Aldrin and Armstrong could quite easily have been stranded on the moon – a gruesome scenario – though NASA had a plan in place in case of this horror.
On July 23, 2012, the first American woman to orbit Earth, Sally K. Ride, died after 17 months fighting pancreatic cancer, at 61years of age. Having been selected in 1978 as an astronaut, Ride blasted off with four male colleagues – on the 7th flight of the space shuttle Challenger program – on June 18, 1983,.
It had been on July 21, 1969, that the iconic astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took off again from the lunar surface, rejoining Michael Collins in orbit before the return to earth, but few realise that the launch FROM the moon was one of the most important moments of the whole mission. Aldrin and Armstrong could quite easily have been stranded on the moon – a gruesome scenario – though NASA had a plan in place in case of this horror.
In the early 1960s, Apollo programme engineers knew that itwasn’t feasible ensure 100% success, so the target became instead a 99.9%, or three nines percentage as their objective, so if every piece of every spacecraft proved to worked 99.9% of the time, it was deemed safe, though obviously they were well aware that things could go wrong.
Quite possibly the most important piece of hardware on Apollo missions were the engines – after reaching Earth orbit, the Saturn V rocket upper stage engine was fired, to launch the craft moonwards, then four days later, the crew had to slow down again to enter lunar orbit, firing their Command and Service Module engine against travel direction.
A soft landing on the moon entailed, the two Lunar Module astronauts relying on the descent engine, the ascent version required to once more leave the lunar surface. Remember that the incredibly basic computer technology of the time meant that almost anything on the spacecraft could fail at any time.
Missions could conceivably turn fatal for the crew easily, as seen with Apollo 13, the oxygen tank exploding and taking out half the spacecraft power, the crew eventually using the Lunar module descent engine — for mid-course corrections, as they successfully limped back to earth.
An engine failure was one of the worst scenarios for any Apollo mission, there being always a slim 0.01% chance of the Lunar module ascent engine failing, leaving the crew to die on the moon, so plans were in place in the event of a lunar disaster of that nature.
Collins, orbiting the moon, would have been helpless to intervene, with capacity for recovery of the Lunar module, so he would have followed orders and returned to Earth alone. President Nixon would then read a prepared statement to the world, likely the last thing that unlucky crew on the Moon would have heard, saying
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery, but also I hope for mankind in their sacrifice. They are laying down their lives in the search for truth and understanding, and will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown, binding more tightly the brotherhood of man.
Ancient men saw their heroes in the constellations, and in modern times, our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood, so others will follow, and find their way home, because man’s search will not be denied. Every human being who in future looks up at the moon will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever human.