Apollo 11 Mission Successful Conclusion Due to Alert Weatherman


Armstrong and Aldrin ascend from the moon to rendevous with Columbia with location of splashdown in doubt

Liftoff from Moon (LM 17)

Liftoff from Moon (LM 17)

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.

Plaque Left on Moon

Plaque Left on Moon

 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 GrissomRoger 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.

Bad Weather Could Have Foiled Splashdown

Bad Weather Could Have Foiled Splashdown

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.

8 Responses

  1. “Had Columbia splashed down in the throws of such a thunderstorm complex…”

    “Throws”? That should be “throes.”

  2. I stand guilty as accused. Content typically gains more of my attention than grammar which is a shortcoming of mine.

  3. Did a sixth-grader write this? Great story to tell, but this piece if full of odd grammer, bad spelling, and incoherent sentence structures. Please, get a proofreader!

  4. I write these very quickly and often add items without checking the context of the sentence. You are correct, it is a shortcoming and why I’m glad that publishers have editors. Half the time, I don’t notice the errors regardless of how many times I re-read it.

  5. Never mind the folks bitching about your “grammer” [sic]. This was a fun article and I enjoyed it.

    One tidbit: I read that, if Eagle had run out of fuel, it was low enough that it would just have settled to the surface. Armstrong wasn’t concerned, because he knew this. His focus was on getting over level terrain.

  6. I appreciate that. I had figured that it was interesting that in all likelihood, the theme was something that most people knew nothing about but instead of commenting “gee, I didn’t know that” instead I got bashed for poor English. However, in most instances they were correct. What happened was that I had pieced together sentences and paragraphs from things that I had written previously in addition to new material. I did a lousy job of matching things up. So, I plead guilty. Now, I see that you are an MIT guy and while I have a background in Atmospheric Physics, I don’t think that they would even let me drive by MIT. So, I”m going to email a query to you, if you don’t mind.

  7. hmmmm…. something is sketchy about this image. How where they able to film the liftoff? was there a camera man left behind? if we never went back, how was we able to retrieve this image? did digital video/image transfer available at that time?

  8. It makes me feel old when I get questions to historical items and I can tell the answer because I remember it! Yes, there was a camera left behind. t was remotely opearted from earth. They had set it up on a tripod, which is why we were able to see the images of them bouncing around. I think Armstrong set it up prior to Aldrin descending on the ladder. The signal was sent back to earth. I can’t recall how much of a delay that it was but, it was several minutes. I believe that NASA lost all of the recorded tape back in Houston, at least that was the case up until several years ago. So, the only video is from network TV. Catching the liftoff was tricky. It was a remote camera and there was a delay in commands from earth. So, in order to pan the camera up as the craft lifted off, the camera operator had to estimate the time to start and the rate of moving the camera. The camera also only went up so high. The first images kinda had a ghost image but on subsequent missions, the camera became much better.

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