The Right Stuff

Those of a certain age remember when they would roll a TV into in your classroom to watch NASA launches. By the time my kids were in school, that was unheard of.

I’ve written before about my childhood obsession with the space program; it all came rolling back this week with the death of Neil Armstrong.

Armstrong may deny his status as a hero, but he was unquestionably — how shall we say — one cool mofo. Case in point: the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) that Buzz Aldrin piloted to the surface of the moon was not quite exactly tested all that thoroughly. Meaning what? Meaning NASA had never tried landing an unmanned version of the vehicle on the moon’s surface — nor checked to see if it could take off from the moon. Failure on either count would have lead to one of history’s greatest “Oh, sh*t” moments.

That was a real enough possibility that the space agency had developed secret procedures on what to do if Armstrong and Aldrin were stranded on the moon. There was even a speech already written — by William Safire — that President Richard Nixon would have delivered in case the mission ended in disaster.

If that doesn’t convince you of Armstrong’s moxie, watch this video of Armstrong ejecting from a LEM training vehicle in 1968, moments before its spectacular crash.

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