Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Risky Business…


I just noticed that is was forty years ago, almost to this day, that three crazy people put their butts on top of a piece of government issue hardware with the explosive power of an atom bomb, and sailed to the Moon. Fortunately, the rocket that they rode on worked pretty well, and they made a clean get away from the home planet.

What is not well understood is that the flying outhouse, Apollo 14, that they would live in for nine days was, like all of its predecessors, an experimental and fragile piece of machinery. Of all the guys who had flown in that program, one in ten had already died. Three more almost perished in the almost unimaginable cold of airless space on the mission proceeding that of  Commander Alan ShepardCommand Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell.

Now on the way down to the Moon in a contraption that was about as sturdy as the foil wrapper on a stick of gum, a couple things went awry. First, a piece of solder came loose in the control computer. This jammed the circuit and the first fix was banging on the thing's front panel. Every kid who has done 7th Grade shop class knows both the problem and the remedy.

Alas, the computer, with less brains then your cell phone and dumber than a cockroach, then got its software in a twist. It decided to automatically abort the landing, but that would have sent the plucky crew back into lunar orbit with no engine. There they would likely die before their mother ship, the flying outhouse, could pick them up. Frantically, with seconds before doom would surely arrive, Pilot Mitchell clicked eighty key strokes and told the little computer to shut up and listen to the Humans.

But, not so fast! The "improved" computer, could no longer be trusted to tell the craft where to land. Commander Shepard took control. Well, the guy was a pilot, a sailor of the skies, and a steely eyed missile man; what else to do? With the ragged surface of their destination zooming towards them, certain death at hand, Shepard got his bearings and made a safe landing, almost right where they had intended to go.

Whoops! The pluncked down in the right place, but the maps were not quite right. The little bug that they road down in was now sitting at a twenty eight degree incline. The men were safe, but everything was off kilter. For the next couple of days, Shepard and Mitchell got no sleep, as they were always about to fall out of their little hammocks when they tried to rest.

Still, they did pick up some useful souvenirs to bring home. The science instruments they left continue to teach we on Earth somethings about our neighborhood, today. The Commander took in a round of astral golf. The snap shots they took impressed the kids back home. Roosa had brought along some seeds for redwoods and pines, and other trees. When he came back with them, they got planted and grow today across the USA. Roosa is gone now, as is Shepard, but somewhere, some kid is sitting under a tree that came back from the Moon.