On This Date in History: Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of the 5th NASA mission of the Apollo program designated as Apollo 11 landing on the moon. It stands as one of the monumental achievements of the 20th century and perhaps the greatest endeavor of human history. It was quite a trick, because, even though it worked out on paper, it had never been done before. Any engineer will tell you that something working on paper is not the same as actually accomplishing a project. So, they made it to the moon but, like the landing, no one had ever taken off from the moon either; the challenge of safely returning the men from the moon remained. At 1:54pm EDT on this date in 1969, The Lunar Module Eagle successfully lifted off from the moon. Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. ”Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. left behind a plaque, prominently signed by President Nixon, that read “we came in peace for all mankind.” They had spent 21 hours and 37 minutes on the lunar surface and as they prepared for their voyage home, one of their backpacks broke the switch that controlled their module’s ascent from the lunar surface. Oops. Yankee ingenuity came into play and the astronauts showed a zero-gravity pen into the broken switch. Obviously, the make-shift repair worked because they were able to flip the switch and return safely. Had it not been for their making use of what they had, they would have been marooned. Previously, when they landed on the Sea of Tranquility, the Eagle had but a few precious seconds of fuel remaining, perhaps as little as one second. Had Armstrong not set down when he did, Astronaut Michael Collins, the commander of the Command Module Columbia in orbit around the moon, may have come home alone.
Armstrong and Aldrin not only placed the plaque on the moon, but they also left behind a piece of the Wright Flyer flown at Kitty Hawk by the Wright Brothers, a disc with messages from 73 VIP’s on earth and the mission patch from Apollo I honoring astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White who had died when a fire swept through their Apollo I capsule just a couple of years before. As a nod toward detente, the memorial also recognized the deaths of two Soviet cosmonauts. When the astronauts of Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific on July 24, 1969 more questions remained. Initially, there was an issue with the capsule inverted in the ocean. I remember that because no one was able to communicate with them until they got the Columbia in an upright position. For a few minutes, it was a little dicey. After that there was a larger issue. Since no one had ever been to the moon, there was concern that they may have picked up some bugs…which is odd since it is unlikely that anything could live in space. While no pathogens were ever discovered, all precautions were taken and Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were whisked away from the deck of the USS Hornet wearing special protective masks. They were taken to a silver camper on one of the decks below in which they were to reside for a 21 day quarantine period. There were no handshakes and no hugs. A man followed behind them with a can of bug spray as they walked from the helicopter to the special quarantine location.
All of this may not have come to pass though and there may have been another disaster. See, there was bad weather of which many people were not aware…or weren’t supposed to know about it. The Americans had a special Cold-War era spy program called Corona which was part of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Part of the DMSP operation involved the placement of satellites in geosycnrous orbit around the world in what was said to be a weather reconnasaince mission. In reality, it was a spying program that was not declassified until 1995. When the program was declassified, it was revealed that Capt. Hank Brandi had received a medal of commodation for saving the Apollo 11 astronauts. He had seen the data from the spy satellites and noted that powerful thunderstorms would be in the landing area. Remember, the first hurricane tracked by satellite was Hurricane Camille in August 1969, so the assets we take for granted today simply were not on place when the Apollo 11 astronauts took flight; fortunately though, there was Corona. Had Columbia splashed down in the throes of such a thunderstorm complex, the parachutes from the capsule would get ripped to shreds and the astronauts would plunge into the ocean to their deaths. Brandi risked his career and the integrity of the Corona program by sharing the information with other officials who eventually altered the landing zone, which was not an easy thing to do, and the mission was saved.
Weather Bottom Line: I had mentioned a few days ago that a frontal boundary would be stuck in our area as it washed out. That has been the focus for disturbances wandering thorugh the flow along the boundary; Hence, we’ve had periodic bouts with storms. So far, the models have not been great at picking up the disturbances or, when they do, properly track the forecast progress. That’s not too unusual. You really have to just look at the radar and see what is going on in most cases. I didn’t see too much out west on Wednesday morning. Doesn’t mean that something can’t bubble up but it does mean that there weren’t any major features. I think we’ll have one more day of this with the ridge over the Southeast expanding northward for Friday and Saturday, elevating temperatures and decreasing rain chances. By Saturday night and Sunday, the ridge breaks down a bit as another front approaches which should increase the probability. After that, if the front does indeed come through early next week, then we should see a reduction in the heat and humidity for a little while.