

Only when evolution is specifically addressed do Medved & the rare anti-evolution activist guest pretend that we need more science education. Of course, what they want is to replace some of what little evolution is taught with misrepresentations that only reinforce misconceptions that most students already have.

I’m no psychologist, but I do know that science give one the right (independently verifiable) answer, not necessarily the answer one wants. So if one’s political agenda, left or right, is strong enough, the temptation to second-guess science can be too hard to avoid.

cronk said:

Isn’t it interesting that many of those that reject evolution also deny the successes of the Apollo program?

I’m not sure that’s the case. In my experience the people who deny the moon landings are also the people who think rainbows are signs of government tampering with the water supply.

Of course, I don’t read Uncommon Descent much, so if there is a strong anti-Apollo sentiment among anti-evolutionists, I probably just haven’t noticed it.

Cronk,

Are there any psychologists out there who can explain this rejection of both science and success? (or at least refer some good readings)

Seek and ye shall find 8^):

http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/about.php

Aaarght! So near, yet thwarted by a voice over at the crucial moment. As students we didn’t have a colour telly, few did in Britain at that time, but we watched it on the black and white box in the flat. Didn’t have Walter Cronkite on the BBC’s presentation of it, and there was that long pause at the foot of the ladder while Armstrong described the surface, then said the immortal words “I can feel it with my foot, it’s kinda soft and squishy” before jumping down with both feet on the ground to come out the the official guff about one small step etc… Presumably that was the live broadcast as the U.S. got it, with the first words covered by Cronkite’s voice over.…..

I watched Armstrong on the moon with some ambivalence. Fascinating and an historic moment. But the same government that had used this technology was also, at that moment, pounding Vietnam with millions of tons of bombs. Many of us who were involved in the movement against that war felt at least as ambivalent as I did, and were well aware that the basic motivation of the whole Moon Race was competition with the Soviet Union, and that military motives did not lie very far beneath the surface on either side of that competition. I am sorry from the comments here to see that that context seems to have been forgotten.

Fair point, Joe, as you’ll remember, People walking on the moon, smog gonna get you pretty soon, ship of fools.…

A shiny toy from the military industrial complex, one underground press magazine cover had a really nice drawing of the LEM with a discarded coke bottle in the foreground.

DistendedPendulusFrenulum said:

Anti-intellectualism is a crucial plank for any in-group/out-group attitude policing effort. All totalitarian movements and governments use it. Stalin used it, Mao used it, Mussolini used it, Bin Laden used it, and, of course, the Liberal Bashing Industry uses it.

I wouldn’t say “any” such effort. Maintaining group boundaries is a function of most if not all societies, but the means (and the rigidity) by which such boundaries are maintained varies enormously: language, religion, symbolism, etc. The movements you cite are all post-industrial, even mid to late 20th century. I think the anti-intellectualism you describe has more to do with tapping into the angst and alienation that large-scale societies provoke than some sort of generic totalitarian impulse. Ernest Mandel in Late Capitalism described the “cult of the expert” that is a crucial part of contemporary capitalism. Much of the anti-intellectualism is a reaction against this. It’s no coincidence that modern fundamentalisms of various sorts arose during the early 20th century. Christian fundamentalism for example basically said don’t trust the authorities, don’t trust the “experts,” trust this Book that you can read for yourself. This was occuring at exactly the time when technological advancements were making radical changes in the lifestyles of average Americans. In that sense, much anti-intellectualism has its roots in, I think, I healthy skepticism against the powers that be, albeit all too easily harnessed by demagogery.

Um, what happened to the post re Francis Collins that I was trying to get to? Clicking on links to it keeps bringing me here.

Eamon Knight said:

Um, what happened to the post re Francis Collins that I was trying to get to? Clicking on links to it keeps bringing me here.

Weird. Clicking on the Collins post title on the main PT page gets me to the post OK. Tried clearing your cache? (That’s the magic ritual for many such ills, I’m told.)

Since you brought it up, I heard a story Joe about you and refusing to sign a loyalty oath back in the day at the UW. Was there any truth to that if you don’t mind me asking?

JGB asked:

Since you brought it up, I heard a story Joe about you and refusing to sign a loyalty oath back in the day at the UW. Was there any truth to that if you don’t mind me asking?

There’s partial truth to that, but this is not the place for that discussion – email me and I’ll be happy to explain what happened. We were giving here our reactions to the moon landing in 1969, and I was simply trying to point out that total enthusiasm wasn’t the whole story, and why.

Joe Felsenstein said:

I watched Armstrong on the moon with some ambivalence. Fascinating and an historic moment. But the same government that had used this technology was also, at that moment, pounding Vietnam with millions of tons of bombs. Many of us who were involved in the movement against that war felt at least as ambivalent as I did, and were well aware that the basic motivation of the whole Moon Race was competition with the Soviet Union, and that military motives did not lie very far beneath the surface on either side of that competition. I am sorry from the comments here to see that that context seems to have been forgotten.

They weren’t mutually exclusive, Joe. At least, it was possible to be a veteran as I was, to work on the Apollo program as I did, and to be active in the anti-war movement, which I also was. I was in the group that took over the 5th Congressional District Democratic-Farmer-Labor party organization for Gene McCarthy (ousting the Humphrey troops) in 1968, McCarthy’s first major political win.

RBH, former DFL Organization and Membership Chairman, 11th Ward, City of Minneapolis (5th Congressional District)

The moon landing and vietnam? Kinda cool story I came across the other day: http://www.herald-mail.com/?cmd=dis[…];format=html

MDPotter said:

The moon landing and vietnam? Kinda cool story I came across the other day: http://www.herald-mail.com/?cmd=dis[…];format=html

That’s an amazing story. A whole lot of people showed a whole lot of courage there.

novparl said:

Wow! I’ve had the last word! Praps the reference to the beginning of time…

How come your last words don’t answer the question of When did life appear on your old Earth, and how do you know this? that was asked to you?

Stanton said:

novparl said:

Wow! I’ve had the last word! Praps the reference to the beginning of time…

How come your last words don’t answer the question of When did life appear on your old Earth, and how do you know this? that was asked to you?

Because he is incapable of answering questions. Babbling like a fool about how getting the last word magically makes him right is all he can do. Actually making a clear, honest statement supported by evidence is no more within his power than for a pig to sprout wings and fly. Novparl is hopeless, utterly bereft of intelligence or understanding.

@Phantomtosser 42

All the above applies to you. Presumably the theory is, if you accuse someone of something, you can’t be guilty of it itself.

Have a gay day.

Whoops! Itself = yaself.

I see you’re STILL too much of a coward to answer a simple question, novparl. And everyone else sees it too.

novparl said:

@Phantomtosser 42

All the above applies to you. Presumably the theory is, if you accuse someone of something, you can’t be guilty of it itself.

Have a gay day.

Richard..request advise a good email/phone to reach you at..I have a couple of electronics assemblies from the Block II Apollo Command Module produced by Honeywell that I would like to discuss with you.

Many thanks - Scott

http://www.SPACEAHOLIC.com/

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on July 18, 2009 1:23 AM.

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