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I Wonder Why -
By Charles J. Sliter
(Issue 32 - July 2013)
(Editor’s Note: Chuck has a down-to-earth way of explaining the most technical of problems. His style I call the ‘Valhalla View’ with his dry sense of humor and practical way of explaining. You’ll enjoy his a and I hope there will be many of them in ‘Air Liberty Times-Journal.’) rticles
I was saddened on August 5th, 2012 by news of the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong. When he was the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969, most of the world's then 3 billion people knew it. I'm afraid that now there aren't that many that know or care. They gave him a nice memorial ceremony in the national cathedral. Former astronaut Gene Cernan read a fine tribute to him, and jazz songstress Diana Krall sang "Fly Me To The Moon". It was overshadowed, sadly, on September 13, by recent horrifying events.
Neil on the Moon
I've followed aviation and space flight since I was small, even though I'd seldom flown myself. When our boys were small we used to go to the airport just to watch the planes take off. You'd likely get arrested now. For me, Apollo 11 was the Big Deal.
We were moving and watched the Moon walk on an old black and white TV in our unfurnished living room. I was married with a small family, but when The Eagle landed, I was excited as a 12 year old. I still have a copy of the July 21, 1969 newspaper with The headline: "NOW DO YOU BELIEVE?". I can understand how Neil Armstrong felt about flight. Reticent as he was, he didn't hide it. When the manned space flight program was cut, he made an uncharacteristic public statement in its support , a subject I'll come back to.
Armstrong was born August 5, 1930 and grew up in Wapenkoneta Ohio. He was fascinated by aviation early. He flew for the first time at age 6, with his father in a Ford tri-motor. Something I don't think you can do anymore, but in those days you could learn to fly and get a pilots license at age 16. I knew a boy in high school who did. He bought and restored an old plane, and brought the propeller into the wood shop to refinish it. Armstrong got his pilots license before he learned to drive, on his sixteenth birthday. He graduated high school in Wapenkoneta and attended Perdue University, on what was known as the Holloway plan, committed to 3 years of naval service. In his second year he was called to duty in the Korean war. After training at Pensacola he flew 78 combat missions over Korea.
After his Navy tour Armstrong returned to Perdue to finish his engineering degree. Continuing his aviation career, he took a post as a civilian test pilot with The National Advisory Commission for Aeronautics, the precursor to NASA. In their high speed aircraft program at Edwards Air Force base he flew some 50 different experimental aircraft. He flew the X-15 rocket plane to the edge of space at 207500 feet. He married in1956 to Jean Shearon and they had 3 children, Eric, Karen and Mark. Karen tragically died early from complications of an inoperable brain tumor.
Some of the military "hot" pilots of the time characterized the astronauts as passengers, calling them "spam in a can" comparing them to Ham the space chimp. Un-degreed test pilots like Chuck Yeager claimed that engineers flew too mechanically, with no feel for the aircraft, but Neil was nothing of the kind. He'd learned to fly instinctively before he was 16. Later he proved his ability on the moon when he maneuvered the lander over cratered fields of boulders to a safe landing.
An Eagle Scout, Neil addressed the Boy Scouts, from Apollo 11 in space, wishing them a great Jamboree at the time. One of the few personal things he took to the moon was a Boy Scout badge. Not unusual, 10 of the 12 men who walked on the moon had been Scouts.
About the famous quote from Neil Armstrong: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong insisted that he said "One small step for a man" and it is possible that the radio cut out at that moment. I tend to believe the Eagle scout. There are only fuzzy pictures of Neil Armstrong on the moon from the camera mounted on the outside of the lander. A picture of a space-suited astronaut in the lunar landscape that was said to be him was actually the only other man there at the time Edwin E."Buzz" Aldrin. Neil was usually the one holding the camera.They collected 47 pounds of Moon rocks and set up the U.S. Flag. Lastly, they left memorial medals to the deceased astronauts of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Armstrong has his own memorial on the moon: they named a crater near the landing site after him.
After his return to Earth he stayed with NASA, retiring in 1971. He earned a Masters degree from USC in 1970. He became professor of Aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati staying there until 1979. He returned in 1986 to NASA, serving on the Challenger commission to investigate the space shuttle disaster.
He kept a typically low profile, quitting signing autographs when he found some were selling his, and even forging them. He had a bizarre altercation with his barber who he found was selling his hair clippings. Armstrong threatened him with a lawsuit and dropped it only when the barber donated the proceeds to charity as Armstrong demanded. Armstrong wasn't perfect. He divorced his wife Jean in 1994 and married Carol Knight, whom he'd met playing golf in 1992. He remained active in aviation as a consultant to an aviation engineering firm.
In 2006 he gave a rare interview on "60 Minutes" describing what it was like to walk on the Moon. He said "I recommend it." He died August 25thfollowing complications from Bypass surgery.
Even though this seems like a memorial to Neil Armstrong, it's a little more than that. In 2010, on hearing of cuts in the manned space program, Armstrong spoke before congress and former astronauts Eugene Cernan and Jim Lovell joined him in sending an open letter to president Obama regarding the Constellation project. It involved a return to the moon, and manned exploration outward, to Mars and beyond. Constellation was well under way with development of the Ares rocket and 10 billion was already spent on it. It was canceled. The letter says: "to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating. America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves. The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.
It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded. Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity."
I haven't reproduced the entire letter here, but you get the idea. On October 10 of this year, though, commercial transport actually did come through. A payload of goods was delivered to the International Space Station by an unmanned Falcon 9 spacecraft owned by Spacex , a privately owned civilian company in Roswell N.M. Spacex believes that they can deliver communications satellites, space station supplies and in a couple of years, passengers to orbit safely. They intend to profitably and less expensively, and return them safely, which unmanned Russian supply ships can't. And they're proving it.
Also, in 2004 Bob Rutan's Spaceship One made the historic X Prize flights to space and back twice within the required time, I think ten days. Spacex will probably soon have competition. And there, perhaps, Houston, we have a problem. When private companies are able to go into space while our national government cannot, I worry. Remember that in the 90s, Loral, a defense contractor, responded to the Chinese government, helping them with the rocket tech to achieve orbit. When companies can sell cargo space to the highest bidder I worry. I worry when other countries that can go into space are not friendly to us. I worry when our government has to buy tickets on their spacecraft.
There are those who say that we can't afford a space program, it wastes valuable funds that should be used here on Earth. A counterpoint: in the 1950s science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote a story about nuclear weapons pointed at our cities, based on the moon, beyond our reach. Science fiction then, now, not so much. They don't need to go to the Moon. Not if they can reach orbit and we can't.
So who's rockets do you want there. Theirs, or ours?
Support our troops.
Offical Armstrong Photo