The soon-to-be-released "First Man" movie depicting the preparations and landing of the first humans on the Moon missed an opportunity and responsibility to chronicle this epic achievement in a deservedly objective manner.
I will freely admit that I haven’t viewed the film, and further, that I have no future intent to do so for two fundamental reasons. The first is because of its intentional omission of lunar film footage of the American flag for transparently misleading purposes of de-nationalizing heroically bold and historically successful Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo program goals and achievements.
The other reason I plan to forego financially patronizing this Hollywood docudrama because of its lamentable first "man" (singular) title. There were actually two men who left those first footprints on the Moon, as another orbited above. In addition, many brave and committed heroes paved their way.
Others followed, leaving their own footprints in the lunar dust. Still others have, and continue to extend lessons-learned from these experiences to orbital enterprises.
It has been my great life honor to know several of these remarkable individuals. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are two of them.
Neil was a wonderfully thoughtful, highly focused and modest person.
During later years of his life, he served on our board of Space Industries, Inc., a commercial space company I co-founded with the NASA Johnson Space Center’s original Chief Engineer, Max Faget and two other partners, Guillermo Trotti and James Calaway.
Other board members included NASA JSC’s first director, Dr. Robert Gilruth, along with Christopher Kraft who later replaced him in that capacity.
After Max, Space Industries was headed by five-Space Shuttle-mission astronaut Dr. Joe Allen.
Buzz has been a close personal friend, frequent home guest, and highly valued contributor to our University of Houston space architecture research and graduate-level teaching activities over a period spanning four decades.
He currently serves as a member of our Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture advisory committee which I chair. Five — Space Shuttle-mission astronaut Dr. Bonnie Dunbar replaced me as SICSA’s director, later succeeded by my long-time SICSA associate, Dr. Olga Bannova.
Ranking third in his class as a West Point graduate with an MIT doctoral degree, Buzz is a brilliant technical planner and space policy strategist. All who know him will attest to his tireless advocacy to advance human space exploration — Mars in particular.
Along with all of their Mercury, Gemini and Apollo colleagues, Neil and Buzz share histories of enormous courage and national patriotism. Both were fighter pilots during the Korean War.
Buzz flew 66 U.S. Air Force F-85 combat missions, and shot down two Russian Mig-15 aircraft over the Yalu River. Neil who flew 78 Korean missions had become qualified as a U.S. Navy aviator two weeks after his 20th birthday. After his F9F-2B Panther was hit by anti-aircraft fire while making a low bombing run near Wonsan, he barely managed to fly back and eject over friendly territory.
Apollo 11 wasn’t the first space rodeo for either Buzz or Neil.
On Nov. 11, 1966 as Gemini 12 mission pilot alongside James Lovell, Buzz established a record-long five and one-half hour tethered spacewalk which drew upon both his MIT space orbital maneuvering research and his extensive recreational scuba diving experiences. He subsequently introduced weightless training as a standard astronaut protocol in a special NASA JSC underwater buoyancy facility.
Neil was the Gemini 8 command pilot along with David Scott on a harrowing March 16, 1966 flight which nearly ended very badly. The mission entailed complex rendezvous and docking maneuvers with an unmanned orbiting target spacecraft which required recovery from an unplanned out-of-control roll.
Neil and Buzz braved huge, uncertain risks on their first-humans-ever trip to the Moon. As Max Faget observed, "We didn’t know what kind of Moon we were going to land on. We didn’t know what the radiation environment would be like on the Moon. Just a whole host of things like that we didn’t really know. And we had to move ahead anyway."
And as Buzz recalls, "Before we left Earth, some alarmists considered the lunar dust as very dangerous . . . in fact pyrophoric (explosive) . . . capable of igniting spontaneously in air. The theory was that the dust had been so void of contact with oxygen that as soon as we re-pressurized our lunar module it might heat up, smolder, and perhaps burst into flames . . . A late July fireworks on the Moon was not something anyone wanted!"
Buzz and Neil each told me that they had assessed their chances of returning at about 50-50. These were risks both braved equally when that Apollo Eagle lander brought them — simultaneously — to that alien and unknown land a quarter of a million miles away.
To honor just one of them, not both, is an egregious injustice. Of this, I have absolutely no doubt that Neil Armstrong would agree.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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