By TEDDY ALLEN/Designated Writers
(This ran originally in The Times and The News-Star Sunday July 7, 2019.)
We begin Apollo Month here at Mission Control, and all is well.
Americans and the world take it for granted now, what with the invention of the Walkman and the Internet and rap and all the other sophisticated mumbo jumbo out there. But walking on the moon used to be “a thing.”
It’s less than two weeks until we mark the 50th anniversary of Men Walking on the Moon, July 20, 1969. We watched it live on a Sylvania television set with rabbit ears and I remember walking out the back door of our house in South Carolina and around the deep freeze and saying something to one of the dogs and looking up at the moon, then looking back at those rabbit ears and wondering in my 9-year-old mind, “How can we get this from the moon and we can’t even pick up Gilligan’s Island on WECT out of Wilmington?”
I knew then that the world and maybe even outer space was full of more mystery than I could ever overcome.
If we are rating the Apollo Missions — and we are — Apollo 11 has got to be the winner winner chicken dinner because it was a First, and a big first at that. Even with time, it remains No. 1 in this bureau.
It was greatest feat of mankind — until the very next month when the expansion New York Mets, never over .500 after nine games in any of their previous seven seasons, began their run from 10 games back of the Chicago Cubs to finish eight games ahead of them and win the NL East, and then the pennant and then the ’69 Series.
That was one small step for the Mets, one giant leap backward for the Chicago Cubs.
For me, Apollo didn’t begin with any previous failures. I was new to the space game, so when Apollo 7 launched on my birthday in October of 1968, I thought it was all for me. I already had the plastic models I’d glued together, I had a couple of GRIT newspapers with diagrams, I knew who Walter Cronkite was and how to manipulate the rabbit ears so he could tell me about lunar descent and heatshields and zero gravity. And Tang.
(Leave it to historians like me to state for the record that Apollo and the National Aeronautics Space Administration, or NASA, waited to launch until the day after Detroit’s Tigers finished their 3-games-to-1 comeback with a 4-1 win over St. Louis in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series, a game that took only 2:07 to play. Just 2:07. Unheard of today. It’s another story for another time, but I wish I could explain to today’s big leaguers that baseball ain’t rocket science.)
Apollo 7 is my sixth favorite Apollo mission because Commander Wally Schirra — the astronauts were up there 10 days in cramped quarters checking out the command module in Earth’s orbit only — got a sinus infection and got mad at the people in Mission Control. The transcript is fun to read. I guess Wally had bet on the Cardinals.
But before this gets confusing, let’s go in order. Apollo 11 is No. 1. Its success meant that we did to the Russians what the Tigers did to the Cardinals and what the Mets did to the Cubs.
Second is Apollo 13. Oops. Explosion. Read books by Mission Control’s crewcut stud Gene Kranz and by 13’s commander Jim Lovell. And more. We prayed in school. NASA’s finest hour. Something happened that was never contemplated, but they looked at what they did have instead of what they didn’t have and they figured it out.
Third is Apollo 8: Apollo 7 and 9 tested the command module (Apollo 7) and lunar module (Apollo 9) in Earth’s orbit. Apollo 8 was the first circumlunar orbit of the command module, America’s first manned mission to the Moon. This gave us the photograph Earthrise and the reading from the spacecraft on Christmas Eve, 1968. Imagine: the three astronauts took turns reading from Genesis 1. To the world. On television. After having come from the dark side of the moon. They didn’t seem to find it conceivable that all this had just created itself. Have we gotten smarter since then? Or is it the other way around?
Fourth is Apollo Creed: Just joking. He’s the fictional boxer from the Rocky films. He’s a wonderful Apollo, but not in my Top 10, which I’ll finish next week because Mission Control informs me I’ve almost overshot the runway on words and space. So until next time, enjoy your Tang.