Friday, July 24, 2009

There and Back Again

The historic journey of Apollo 11 came to its conclusion 40 years ago today.

It's been a long time since America sent a crew into space in anything other than a space shuttle. I guess you'd have to be over a certain age to remember a time when America's returning star travelers didn't glide into an air base. But in 1969, astronauts returned to earth the way they had been doing for years — splashdown at sea.

So, in late July 1969, Apollo 11 returned to earth. The USS Hornet was on hand to welcome them back, along with President Nixon. The splashdown occurred east of Wake Island in the Pacific.

In the last week, I have written about my memories of the start of that historic mission and the night that man walked on the moon for the first time. In all honesty, I can't remember much about the splashdown.

I guess it was dramatic, but mostly because people were anxious to get the crew back on earth, successfully fulfilling President Kennedy's challenge. I remember that the astronauts were quarantined upon their return and remained that way until someone — a doctor, I presume — verified that they hadn't picked up anything in their trip to the moon and that they weren't likely to expose anyone to anything, either.

After the walk on the moon, the splashdown must have seemed pretty anticlimactic — a capsule bobbing in the waves while a helicopter lowered its basket three times to recover the astronauts.

The fact that there was a splashdown really wasn't noteworthy. We had seen so many splashdowns by that time that it was really nothing special. To me, it simply meant the trip to outer space was over. But this time, the astronauts had done more than just go into outer space.

I'm sure all three of the networks were televising it. But by the time Apollo 11 returned, space travel already seemed to be routine — so routine that, when Apollo 13 encountered difficulties that forced the crew to scrap its planned moon landing nine months later, it came as a shock to most Americans, who apparently had forgotten that three astronauts had died a little more than three years earlier in a launch pad fire on earth.

As you can see in the attached video clip, the astronauts came to the window of their quarantined quarters to talk with President Nixon.

The mission was over. The men were back on earth. There would be parades and rallies and speeches in the weeks and months and years to come.

In fact, just last Sunday, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, the Apollo 11 crew members, along with former space center director Chris Kraft, were speakers at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Lately, I have witnessed a bit of a revival of the old conspiracy theory that says Apollo 11 was faked. I never thought it was faked. Logic tells me it couldn't have been faked.

I've heard it said that 400,000 people worked on the space program in one capacity or another. My thinking is that figure would include scientists and engineers — and wouldn't necessarily include those who worked on the technical aspects of faked broadcasts, like the people who maintained the sets and the people who operated the cameras.

Including the Apollo 11 crewmen who did so, a dozen Americans walked on the moon and came back to earth to talk about it. If Apollo 11 was staged, those missions must have been staged as well. And I guess it would mean that Apollo 13's aborted mission also was faked.

How could you keep all those people quiet for 40 years? Well, some have died, but (as far as I know) no one has died of suspicious or seemingly unnatural causes.

I've heard it said it would have been impossible for a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy to succeed, even one involving as few as a dozen men. What are the odds of keeping close to half a million people quiet about a trip to the moon?

It probably would have been easier to actually land men on the moon than to handle the logistics such a conspiracy would entail.

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