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The Apollo Program

  • Anders sadly perished a few days ago at the age of 90 in a terrible plane crash. Anders was a man of many talents. Running General Dynamics was probably not one of them. I’ll leave that story out of this post, but leave that to you look up. Instead, I want to share something else about William Anders. One of his greatest shining achievements, was probably this unscheduled photograph he took during the Apollo 8 mission.

    First, for the uninitiated, Apollo 8 was the first crewed mission to leave Earth’s orbit completely to reach the moon. The crew then orbited the moon some 10 times before returning back to Earth. It was a landmark historical mission.

    A transcript from NASA’s program Earthrise: The 45th Anniversary:

    On December 24, 1968, a few minutes after 10:30 am Houston time, Apollo 8 was coming around from the far side of the Moon for the fourth time. Mission Commander Frank Borman was in the left-hand seat, preparing to turn the spacecraft to a new orientation according to the flight plan. Navigator Jim Lovell was in the spacecraft’s lower equipment bay, about to make sightings on lunar landmarks with the onboard sextant, and Bill Anders was in the right-hand seat, observing the Moon through his side window, and taking pictures with a Hasselblad still camera, fitted with a 250-mm telephoto lens. Meanwhile, a second Hasselblad with an 80-mm lens was mounted in Borman’s front-facing window, the so-called rendezvous window, photographing the Moon on an automatic timer: a new picture every twenty seconds. These photographs, matched with LRO’s high-resolution terrain maps, show that Borman was still turning Apollo 8 when the Earth appeared. It was only because of the timing of this rotation that the Earthrise, which had happened on Apollo 8’s three previous orbits, but was unseen by the astronauts, now came into view in Bill Anders’s side window. Here’s what it looked like, as recreated from LRO data by Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio. You’ll hear the astronauts’ voices as captured by Apollo 8’s onboard tape recorder, beginning with Frank Borman announcing the start of the roll maneuver, and you’ll see the rising Earth move from one window to another as Apollo 8 turns.

    Borman: All right, we’re gonna roll. Ready… Set…

    Anders: The impact crater with uh – at uh – just prior to the subsolar point on the south side, in the floor of it, uh, [unintelligible], there is one dark hole. But I couldn’t get a quick enough look at it to see if it might be anything volcanic.

    Anders: Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth comin’ up. Wow, is that pretty!

    Borman: Hey don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.

    [shutter click]

    Anders: You got a color film, Jim? Hand me a roll of color, quick, would you?

    Lovell: Oh man, that’s great.

    Anders: Hurry.

    Lovell: Where is it?

    Anders: Quick

    Lovell: Down here?

    Anders: Just grab me a color. A color exterior. Hurry up. Got one?

    Lovell: Yeah, I’m looking’ for one. C 368.

    Anders: Anything. Quick.

    Lovell: Here.

    Anders: Well, I think we missed it.

    Lovell: Hey, I got it right here [in the hatch window].

    Anders: Let me get it out this one, it’s a lot clearer.

    Lovell: Bill, I got it framed, it’s very clear right here!

    [shutter click]

    Lovell: Got it?

    Anders: Yep.

    Lovell: Take several, take several of ’em! Here, give it to me!

    Anders: Wait a minute, just let me get the right setting here now, just calm down.

    Lovell: Take –

    Anders: Calm down, Lovell!

    Lovell: Well, I got it right – aw, that’s a beautiful shot…Two-fifty at f/11.

    [shutter click]

    Anders: Okay.

    […]

    Source: Transcripts of Earthrise: The 45th Anniversary

    I love this interaction. It highlights just how much a team effort it took to take these photographs, and just how astounding the visage of Earth rising up out of the darkness as they orbited out of the dark side of the moon. Truly captivating.

  • Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar for The New York Times writes:

    The mission was relatively inexpensive in space terms, costing less than $150 million — less than it cost to make the 2014 film “Interstellar.”

    But Chandrayaan-2 will take much longer to reach the moon than the relatively straight shot made by the Apollo missions, which cost billions (the presence of humans added to the price tag).

    The Indian orbiter will conserve fuel by making ever-widening orbits around Earth before being captured by the moon’s gravity and pulled into lunar orbit.

    This launch was a historic leap for India and the ISRO (India Space Research Organisation). This was the second attempt, two weeks ago, the launch was scrubbed at the last minute. The last Lunar mission the ISRO spearheaded, was the Chandrayaan-1, and if you need reminding — it was a colossal success and the entire science community of Earth benefitted from their findings. Generally speaking, the Chandrayaan-1 discovered water on the Moon. It used infrared spectrometry to detect water on the side of the Moon that faces away from us here on the third rock from the sun.

    Photo from The New York Times

    Chandrayaan-2 includes a rover, a lander, and an orbiter. The rover will collect samples for analysis. Given the fact that rovers sent to planetary realms typically outlive their lifespan, the possibility of sending a rover to the Moon is truly thrilling.