Moon Struck

Once the astronauts left Earth, they were aliens in a mystical environment, bombarded with sensations, revelations, and mysteries whose power has not diminished in the ten years since.

They had all seen the Moon before, of course. Indeed, there was never a druid more obsessed with the Moon than the astronauts in the Apollo program; no fertility cult with greater devotion. For thousands of hours apiece they had actually rehearsed going there—following their checklists, maneuvers, reacting to every situation the computers could conceive of—all under the most rigorous conditions that science could devise. If they “crashed” their simulator, they even had to report to the Accident Investigation Board to explain themselves. Dressed in outlandish costumes, they had lurched aroudn the Arizona desert, pretending it was the Mare Tranquillitatis, carefully gathering odd chunks of granite as if they were lunar samples. For years they had made believe, with precision and with dedication, yet they always knew it to be unreal. It was the Moon alone that gave meaning to the lives of Apollo astronauts, so when they saw it at night they must have genuinely yearned for it. 

Among those men who went to the Moon, even the most insensitive of them, there were certain moments they recall in common, profoundly arresting moments that were stamped alike in their 24 separate lives, during nine different missions. One of these was that scene, three days out and afar in space, when they first turned and saw their destination.

They had last seen it the morning they launched—still fairly high in the Florida dawn and still far away—if they were lucky. “It was just by accident I saw it,” remembers Ken Mattingly, the command module pilot on Apollo 16. “Being command pilot I

Tags: NASA

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