One day, under secret orders, a group of us at the test pilot center were ordered to go to Washington, to get a briefing. And they talked about the Atlas booster, and putting a capsule on top of that, with a man in it, to try to put a man in space. And of course at that time, the Atlas boosters were blowing up every other day down at Cape Canaveral. And it looked like a very, you know, a good way to have a short career.
I thought I had the best job in the world, from the day I entered flight training, until I looked on TV one day and Al Shepard goes up in a rocket. He's gone higher than I've ever gone, and faster than I've ever gone, and most importantly, he's made more noise doing it. He's even on TV doing it. How do I get that job?
When Tom Wolfe wrote "The Right Stuff," I thought, boy, that sounds good. People are gonna think I have the right stuff. I'm the same guy I always was, but now I've got the right stuff!
It's sort of an unshakeable belief in your own infallibility. That's what the right stuff is. That you're immortal, that you can do anything that is thrown at you.
I think we were very aware of the situation in Vietnam, because a lot of our friends were flying airplanes in combat in Vietnam. And there would we have been, had we not been in the space program.
I guess I can sort of admit it now, I've admitted it a little bit to a few friends, I've always had a guilt complex, to some degree. That was my war, good or bad, whether it was a good war or a bad war, we're not discussing it, but that was my war, to fight for my country, and my buddies were getting shot at and shot down and in some cases captured, and I was getting my picture on the front page of the paper. And I've always felt that they fought my war for me. They look at it totally different. They said, "You were doing something that this country needed more than anything else at the time. You were part of a program, the only thing we had to hold our head high and be proud of."
One thing I know about Buzz, he's one of these guys that's a lot smarter than most of us. He had a nickname, Dr. Rendezvous.
He loves to talk about technical stuff, particularly rendezvous. I mean, he'll get this orbit going this way, and that orbit going the other way, and he really grooved on those things.
You didn't want to sit near him at a party, because he would start talking about rendezvous, and you would want to be talking about the good-looking girl across the room. He could care less. He wanted to talk about rendezvous, and he'd been talking to you about it all week long.
When the sun is shining on the surface at a very shallow angle, the craters cast long shadows and the Moon's surface seems very inhospitable, forbidding almost. I did not sense any great invitation on the part of the Moon for us to come into its domain. I sensed more almost a hostile place, a scary place.
[discussing Neil Armstrong's "one small step" line] It was like Neil, but deeper than I thought that he would come up with. I wouldn't have had the self-control to do that. I'd have, to me, I'd have been jumping up and down, "Yahoo! Hey man, I'm here!" That's the kind of response that I think I would have had. But he was very, very controlled, and those words came out, and they were very appropriate and perfect.
Here we were, on the surface, and I knew this is what people were watching. More people were watching us than had ever watched two humans being before in history, and yet we're further away! Not just in distance, but in things we've got to do to get back home. We've got to do some difficult things to get out of this desolate place, and get back home again.
[discussing the Apollo 13 accident] It was a case of survival. And certainly landing on the Moon and surviving to see the next sunrise, it's two different things. And it wasn't until I got comfortably back on Earth, that I became very much disappointed in not making a landing on the Moon.
I kind of have two moons in my head, I guess, whereas most people just have one moon. I look at the moon just like everybody else who's never been there, and you know, there it is, and I've always thought it was interesting. Whether it's full or a sliver, or what have you. But every once in a while, I do think of a second moon, you know, the one that I recall from up close. And yeah, it is kind of hard to believe that I was actually up there.
[referring to Apollo 17's liftoff] I had control of that vehicle right in the palm of my hands. If the guidance failed or started to stray or went somewhere we didn't like or the ground didn't like, I could flip a switch, and I could control seven, over seven and a half million pounds of thrust with this handle and fly the thing to the Moon myself. And I guarantee you, I had practiced it and trained for it so many times, I almost dared, I almost dared her to quit on me. Every breath she breathed, I breathed with her. She was, she was uniquely something special, and what a hell of a ride she gave us.
You go up into Earth orbit, and you go around the Earth once, and again that's a busy time, because you want to make sure that everything on board is working properly before you set sail for the Moon. And then you get the word you're go for TLI, and that means you can ignite the motor and head on off to the Moon. And you do. And you go. And that's it. [laughs]
In Earth orbit, the horizon's just slightly curved. When you head on out to the Moon, in very short order, and you get a chance to look back at the Earth, that horizon slowly curves around in upon himself, and all of sudden you're looking at something that is very strange, but yet is very, very familiar, because you're beginning to see the Earth evolve.
We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon, you can put your thumb up, and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you have ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself, all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are. But then how fortunate we are to have this body, and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself.
Now, I pick up the phone. And he said "Who's this?" and I told him "Alan Bean". He said "Well, we're down here and we're doin' this test, and we've lost the crew." And I said "Wh-where'd they go? You lost 'em?" 'Cause I thought they just need to run the test, and they can't find 'em. "No," they said, "we've lost the crew." I said "Maybe they're down at the beach house." And they said "No, there was a fire." And then it dawns on me that maybe they're talkin' about somethin' diff'rent than I think.
Edgar D. Mitchell:
The biggest joy was on the way home. In my cockpit window, every two minutes: The Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the whole 360-degree panorama of the heavens. And that was a powerful, overwhelming experience. And suddenly I realized that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of the spacecraft, the molecules in the body of my partners, were prototyped, manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness; it wasn't 'Them and Us', it was 'That's me!', that's all of it, it's... it's one thing. And it was accompanied by an ecstacy, a sense of 'Oh my God, wow, yes', an insight, an epiphany.
Reentry is very critical in Apollo. The last time I looked at my computer, we were accelerating through 39,000 feet per second, which is, uh, translates to over 26,000 miles an hour.
A rifle bullet only goes 2,000 miles an hour.
You, you are literally on fire. Your, uh, your heat shield is on fire, and it's streaming, its fragments are streaming out behind you. It's like being inside a gigantic lightbulb.
The reentry started at 400,000 feet, and by the time you got to 90,000 feet you're basically comin' straight down, free-fall.
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