26Aug12
Rest in Tranquility

Rest in Tranquility

The moon looked different last night. I was driving south on the M5, heading home from my cousin’s wedding. Only about an hour earlier torrential rain was being scooped away by the wipers but now they’d started to make that rubber on glass sound. I switched them off and turned on the radio. The announcer said, “Neil Armstrong has died”. As different guests were interviewed and callers shared their memories of where they were on July 20th 1969, a fuzzy moon appeared shining through the clouds. Gradually the clouds melted away and a clear half moon presented itself.

I know it was just a coincidence but it looked as if the universe was reminding us of our own potential. It’s mind-blowing when you start to think about what project Apollo did. It had only been eight years since President Kennedy had said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth”. When he said those words in 1961, only one American had flown in space. That flight only lasted fifteen minutes and didn’t orbit. That straight up, straight down fifteen minute flight by Alan Shepard was the sum total of America’s manned space flight experience when Kennedy set the goal.

By the time Apollo 11 lifted off, American spaceflight had come a long way. On Project Mercury, they learned orbital mechanics and maneuvering, on Gemini they perfected docking and EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) or “spacewalk”, and on earlier Apollo missions they’d flow to the moon and back and tested the spacecraft that would land on the moon. The only thing they hadn’t done was the landing itself and that really was Armstrong’s greatest achievement. Yes, he will always be known as the first man to walk on the moon, that’s what captured our imagination but EVA had already been done in much more difficult situations (on the moon you have something to actually walk on and 1/6 of the gravity we have on earth to help). The landing was the most difficult and un-proven part of the mission. It wouldn’t have happened if Armstrong hadn’t taken manual control of the Luna Module and steered it away from the boulder field they were headed for and touched down with less than a minute of fuel left in the tank.

Neil Armstrong was born in the rural town of Wapakoneta Ohio. The town has a total area of less than six square miles and a population of 10,000. He learned to fly when he was fifteen, studied aerospace engineering at university then served in the navy, where he flew fighter jets off aircraft carriers in the Korean War. After the navy he became a test pilot and then an astronaut.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated people worked on the project, motivated by Kennedy’s words, his assassination and a burning desire to beat their arch enemy, the Soviet Union. On the way to man’s greatest achievement things frequently went wrong and people died, but they kept going.

In Project Apollo you have all of the ingredients for success. Kennedy set out a clear goal with a deadline, there was a motivation, and a dedicated team who built up experience through success and failure.

A quiet man from a small town in Ohio landed on the moon. More proof that where you start does not determine where you finish. There is no limit on what you can achieve as long as you have a dream, a team and a reason not to give up. If you don’t believe me, look at the moon, it looks different now.

Craic on!

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