13 Minutes to the Moon

If you‘re in the market for a podcast recommendation, here it is: go listen to 13 Minutes to the Moon, produced by the BBC World Service. It‘s an in-depth walk-through of topics around the nearly 13 minute-long final descent1 of the Eagle lander from the Columbia command module down to the surface of the Moon.

I have read about, listened to, and watched tons of material about this expedition. But one thing I learned from listening to episode 9 of the series was that the landings in all cases have been expressly planned to happen in a region close to the terminator when the Moon was in a waxing phase2.

Thanks to the low position of the sun (in the back of the LEM) over the horizon, the overall amount of light was reduced and the structures on the surface cast long shadows. These create contrasting markers in the blinding whiteness to assist the LEM pilots in recognizing and avoiding potential obstacles that might be a hazard to the landing procedure.

In hindsight, it seems totally natural and obvious to plan the landings this way, but it never actually occurred to me until I listened to 13 Minutes to the Moon.

  1. That inspired the title of the podcast series
  2. This conclusion is also backed up by the flight path of the mission, see e.g this illustration.

First Men on the Moon

This is not a new thing, but fits perfectly to the Apollo 11 buzz (no pun intended) that we are going to get through in the coming month.

Make sure to go to firstmenonthemoon.com and replay the final descent of the landing module along with synchronised communication in the mission control room in Houston and between CAPCOM, Columbia, and Eagle.

R.I.P. John Watts Young

Ars Technica:

The first chief of the astronaut office, Deke Slayton, had high praise for Young in his autobiography Deke! “John was one of the unsung heroes of the Astronaut Office, a real hardworking guy who did whatever you asked him to, no problems. The only thing that held him back was that he was not comfortable with public speaking; he tended to freeze up and give one-word answers.”

Amazing career, amazing achievements. Somehow, this paragraph resonated the most with me.