Most people assume that Gerry Griffin’s most remarkable memory about the moon landing was when the Apollo 11 lander touched the moon’s surface, or maybe when Neil Armstrong took that first step out of the spacecraft.
But it was really when Buzz Aldrin made a call on the communicator that they were picking up dust before landing.
“He would throw those calls about every 10 or 15 seconds,” Griffin said. “When he made the call, ‘30 feet, two and half down, picking up some dust.’ It hit me that we had two humans in a spacecraft blowing dust off of a place that nobody had ever been.”
Griffin, along with fellow NASA flight director Tommy Holloway, Tom Moser and Norman Chaffee, both former system specialists, and former astronauts Jack Lousma and Fred Haise, presented the Apollo 11: 50th Anniversary Tribute at the Cailloux Theater on Thursday.
The NASA retirees talked about their adventures leading up to Apollo 11, working on Apollo 11 and what came
after in the space program.
“You had to have some guts — that’s the secret of why we made Apollo work,” Griffin said. “We committed to it.”
Many of the people who were involved with the project joined NASA because they were intrigued by space adventure, like Chaffee.
“I had always been a sci-fi nut,” Chaffee said. “I read all of the sci-fi books and went to the cheesy movies. Someday, this was going to be real, and I wanted to be a part of it, so I called the employment office and gave them a line and they said, ‘Well come on down.’”
Before the Apollo missions, there were the Mercury missions, which proved humanity could go into Earth orbit, and the Gemini missions, which proved a spacecraft could meet with another spacecraft while in space and that humans could go outside of the craft in a spacesuit.
The astronauts partook in desert survival training, water survival training and jungle survival to make sure they were prepared for whatever harsh environments they might have faced on the moon and while landing back on Earth.
Haise said that before he became an astronaut, he talked to Neil Armstrong about what it was like to be one, and his response was unexpected.
“He said, ‘Well, you sit in a lot of meetings,’” Haise said with a smile as the audience laughed. “’You sit in simulators a lot, and it’s not much flying.’”
There were a lot of hardships the NASA workers faced. It was a 365-day operation that ran 24 hours each day, and many had their family life suffer for it, sometimes ending with divorce, Haise said.
“The general public really doesn’t appreciate the effort that went into the program,” Haise said. “One year we shut down for Christmas. That was it.”
One project that Moser was in charge of was making sure that the U.S. flag made it onto the moon. His boss approached him one day and asked him to keep the plan a secret.
“He said, ‘There’s an international agreement that there will not be any nation claiming the moon,’” Moser said. “’However, Congress wants to have the U.S. flag there.’”
There are some that think the moon landing was fake, Moser added, because the picture of the flag on the moon looks like it’s waving, even though there is no wind on the moon.
But the reason that the flag looks like it’s waving is because the coating from the flagpole kept the arm at the top of the pole from extending all the way, keeping the flag from completely unfurling.
“The Apollo 11 landing and the subsequent flights I thought were really a bright spot spot for America during those days of turmoil,” Lousma said. “I thought it also unified the world. I saw some pictures of people all over the world, of all nationalities, watching on television and hoping this was going to be successful. We really represented them, and they thought that this was as important to them as it was to us.”
Since the Apollo missions, there has been several other projects, such as the SkyLab, where astronauts stayed in space for months at a time, and the space shuttle, which went out of use in 2011.
Lousma added that some technology used today, like computers and cellphones, is owed to NASA’s efforts.
As far as space in the future is concerned, the private sector is taking on more of an important role, Moser said. Humanity hasn’t been on the moon in awhile, but with the private sector’s involvement, humans might be able to go back and potentially start taking advantage of resources, like lunar ice, which could be used for helping spacecrafts.
“If you use the moon as a stepping stone, it takes very little energy to go then to Mars,” Moser said.
Space exploration could also offer energy alternatives, like having satellite solar power systems that could power cities as big as Houston, Moser said.