The crew of Apollo 1 were the first fatalities in America’s space programme, but they will forever be remembered as pioneers of manned space exploration.
Gemma Lavender writes: Following the success of the Mercury and Gemini missions in the 1960’s, NASA set about planning a series of manned missions to the Moon that would become known as the Apollo missions, under direction of John F. Kennedy to land a man on the moon by 1970. Apollo 1 was to be the first manned mission and, although it would not travel to the moon itself, it was intended to test important technologies in Earth orbit with Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee on board. Tragically, however, the spacecraft was destroyed in a cabin fire during a launch pad test 47 years ago on 27 January 1967.
Each of the three astronauts had been influential during NASA’s space exploration program in the run-up to Apollo 1. Gus Grissom was the second American in space aboard Liberty Bell 7, the second Project Mercury flight, in 1961. He later became the first American to fly in space twice, piloting the Gemini 3 spacecraft in orbit in 1965.
Edward White was the first American to walk in space during the Gemini 4 spaceflight, also in 1965, when he spent 36 minutes outside the spacecraft. Roger Chaffee was the only one of the three who had not flown in space before. He was chosen in NASA’s third pool of astronauts in 1963 and served as capsule communicator on the ground alongside Grissom for White’s Gemini 4 mission. Read the rest of this entry »
A new documentary about astronaut Gene Cernan is far more than the story of one person’s life
Jeffrey Kluger writes: Real astronauts never say goodbye. At least, not the way you’d think they would before they take off on a mission that could very well kill them. They’re good at the quick wave, the hat tip, the catch-you-on-the-flip-side wink. But the real goodbye—the if I don’t come home here are all the things I always wanted to say to you sort of thing? Not a chance.
“You’re almost too young to know what it means to have your Daddy go to the moon. But one day, you’ll have the feeling of excitement and pride Mommy and Daddy do.”
But Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, tried to split the difference—as a scene in the new documentary The Last Man on the Moon, sweetly captures. Before Cernan headed off for his first trip to the moon, the Apollo 10 orbital mission, which was the final dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 landing a few months later, he mailed his young daughter Tracy a letter. It was written on the fragile onion skin that was air mail stationery, back in the era when the very idea of air mail carried a whiff of exotic distance.
“Punk, we have lots of camping and horseback riding to do when I get back. I want you to look at the moon, because when you are reading this, Daddy is almost there.”
Cernan was a young man when he wrote the letter in 1969, and is a much older man, at 81, when he returns to it in the film. “You’re almost too young to know what it means to have your Daddy go to the moon,” he reads aloud, “But one day, you’ll have the feeling of excitement and pride Mommy and Daddy do. Punk, we have lots of camping and horseback riding to do when I get back. I want you to look at the moon, because when you are reading this, Daddy is almost there.” If the Navy pilot who once landed jets on carrier decks and twice went to the moon mists up as he reads, if his voice quavers a bit, well what of it?
As the title of the movie makes clear, Cernan was the last of the dozen men who set foot on the moon, and the 24 overall who journeyed there. No human being has traveled further into space than low-Earth orbit since Cernan climbed up the ladder of his lunar module in December of 1972, closed the hatch and headed for home. That makes it a very good time for a movie that can serve as equal parts biography, reminiscence and, yes, cultural reprimand for a nation that did a great thing once and has spent a whole lot of time since trying to summon the resolve, the discipline and the political maturity to do something similar again.
“That story, as Cernan and Craig came to agree, would be about the lunar program as a whole and the up-from-the-farm narrative of so many of the men who flew in it, as well as the random currents of fortune that saw some those men make it from terrestrial soil to lunar soil, while others perished in the violent machines that were necessary for them to make those journeys.”
The Last Man on the Moon, which premiered at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March and was later shown at the Toronto Film Festival, had a long provenance, beginning eight years ago when director Mark Craig, who had read Cernan’s book, requested an interview. Cernan agreed and six months later Craig got back in touch and said he wanted to make a movie based on his memoir.
“My first answer was, ‘Who would be interested in a movie about me?’” Cernan tells TIME. The answer he got impressed him: “This movie is not going to be about you.” It was, instead, going to be about the larger story. Read the rest of this entry »
December 17, 1972 — Apollo 17 astronaut Ron Evans takes a spacewalk outside the command module during the trans-Earth coast to home. He is retrieving film cassettes, a mapping camera, and panoramic camera. The total time for his EVA was one hour, seven minutes, 18 seconds.
WASHINGTON — Some of the most iconic artifacts of aviation and space history will be getting an updated display for the 21st century, with the Apollo moon landing as the centerpiece.
“We’re trying to figure out what the museum needs to do to stay in touch. We want to inspire people of all ages to want to know more and to do more.”
— Museum Director J.R. “Jack” Dailey
For the first time since its 1976 opening, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum plans to overhaul its central exhibition showing the milestones of flight. The extensive renovation announced Thursday will be carried out over the next two years with portions of the exhibit closing temporarily over time, said Museum Director J.R. “Jack” Dailey.
Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” aircraft from the first trans-Atlantic flight, John Glenn’s Mercury capsule from his first Earth orbit and an Apollo Lunar Module recalling America’s first moon landing will be among the key pieces to be featured. Such artifacts have made the Air and Space Museum the nation’s most-visited museum, drawing 7 million to 8 million visitors each year.