Remember Astronaut Michael Collins on the first moonwalk 50-years ago? No, I don’t either. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Actually I do. About every 2-hours Michael Collins, in the Command Module, Columbia, flew over Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong after their descent to the lunar surface in the Lunar Lander, Eagle, and were the astronauts who first walked on the moon.
. . . and one plus God only knows what on this side. I feel this powerfully — not as fear or loneliness — but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling.
Let’s backtrack a little. 3-Days earlier the Columbia crew fired their main engine, for TLI, that is Translunar Injection. This ‘burn’ set their trajectory away from orbiting earth in favor of traveling to the moon. That is: they pointed the Columbia to travel to where the moon’s position would be 3-days (approximately 40-degrees) ahead of the moon’s present position. You have to plan ahead, you know.
I have fortunately lived in the space-era, the ‘space race’ — ‘we HAD to beat those Russians’ to the moon, no second choice in the matter! Amazing what a little ‘friendly competition’ can accomplish. President Kennedy said in outlining the mission to go to the moon AND RETURN safely, “. . .not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” We were glued to the TV whenever Walter Cronkite’s commentary, animation footage, and live feeds from NASA were broadcast over the entire 195-hour mission. I recall all the attention given to the lunar landing and moonwalk, but not so much Michaels’ part of the mission as he stayed in Columbia awaiting the return of Neil and Buzz. But his book, Carrying the Fire, an Astronaut’s Journeys, details the critical role, and, more importantly, his experience at 2,500,000 miles away from planet Earth, after the Eagle, populated with his two close companions, departed for the expected descent to the Sea of Tranquility, to slip around to the dark side of the moon, alone, in Columbia.
In addition to the Astronauts regular training, he trained specifically with Buzz and Neil for several months when they were chosen for Apollo 11, before the Saturn V Rocket launched the three into orbit, Now the people on Earth will witness the Eagle’s landing: success, abort, or failure 3/4ths of an hour before he will. His altitude was about 70-miles above Tranquility Base, where the Eagle was going to land, traveling around 5,400 feet every second (3,700 miles per hour). So by the time The Eagle would contact the lunar surface, Michael would be a solitary 200 miles downrange, out of contact with anything associated with planet Earth. In his words:
I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon. I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two on the other side of the Moon and one plus God only knows what on this side. I feel this powerfully — not as fear or loneliness — but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void; the moon’s presence is defined solely by the absence of stars. To compare the sensation with something terrestrial, perhaps being alone in a skiff in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a pitch black night would most nearly approximate my situation. In a skiff, one would see bright stars above in a black see below; I see the same stars, minus the twinkling, of course, and absolutely nothing below. In each case time, and distance are extremely important factors. In terms of distance, I am much more remote, but in terms of time, lunar orbit is much closer to civilized conversation than is the mid-Pacific. Although I may be nearly a quarter of a million miles away, I am cut off from human voices for only forty-eight minutes out of each two hours, well the man in the skiff — grazing the very surface of the planet — is not so privileged, or burdened. Of the two qualities, time and distance, time needs to be a much more personal one, so that I feel simultaneously closer to, and farther away from Houston then I would if I were on some remote spot on earth which would deny me conversation with other humans for months on end.
Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void; the moon’s presence is defined solely by the absence of stars.
My windows suddenly flash full of sunlight, as Columbia swings around into the dawn. The moon reappears quickly, dark gray and craggy, its surface lightening and smoothing gradually as the sun angle increases. My clock tells me that the earth is about to pop into view, and I prepare for it by positioning my parabolic antenna so that it points at the proper angle. Sure enough, here comes the earth on schedule, raising swiftly above the horizon, and shortly thereafter I can tell from one of my many gauges that the antenna has locked onto its signal and conversation should be possible. Three big antennas on earth . . . I don’t know which one I may be talking through, although I suppose I could tell either by looking at my flight plans or by carefully examining the blue and white pea [earth] out there, but the fact is I really don’t care. I called them all Houston, which simplifies it. “Houston, Columbia. How’s it going?” “Roger . . . we estimate he [Neil & Buzz, and the Eagle] landed about four miles downrange . . .”
Carrying the Fire, an Astronaut’s Journeys (50th Anniversary Edition)
* This blog is dedicated to an ascetic-kind of thought: a deeper, humbling, introspective Faith. It might seem spaceflight has little in common with it. But consider the technology we use in cars, airplanes, and cell phones. Yes, many Christians have a problem with science. On the other hand many scientists are Christians. Also, as we consider the ‘human condition’ and how to mitigate a life between each other, Christian or not, and chip away with our internal rendering of self: “What am I?” Who am I? Or just, “Why?” or “How do I handle these feelings?’ We face questions and formulate different answers to “Life”. Also, the first meal on the moon was — CHEESE! — No it wasn’t. It was Communion.
Michael is a capable astronaut, yet able to set himself to any job assigned to him. He did not seek the spotlight, wanted just to serve. And serve as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 11 he did, even with 18 separate, written, prepared, rehearsed scenarios for capturing Eagle should anything go wrong — or go right — hanging from a cord around his neck. Talk about being prepared!