Hey, Sky Fans. Happy Friday. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I hope you’re making your way through okay, too.
A hundred million years ago, give or take, my grandfather had a black and white copy of this photo. He brought it out from time to time, but otherwise kept it folded up and yellowing, with ads for cigarettes and carpet cleaners on the back, among all of the photos, receipts, ticket stubs, and other detritus a grandfather accumulates along the way.
I’d bet, if you’re a fan of the American space program at all, you’ve seen it. That’s Buzz Aldrin. He was the Lunar Module (LM) Pilot on Apollo 11, and the second person to ever walk on another world. He took his first steps there 48 years ago yesterday. Lots of people think that’s a photo of Neil Armstrong, but it’s Aldrin. Though, you can see Armstrong, who was holding the camera, reflected in Aldrin’s visor.
Less than 24 hours after it landed, Armstrong and Aldrin started the engines, presumably by hitting a giant, flashing, red “GO!” button inside the (LM), lifted off from the Moon, started the long flight home. The first Moon landing was over. That was 48 years ago today, July 21, 1969. Most people don’t really pay attention to that date. The big day was yesterday.
I think about July 21 a lot, though. It’s is an interesting day in space travel history. Other than my grandfather showing me that photo and, and as talking about how amazing it is that people were able to go to the Moon.
On July 21, 1961 Mercury-Redstone 4 carried Gus Grissom and his Liberty Bell 7 space craft into space that wouldn’t quite make it into orbit. Don’t worry; it was planned that way. With that flight, and its splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, he became the second American in space, after Alan Shepard. That mission was one of the early ones, that allowed Americans to get their feet wet, as it were, in space, so we could learn if we could get people there, just up and back, without too much trouble. Thanks to the magic of television, you can watch the entire mission.
Five years later, on July 21, 1966, the Gemini 10 mission ended when it splashed down in the Atlantic, too. It brought John Young, who would later go on to fly on the first launch of the Space Shuttle (Columbia, in April 1981), home along with Michael Collins. Collins,went on to become the Command Module (CSM) Pilot on Apollo 11. He was one of the 12 astronauts who flew to the Moon, but didn’t land. On that mission, the astronauts were able to keep working on rendezvous, docking, and extra-vehicular activities (EVA) which would all be essential for the Apollo missions. In an interesting aside, during his EVA, Collins lost his grip on the camera he was holding, and it sailed off into space. The photographer in me loves that for a time, there was a Hasselblad orbiting the Earth.
Little by little, these things added up, built on each other, and pushed us a little closer to the Moon. Without them, that landing, and the ones after it, might never have happened.
On July 21, 2011, I sneaked out of bed early and watched as the Space Shuttle Atlantis, flying as STS-135, touched down in Florida after two weeks in space. With that landing, the Space Shuttle Program ended, 30 years after John Young started it. From there, the American space program changed direction, and moved on into other things, exciting probes to study the solar systems most interesting places and far-off corners. It’s frustrating to think that we need to hitch rides with other space programs to get astronauts in space, but the uncrewed missions have been spectacular.
I’m not the sort of guy who looks for deeper meanings in dates and numbers, but I like the pattern. It’s probably all coincidence. There is a certain something to it all. I love the poetry of the Space Shuttle program ending on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.
They’re all endings that then became new beginnings, and I often think about where we’ve been, what we can do together, and where we’ll go next. My grandfather’s copy of that old photo always inspires me and makes me feel optimistic.
Today’s a day that I quietly think of as another space holiday. Maybe you will, too. Happy July 21, everyone.
Thanks for reading, have a great weekend, and clear skies, everyone!