Are you of an age when you can remember the first man on the moon? Yes this year it will be 50 years since that happened on 20th July 1969! I am not sure what commemorations are planned for what was an epic achievement.
One of the pleasures of being retired is that one can do things that would not normally have occurred. We were lucky enough to go an see a showing of First Man. Which is the story of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission.
It starts with one of the pre space flights when Neil Armstrong was a test pilot and according to the film in April 1962 he was testing the X-15. He reached an altitude of 207,000 ft or 63 Km altitude. Whilst testing the g limiting equipment he apparently held the nose up too long and the plane climbed back to about 140,000 feet or 43km. His return to earth was a problem as he passed the base at 100,000 feet and 3 times the speed of sound. The film shows the challenges of getting back having overshot so far fast and high.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
John F Kennedy 12 September 1962
The film then turns to the Gemini programme when the USA was trying to catch up with the Russians progress into space.
Several of the problems during the programmes are shown including the docking of Gemini8 with the Agena capsule. This was a rehearsal for later docking manoeuvres for any moon landing. However the control thrusters developed a problem and at one point the command module was rotating at the rate of once per second. The astronauts managed to solve this problem and aborted the mission. The film shows graphically the problems they had to overcome
The catastrophic fire on the launchpad for Apollo 1 which killed the 3 astronauts also features. Despite this the programme went on and ultimately we get to the Apollo 11 mission launching on 16 July 1969 for the Moon Landing on 20th July 1969.
The fact that they had an error code on the approach to the moon added to the difficulty. The film shows the challenges for Neil Armstrong as he needed to manually fly the lunar module. During this time they ran low on fuel which show what an outstanding achievement this was. We hear the famous words “The Eagle had landed”. Later we hear Neil Armstrong say the words “A small step for man a giant leap for mankind”
So why did I find this such an inspiring film. It goes straight back to my childhood. It also amazing to see how much can be achieved if the whole system is harnessed to reach this one target.
We also need to be grateful for the benefits that the programme brought to us. I’m not sure if we would have had the advances in computers and mobile phones without such a programme. By the way, I understand that the 1202 and 1201 error codes were generated because the on board computers handling the radar data were warning they were becoming overloaded. Most likely our smart phone of today has more computing power and it is inspiring how much has been achieved in the 50 years.
If you have not had a chance to visit Cape Canaveral in Florida I would strongly recommend it. And the film is well worth watching.