back to article 50 years ago: NASA blasts off the first humans to experience a lunar close encounter

Fifty years ago today, the third Apollo crew were strapped into a capsule perched atop the third Saturn V to undertake a journey to the Moon. It was in many ways more audacious than the eventual lunar landing itself. Third time lucky (on a Saturn V) The Saturn V the crew was to ride had a difficult birth. NASA had only …

  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

    I followed them all, 6, almost 7, years old when Apollo 8 launched, following the mission over Xmas on our B&W TV. Amazing era. I will raise a glass to those brave enough to venture so far from earth half a century ago. Real heroes

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Remember

      Six months old I was sat in front of our TV for the Apollo 17 launch in December '72 by my Dad. Can't remember a single thing about it, but deeply grateful to him to this day.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Remember

        I'm about ten years too young to have seen any of the Apollo missions, but I do remember sitting in a pub, watching SpaceX stick their first landing of a rocket on their robot-barge, on my phone via 4G.

        What I was watching wasn't quite as cool as Apollo, but the technology that allowed me to watch it has definitely advanced.

        1. Alistair Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Remember

          @Phuzz:

          Nah, what was astonishing about what you did was that you had in your hand, to watch SpaceX stick that landing, more compute power than was used to launch, monitor and control all of the Apollo missions.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Remember

            Nah, what was astonishing about what you did was that you had in your hand, to watch SpaceX stick that landing, more compute power than was used to launch, monitor and control all of the Apollo missions.

            Well, it was practically steampunk back then.

            But nowadays, if you have the computing power, might as well use it. Then lather some more on top for cool graphics.

          2. The Mighty Spang

            Re: Remember

            and a lot of that time was working on the IMU, a huge block of spinning metal taking a lot of power, which we now have in a single chip.

            also look at the lineage. Charles Stark Draper made the first IMU which was mounted in a plane and used to correct its course. that tech was shrunk down for Apollo (made by the Charles Stark Draper labs in MIT) and the left over AGCs from the canclled apollos were used as test articles by NASA for fly by wire research.

            in effect most planes we use today owe their lineage to this project.

          3. LisaJK

            Re: Remember

            I remember seeing parts of these missions at primary school aged 5 or 6. I can remember seeing the moon surface moving past the camera, but at that age, it seemed to go on for ages and I had no concept of its significance.

            I also saw the first flight of the British Concorde, also quite boring at such a young age as it took ages before it actually took off.

            Fast forwards a few years and I feel privileged to have witnessed such feats of engineering.

            Sure mobile phones are many orders of magnitude more powerful than the computers of that era, but that is precisely why their achievements are so astounding.

            If I were sitting on top of the world's biggest computer controlled firework I'd prefer those machine code programmed low powered 60's era machines.

            More computing power and memory means more bugs...!!!

            However much effort is spent on trying to eliminate bugs, they will always be there, even on those under powered Apollo machines.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Remember

          "What I was watching wasn't quite as cool as Apollo,"

          I saw both the Moon Landing and the first successful SpaceX barge landing would say both are very, very cool.

        3. Data Mangler

          Re: Remember

          If you're interested in looking at the AGC (Apollo Guidance Computer) there's a series of Youtube videos by CuriousMarc, starting with https://youtu.be/2KSahAoOLdU , doing a restoration of an actual unit. It's fascinating stuff well worth a watch for those into that kind of thing.

          1. Empty1

            Re: Remember

            For the first Moon landing I was a newly qualified sparky on a ship traversing the North Sea - stood precariously on the bridge railings fiddling with the aerial to get an almost watchable picture. Skipper told navigator not to change course or else.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Remember

              "For the first Moon landing I was a newly qualified sparky on a ship traversing the North Sea - stood precariously on the bridge railings fiddling with the aerial to get an almost watchable picture. Skipper told navigator not to change course or else."

              I think that must be the most unique re-counting of watching the moon landing I've heard so far :-)

          2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Remember

            There's a lot of AGC stuff on the web - beginning with John Pultorak, who built his own from scratch, to the AGC simulator, to the hacker who built her own DSKY, to the guy who bought one at a scrap auction and is paying to have it brought back to operational status, including building his own DSKY for it.

            I watched a lot of the flights, from Alan Shepard in fourth grade, to the Apollo 8 Christmas reading, to the "one small step..." of Apollo 11. We could do it again, I'm convinced, but we need to bring back affordable, quality education for all. Never mind building a wall, make it possible for inner-city kids to go to college.

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: Remember

              I watched a lot of the flights, from Alan Shepard in fourth grade, to the Apollo 8 Christmas reading, to the "one small step..." of Apollo 11. We could do it again, I'm convinced, but we need to bring back affordable, quality education for all. Never mind building a wall, make it possible for inner-city kids to go to college.

              Wish I could upvote this a million times. Indeed we need to be inspired to extend our minds. We need this more than a damn wall. I can't believe that we've lost our aspirations and have had them reduced to petty politics.

          3. swm Bronze badge

            Re: Remember (AGC computer)

            The AGC had an interesting instruction "INX"? (index) which added data fetched from its effective address to the next instruction. This allowed any location in memory to be used as an index register. You could also add to the 3-bit op code. If the addition overflowed, the overflow bit became another opcode bit. I have never heard of any other computer with a similar scheme.

      2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Remember

        I'm just a bit too young to remember any of the moon landings. The only Apollo mission that I have any memory of is the docking between Apollo and Soyuz in 1975 , which I remember watching on TV.

        TBH, I don't think I really comprehended the significance of it. Older me really wishes I could go back and tell younger me just what an awesome thing it was that I was watching.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Remember

        Can't remember a single thing about it, but deeply grateful to him to this day

        I clearly remember having followed the whole Apollo program, including that "Eagle has landed" moment and, as a 9-year old, desperately wanting to stay up to see Armstrong's first step onto the moon, but going to bed in tears because my parents said it was too late...

        ..but I also remember being woken by my Mum in the small hours and going into the lounge with them to watch those fuzzy B&W images, after she & Dad had discussed it and decided that it was just too historic an event for my sister & I to miss. I'm also deeply grateful for their change of heart.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Go

          Re: Remember

          I have a recall of being called down for the first step, not sure if I actually saw it or not or got bored & was despatched back to bed.

          Also have a memory of watching a Apollo launch in the afternoon & being annoyed at the absence of an episode of Thunderbirds that I was expecting.

        2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Remember

          AC is obviously the same age as me. I recall trying to keep my eyes open, then being woken to see the actual landing. Our black and white telly was not a problem...

          My late grandfather used to remind me that he had been born at the end of the 1800s, before anyone had flown a powered plane, and lived to see people walk on the moon. In his life he never travelled faster than a local train...

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Remember

            @Neil Barnes

            I remember watching the telly as a 10 yr old and being absolutely amazed as this fuzzy thing came down some fuzzy things and jumped down onto a a fuzzy moon. You reminded me of my grandfather who was an engineer on the R33 and nearly made the first E-W transatlantic airship flight but for some forgotten reason ended over the Peace March in London instead!

            1. AK565

              Re: Remember

              Sush! Don't use the A-word! Don't you know it's a trigger? We might all stop what we're supposed to be doing and spend the rest of the day rereading the history of lighter than air powered flight!

        3. Steve 114

          Re: Remember

          I was allowed to sleep on the sofa until it happenned. Immensely exciting then, and truly astonishing now - and is there really any practical need to do it again?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Remember

            No, there's not. It was a waste of money then and it's a bigger waste now. But you and I will get down votes, my friend, as people need their dreams.

            Even if anyone here is as likely to see the earth from space as I am from growing wings.

            It's nice, a good achievement, but let's park it and invest in, say, dancer treatment. Aye? (gets down votes from nerds who simply refuse to believe space travel is a wasteful luxury that will never get to the common man)

            1. MrXavia
              Mushroom

              Re: Remember

              While I would agree most science is best done with probes, we can get more science for the money

              But I think there are reasons to land on the moon again, we need to prove the technology so we can keep doing it safely.

              We currently send crews to the north/south poles to do science, when we could only use automated probes, the arguments for doing that are the same as for sending crews to other planets, which is better science, shorter delays between the operators of probes/science equipment.

              But also we need to become a multi-planet species if we are to survive, our planet has a finite life, which means we must be able to survive in space, construct large space craft, and eventually travel interstellar distances (be that generation ships, stasis, relativistic ships or something more exotic and unlikely such as warp drive/jump gates/wormholes)

              And finally the tech we develop could save the planet, what if a planet killer asteroid was detected? could we stop it? right now, I doubt it.

              So your down votes are because we think its a necessary expense and not a wasteful luxury.

              The fact it is very very cool is a bonus!

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      I can't remember the Apollo 8 mission (I was 4 at the time) but I remember the lunar landing, we were actually allowed to watch TV (B&W of course) before school.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        Like many of the events in my life-time I cannot remember them***. Some have been overridden by archive footage TV programmes.

        The only moon landing I definitely remember is in early 1972 - presumably Apollo 16. It was nice and clear on a colour TV - and the real-time view of the earth-rise finally brought home to me our place in the universe. "Wow! We are over there - at this instant".

        ***I heard the VoA announcement of JFK's assassination on my SW radio - a few minutes before the BBC interrupted the family's TV programme with the news.

    3. tfb Silver badge

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      My two strongest menories from Apollo are watching the Apollo 11 landing (I was 6 I think) which I can't imagine anyone forgetting who saw it, and later being absolutely furious when footage from a later launch got replaced by something less interesting because it was delayed. Still am furious about that in fact.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        Yes, I remember Apollo 11.

        We got up early to hear the direct radio broadcast of Apollo 11's LM landing on the moon. I think this this was around 05:00 in NZ, before going in to work as normal at ICL's Service Bureau in Wellington.

        Somebody brought a TV into the office that day, so work stopped in early afternoon while we all watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's first moon walk.

    4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      Me too. Sad that in less than 60 years the US has gone gone from

      "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win"

      to

      "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall."

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        > Me too. Sad that in less than 60 years the US has gone gone from

        Used to have a t-shirt saying "We went from landing on the Moon to "This bag is not a toy!" in 40 years"

        It got a LOT of side-eye looks and disparaging comments, but no-one could argue it wasn't true.

      2. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        In the sixties, there was a psychopolitical need to beat the Soviet, magnified by Kennedy's assassination. There's no such push today; NASA might get some funding if they can ever manage to fling an Orion around the moon(potentially capturing the public imagination), but at the rate SLS is going, that's a big if.

      3. Steve 114

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        Those who worked on the project were from several nations, but committed to full integration of culture and language. Maybe a wall is needed against those who might never be.

      4. jake Silver badge

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        To be fair, "the US" doesn't want a wall. The Idiot in Chief and a small faction of his favorite loudmouths want a wall. The vast majority of us would rather seen money spent on something useful, such as education. Or pothole repair.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

          To be fair, "the US" doesn't want a wall. The Idiot in Chief and a small faction of his favorite loudmouths want a wall.

          I think we just have too many idiots. Yes Wall! No Wall! If people spent their time and energy (and lobbying dollars) doing something more inspiring instead, we may have the moonbases I dreamed of as a kid.

          Instead we have people blissfully unaware that a fair chunk of the US already has a wall, or at least fencing, and getting excited about Musk driving a car at 50mph through a sewer tunnel. But one small step for a Boring Company will produce great leaps for mankind! Soon, and for only a few billions more in subsidies, Musk and Bezos may be able to repeat what NASA managed all those years ago.

          Or not, and Joss Whedon's vision of an Indo-Chinese space will be realised. US goverment shuts down because the mistakes of Hadrian must never be repeated!

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

            "Musk driving a car at 50mph through a sewer tunnel."

            Watching that video, I do wonder what state the tyre sidewalls will be in after even a short journey. Those track guides didn't look very safe to me unless you get specially armoured sidewall tyres.

        2. MrReal Bronze badge

          Re: Remeber thHillary started the wall, not Donald

          The inconvenient fact is that Hillary was the starter of the wall.

          As well as exterminating Gaddafi and plunging Libya back into the stone age.

          But don't let facts get in the way of your programming to attack Trump.

      5. ArtFart

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        Let's not forget "Tariff wars are easy to win"

    5. Marty McFly
      Angel

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      HA! I was three months old when Neil & Buzz landed on the moon. During my later years I asked my mom a question about the moon landing. She told me to shut up because I had watched it live when it happened and therefore already knew the answer.

      Gee, thanks, Mom!

    6. A. Coatsworth Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      Came over 10 years late to the party, so no chance of having seen the Apollo missions... one of my very first memories (no only about space missions, but in absolute terms) is the Challenger disaster, and my mom saying very nonchalantly "oh, look at that, it blew up". Probably didn't grasp at the time what that explosion cost, at least in human lives.

      We were celebrating my sister´s 1st birthday at my grandma's house and the launch just happened to be on TV. Not sure if live or at noon news, but I think it was a live transmission.

      Not a very auspicious "first memory" for a kid, but there you have it.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

        "the Challenger disaster, and my mom saying very nonchalantly 'oh, look at that, it blew up'"

        When THAT happened, I was underway on a submarine, and the captain made the announcement to the ship. He thought it was important enough news to announce it to the crew like that.

        Space flight - still dangerous. But less so than 1968.

    7. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      real heroes, YES, and with '2 rockets ago' nearly self-destructing on launch, it was extremely dangerous and only the best of the best were involved. 'The Right Stuff'

    8. Black Betty

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      Five year old me wanted to know what was in the hole* to one side of the moon's far side.

      My grandfather (who built a TV** from scratch to watch the landing) carefully explained to me, with the aid of a bedside lamp and balls why part of the moon was in shadow.

      At the end of the explanation, I collected my shovel and went outside to dig a shadow.

      * There is indeed a dark side to the moon. It's what you get when there is neither sunlight, or Earthshine to illuminate the moon's far side.

      ** Bare chassis valve set that never killed a single child in the several years it served our family.

    9. OssianScotland
      Pint

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      I was five (and a very important half) and remember the Genesis broadcast, but my first real memory was Apollo 11, being sat down in the school hall, in front of one of those big (for the time) B&W TVs with the wooden doors and being told "watch this, you will never see anything like it again". The teachers were right!

      With hindsight, and a nerdy interest in all things space-flight related, I realised that for the UK at least, it was a repeat, since the actual timeline doesn't fit with the school day, but it was an unforgettable experience.

      I can also remember being glued to the radio during the Apollo 13 mission, wondering whether Tom Hanks (sorry, Jim Lovell) et.al. would make it back.

    10. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      Remember watching the Apollo coverage with James Burke almost all the way through on "Apollo 8 Special". Afraid we didn't have much of a Christmas in our household that year.

      "Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus"

    11. kurios

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      Watched all of them, too, including Apollo 11. My boss gave me his pass so I could watch from the Space Flight Operations Facility at JPL. Best summer job I ever had.

    12. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remeber those heady days of the Apollo missions well

      I was at the launch of Apollo 8, as a 9 year old. I still remember it well. You felt it as much as you heard it. Amazing thing to see....

  2. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Balls of Steel

    The Right Stuff.

  3. Chrissy

    No LM = No "lifeboat"

    I didn't realise the subtle detail of the lack of a LM on Apollo 8.... meaning that if that flight had a similar issue* to that which affected Apollo 13, they wouldn't have had the LM to use as a lifeboat and would have been stuck with only the option of a direct abort... lots of delta-v to shed and regain to turn around.

    * Yes, as it was a manufacturing** rather than a design defect in an O2 tank there was a low probabilty of the same issue affecting 2 flights in a total of 14 flown

    ** A scan read of wikipedia (yes, I know!!) suggests that it could be argued to be a design fault with both the change of supply voltage, and thermostat sensors.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: No LM = No "lifeboat"

      Yes, but nobody before Apollo 13 thought the LM as a lifeboat, I guess...

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: No LM = No "lifeboat"

        I'm pretty sure that "LEM-->lifeboat" was at least talked about among the various crews and there may have even been a procedure written for it.

        Being in the nuclear Navy, there are procedures for EVERYTHING. Usually it's for single-failure, though, so if you have a multiple failure, you basically have to use the knowledge and skills gained in drilling for the single failures and 'wing it'.

        1. keithpeter
          Mushroom

          Re: No LM = No "lifeboat"

          "Being in the nuclear Navy, there are procedures for EVERYTHING. Usually it's for single-failure, though, so if you have a multiple failure, you basically have to use the knowledge and skills gained in drilling for the single failures and 'wing it'."

          @Bombastic and all: That is very interesting. And a tiny bit unsettling.

          Happy holidays all that are having them

  4. Tom Paine Silver badge

    ...teams from the Marshall Space Fight Center worked to reassure nervous NASA managers that a further uncrewed flight of the Saturn V was not required, demonstrating on Saturn test articles that their solutions to the Apollo 6 vibration issues would work.

    But they didn't. Little known fact that one of the near-misses that came really close to killing the entire crew of Apollo 13 was massive pogo that developed on one engine that was so severe it bent the mountings 24" (yes, inches) vertically out of true. Another few seconds and the first stage would probably have broken up. As luck would have it, for reasons that were and remain unknown, the malfunctioning engine spotaneously shut itself down. IIRC this was /not/ as s result of the pogo - not directly, anyway.

    Tons of fascinating detail (and more likely to be correct than my recollections from reading this article years ago) : https://www.universetoday.com/62672/13-things-that-saved-apollo-13-part-5-unexplained-shutdown-of-the-saturn-v-center-engine/

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Got a source for those 24 inches? According to the article you linked to, the vibration had an amplitude of 3 inches,

      1. holmegm

        "Got a source for those 24 inches? According to the article you linked to, the vibration had an amplitude of 3 inches,"

        Well, he's a guy, so ...

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        I think he might be conflating that with the J-2 issues on Apollo 6, which did bend the hell out of the spacecraft, IIRC. One engine started pogo, and the computer tried to shut it down, except the wiring was screwed, so it shut down the wrong engine.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      One of the near-misses that would have killed a LOT of people, is if Apollo 13 happened on the pad.

      Not only would the explosion have damaged lots of things, but a Service Module fire had the possibility of igniting the Launch Escape rocket above it, and that would have been a Bad Day At The Pad.

    3. keithpeter
      Boffin

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slosh_dynamics

      There goes tomorrow morning...

      Excellent. I was aware of the free surface effect on ships - which is still claiming vessels - but this takes it to a new level (groan)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slosh_dynamics"

        In one of those weird coincidences, I was watching a series 5 episode of Outback truckers, and thanks to a damaged fuel tank and low levels of fuel, the baffles in the tank were not acting as they should and with a sharp turn of the truck onto a slight uphill gradient, the fuel all went to the wrong part of the tank, allowed air into the fuel lines and killed the engine.

  5. A. Coatsworth Silver badge
    Pint

    Ground controllers hurriedly improvised

    That should have been the whole Apollo program's motto!

    There's not enough beer in the world for the brave men strapped to the top of those massive piles of explosives; and for the boffins, geeks and eggheads who worried for them from the ground.

    1. MrReal Bronze badge

      Re: Ground controllers hurriedly improvised

      Indeed, the whole Apollo program was hurried and rushed.

      Grissom pointed out the failings a number of times: he was THERE, he KNEW, have you READ what he said?

      The world's most complicated project with a huge number of brand new technical challenges and most failures would lead to rapid death. Think of a project you were involved in that was similar: have any bugs?

      Yet nothing ever really went wrong. Everyone got back. The rushed, untested LEM, perfect. The LRV, zipping around carving turns like you just can't do on dust in 1/6g. Astronauts with no interest in space or the stars going there to take thousands of photos.

      The only mishaps were NASA destroying original telemetry data and lunar video data. Because on mankind's biggest ever trip celebrated around the world: why would they value the tapes ??

      Then their next move afterwards: to ditch the F-1 SaturnV rig and build an entirely different, less reliable, more expensive launch system instead. So much for 'brilliance' of the Saturn V, obviously NASA didn't believe in it - so why do you?

  6. ZippyT

    Our 5 years mission..... to seek out .....

    Feels like that the last 50 years have been wasted and humanity now more grounded and self-centered than ever

    I look forward to a brighter future !

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Our 5 years mission..... to seek out .....

      It was completely wasted. Criminally so.

  7. zchAnon

    I worked at the Univ. of Southern California Nuclear Physics Lab in 1966/67. Hughes Aircraft rented the use of our linear proton accelerator to calibrate the proton sensors for the Apollo 8 flight. When the flight went up it gave me chills to think that those sensors were riding along two years later. Neat stuff.

  8. jonesthechip

    Less computing power than a smartphone? Really?

    Might I recommend 'Digital Apollo' by David.A.Mindell as a great discussion on the overall system of the Apollo Guidance Computer, together with the sensors and rocket controls of both the LM and the CSM? And this created by the Titans of embedded programming, Margaret Hamilton and Charles Draper? I'm told my iPad has more computing power that a Cray (all hail Seymour, the first of his name), but I don't see anybody doing weather forecasting or atomic explosion simulations on iDevices...

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Less computing power than a smartphone? Really?

      A lot, lot less, of course.

      Our demands for precision regarding weather forecasting have increased massively. Otherwise we could probably do them on an iPad.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      " but I don't see anybody doing weather forecasting or atomic explosion simulations on iDevices..."

      You could - just the complexity of simulations and forecasting became more complex as more powerful hardware became available as well. So you could probably run old-style simulations, which would not be as precise as today ones.

  9. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    At least Apollo had the abort stage on top of the capsule, unlike the shuttle death trap.

    1. Marty McFly
      FAIL

      Uhhh, huh??

      With Apollo, the abort stage pulled the capsule free from the stack during launch. I believe they tested that with some 'Little Joe' flights.

      With STS, the plan was to detach the shuttle from the fuel tank during launch, and theoretically allow it to glide back to the launch site. This was not flight tested.

      While January 28, 1986 is forever in my heart and memory, it seems to me the issue was not a lack of an abort system. The issue was a failure of a detection system that announced the need to abort. Many times I have fantasized of the Abort switch being punched at 70 seconds in to that 73 second flight, and seeing Challenger fly back to a safe landing.

      Was Apollo safer than STS? Apollo had 11 manned flights. One of those (13) was a mission failure and almost lost the crew. That is a 9% failure rate. STS had 135 flights. Two of those were failures. That is a 1.5% failure rate.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Uhhh, huh??

        > With STS, the plan was to detach the shuttle from the fuel tank during launch, and theoretically allow it to glide back to the launch site. This was not flight tested.

        Only after the solids burned out. While they were lit, there was no abort scenario, and turning off a solid rocket is a violent procedure itself, so that's not possible.

        Also, RTLS was an option, but there was about realistically only 30% chance you wouldn't get Shuttle confetti back. It was right at the limits for everything and had to go perfectly for things to stay in one piece.

        > One of those (13) was a mission failure and almost lost the crew. That is a 9% failure rate. STS had 135 flights. Two of those were failures. That is a 1.5% failure rate

        Or another way to look at it. Apollo killed 3 crew. Shuttle killed 14.

        Now personally I would fly Shuttle, Soyuz, Apollo, or any damn thing, so I can't throw stones.

      2. Trollslayer Silver badge

        Re: Uhhh, huh??

        And Apollo 1.

  10. cutterman

    Apollo 8

    Yeah, I remember it. I've never been religious, but hearing Borman et al. read from the book of Genesis was quite a spiritual moment.

    Bill Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you."

    "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

    And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

    And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."

    Jim Lovell

    "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

    And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

    And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

    And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

    Frank Borman

    "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

    And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

    "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

    Amazing...

    Mac

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Apollo 8

      That gave me chills to hear it live and then just now reading it and remembering the original broadcast. Thanks for that memory back.

  11. jelabarre59 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Apollo 1

    Back in the early days of the Apollo programme, my father worked as a service rep for an aerospace company, which had made some of the gauges for the command module. One day dad comes back from a business trip, carrying some burned gauges that he needed to do some analysis on. Dumb, thickheaded kid I was, I was holding these, looking them over, and presumed they were from an airplane (which they also made instrumentation for) and never made the connection. Wasn't until years later my mother said she had 'requested' they be taken out of the house because they were creeping her out (which is when I learned what they were really from).

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Apollo 1

      Could have been worse. I was listening to a talk (on air accident investigation) a few years ago, and the guy giving it has some interesting tales ...

      He was visiting the AAIB (Air Accident Investigation Branch) at Farnborough, and while walking round he casually picked up an instrument off a table. The chap showing his around advised his to put it back down as it still had someone's brains on it. Now that sort of puts perspective on what accident investigation can involve - and I dare say they'd not have been allowed in the house at all if the ones you saw were like that !

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Apollo 1

        casually picked up an instrument off a table. The chap showing his around advised his to put it back down as it still had someone's brains on it

        Brain is not gonna hurt you though.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Apollo 1

          "Brain is not gonna hurt you though."

          Depends on what kind of prions it contains ... I'm not allowed to give blood here in the US because I lived in Blighty for a number of years before/during the BSE scare.

  12. bombastic bob Silver badge

    Apollo 8 in 1968 - IT! WAS! AWESOME!!!

    People forget how GREAT things are when you do somthing like a WINNER, when you take the RISKS necessary, and you push past the limits and do something like this. It's better than your favorite football team (U.S. or Soccer, whichever) winning the championship. When you do something that is TRULY great, there are NO losers, and the winners are worth cheering on.

    And it's a HELL of a lot better than "participation trophies" for being MEDIOCRE. *GREATNESS* should be celebrated, and navel-focusing "feelies" shouldn't be SJW'ing it for "those who aren't" because "they might feel bad about themselves" when SOMEONE ELSE is "a winner".

    /me watched every launch and mission coverage on TV in the Gemini and Apollo programs (I was too young to remember the Mercury program), unless it was during school, and even THEN, the teachers would usually roll a TV into the class and leave it on with the sound turned down for us to watch it. This was BIG STUFF, and I hope nobody EVER manages to 'tone down' that fact by revising history. EVAR.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Apollo 8 in 1968 - IT! WAS! AWESOME!!!

      when you take the RISKS necessary

      Especially this, too much these days is all about "but what about the repercussions if it goes wrong ?"

      If they were trying to do it today, you'd see a crown of legal firms round the homes of the crew's homes - waiting for bad news so they can get in and "you've lost a family member, let us sue NASE for you ?"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apollo 8 in 1968 - IT! WAS! AWESOME!!!

      You fucking arsehole, banging on about SJWs and winners and losers about such a magnificent event.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Apollo 8 in 1968 - IT! WAS! AWESOME!!!

        must've hit a nerve. heh.

  13. Stephen McLaughlin

    In a few days New Horizons will perform a flyby of a Kuiper Belt Object

    More specifically, New Horizons will zoom past Ultima Thule at 5:33am GMT on January 1, 2019.

    Continue to explore NASA and other Space Agencies!! I'm glad we live in a age that witnessed space exploration.

  14. Joe Gurman

    Compare and contrast

    The Argon-11c computer (for the "Zond" 4 and 5; actually, Soyuz spacecraft modified for lunar missions) and the Apollo Guidance Computer.

    You can find descriptions at the Russian Virtual Computer Museum site and Wikipedia, respectively.

  15. Joe Gurman

    POGO

    The pogo effect recurred during Apollo 13's launch and ascent; Saturn engineers at Marshall mad some mods to eliminate the problem before th eApollo 14 launch ( https://www.hq.nasa.gov/pao/History/SP-4204/ch22-7.html ).

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LM? Unwieldy? It just looked like it.

    "[...] but as the unwieldy lander fell further and further behind schedule [...]"

    Yes, the Apollo Lunar Module certainly looked unwieldy. And yes, Grumman had a lot of trouble delivering a working version (manufacturing quality control issues, engine supplier issues, NASA demanding weight loss at a late stage largely due to LM design weight increases, and so on). But every account I've read of how the things actually handled is in line with Jim McDivitt's written comment to the designers: "Many thanks for the funny-looking spacecraft. It sure flies better than it looks" - after he'd got back from the first time of trying it out on the Apollo 9 mission. Pretty good going for a firm that had made its name specialising in robust propellor-driven naval fighter aircraft.

    According to the Apollo 11 Haynes manual, "Everyone who lived with, worked with or flew the Lunar Modules fell in love with them."

    1. MrReal Bronze badge

      Re: LM? Unwieldy? It just looked like it.

      The F-35 is of course rather similar, except much easier of course.

      Yet the LM worked perfectly and never went wrong. Ever worked on a project like that?

  17. N2 Silver badge
    Pint

    I was ten years old

    I watched every minute of it, while the stuff of my comic stories became reality.

    Pint, for all those real heroes.

  18. keithpeter
    Coat

    Reading

    http://andrewsmithauthor.com/AndrewSmith/MOONDUST.html

    This book chimed with my own memories.

    [Choppers, St Pepper &c]

  19. Paul_Murphy

    Publi Service Broadcasting - Go!

    Yes, a song about the pre (and post)-landing checks of the first lunar landings.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHIo6qwJarI

    From the Race for Space.

  20. DaveB

    NASA - design team stories

    Back in 1980 I did some work with a defence contractor in Florida. What fascinated me was that the contractors design team were all ex-Apollo designers. So I got to hear how the system that unplugged the umbilical cord that commanded the Saturn to fire had only milliseconds to unplug after the hold clamps released.

    The best story was that when Apollo 13 went wrong Nasa no longer employed a design team as by this time Apollo was considered operational. In addition it no longer ran the CDC 7600s that were required to run the simulators in fact they had been leased to NORAD. In order to get the computer power required to get the simulators back online they had to shut down the West Coast defence system. This required presidential (Nixon) approval. When asked for his approval he considered it and said yes because "The Russians are going to be too busy watching us f##kup to attack us". Don't know if its true but impressed me at the time.

  21. arctic_haze Silver badge

    I remember watching Armstrong walking on the Moon on the TV

    Now I can watch Flat Earth YouTube videos claiming "There is no gravity".

    I am deeply worried about our civilization.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I remember watching Armstrong walking on the Moon on the TV ( flat earth)

      I used to watch the flat earth videos as parodies but then I realized they were serious. Sad

    2. Cavehomme_ Bronze badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I remember watching Armstrong walking on the Moon on the TV

      Yes indeed. We’ve “evolved” from having multi dimensional brains to 2D Flat Earth brains in just 2 generations.

      Frightening.

      1. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: I remember watching Armstrong walking on the Moon on the TV

        Yes, frig that!

  22. Unbelievable!

    'nauts...

    ..without 'Spaaace' ? Doesn't seem right to me.

    Nice article tho Vultures. Thanks :)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My Dad did cost analysis on the Saturn Five.

    He told me some stories about the cause of the fire that killed the three Astronauts that weren't in the press. NASA had been warned beforehand but the they were cutting corners to make up time.

    1. Trollslayer Silver badge

      Re: My Dad did cost analysis on the Saturn Five.

      Often the case :(

  24. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Pint

    People scoff at the money spent..

    ..but the space race, and especially the moon shots, inspired at least 2 generations and at least somewhat united all of us. And a lot of new technologies, that were for a change not developed from improving methods of warfare, trickled down to the rest of us. Things were "space age" for decades after going to the moon became for a while so commonplace that there was only minimal news coverage.. until there was a problem anyway.

    Now it makes me sad that so few of the original Apollo astronauts (and engineers, techs, scientists, etc.) are still alive and we still haven't returned or gone beyond. And a significant part of our population actually thinks the whole thing was faked.

    A different era. I hope we can someday recapture some of the excitement and wonder of those times. (though perhaps not the turmoil, as we still have enough of that)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On watching launches...

    It was the Christmas Vacation in my senior year (6th form) of high school. I especially liked Lovell's quote after TEI. I remember it well.

    As for other launches, Glenn's 3 orbit Mercury mission was pretty cool. Being on the west coast you had to wake VERY early to see the launch, and by the time you went to school, it was all over, so you could discuss it in class.

    Exciting times the 60's for space flight!

    Anon to not give away my "old geezer" age...

  26. Aseries

    The reason for The Moon

    Let's face it. The Human Race has to get off this planet before we are extinct.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The reason for The Moon

      We'd just ruin the moon, although I have no desire to leave nature behind and sit about on a dusty rock.

  27. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Stayed up late

    I was ten years old when Apollo 11 launched and was always into science.

    2AM sitting in front of a twelve inch black and white TV, I watched the moon landing live.

    Humbling.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Stayed up late

      Same here, but can't remember what time. I was actually at summer camp.

  28. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Happy

    James Irwin

    In 1980 I was living in Switzerland and went with a friend to a *conference featuring James Irwin. We went early but found that the place was packed. People were already sitting in the aisles. I suggested that we sit on the floor at the front but my friend said that his eyesight could not deal with being so close. So I made a route through the middle row expecting to be sitting in the middle aisle. Almost at the aisle we found a man with his coat covering two seats, when asked he said that he was trying to save them but his pals had not turned up. So we got seats in almost the centre of the auditorium.

    We saw footage from the chest mounted camera while the astronauts drove the lunar buggy! Totally amazing!

    Mr. Irwin explained that part of the mission was to find some white rock that the geologists had predicted would exist. The problem was that everything was covered with a grey dust. On their last day they had prayed to God that they would find it. Driving up the side of a hill they saw a large boulder, on top of which was a white rock, dust free! Mr. Irwin pulled a white rock from his pocket and then admitted that it was a NASA copy :)

    At one point he also did the "blue marble" speech, I kid you not, when he held up a blue marble the audience was completely quiet.

    Totally fecking amazing!!!

    Mr. James Irwin was a brilliant orator. During the Q&A at the end he never once umed or ared but after a moments deliberation always gave a clear answer. RIP brave man.

    *L'Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne

  29. WereWoof

    Those men had BALLS of STEEL'

    I Was living in The Bahamas at the time of some of the launches and could see the glow in the sky from the engines.

    Just awe inspiring.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Steely eyed missile men.

    2. MrReal Bronze badge

      Such great men they spent the entire press conference sulking and claiming the stars were not visible.

  30. ecofeco Silver badge

    Look at my works...

    ...and despair.

  31. MrReal Bronze badge

    Funny how people still believe this old fictional tale.

    "I was young and it was on TV all blurry so it MUST have been true".

    I guess you also waited up for Santa Claus?

    Facts and evidence don't matter, belief is all. Another 50 years of NASA's inability to cross the Van Allen belts.

    1. MrMerrymaker

      Please expound on the truth of the moon landing as you see it.

      I need a good chuckle!

      1. MrReal Bronze badge

        What moon landing?

        Wrong, NASA and your job is to provide some evidence that they went.

        The photos and videos are garbage, the 'soil' proven fake, the 'reflectors' disappear in a puff of maths and logic, so what's left? NASA - a Defense Department of a government known to have a chronic lying problem - tells us so?

        Your ignorance of Apollo is so deep you don't even know the right questions to ask. NOTHING of Apollo is straightforward or as described, the technology simply wasn't there and it isn't today either.

        You may want to look up NASA's chart of landing accuracy and contemplate that accuracy with a pre-GPS world of a falling projectile from an orbital speed of thousands of miles per hour.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: What moon landing?

          @MrReal

          if you were serious, I pity you.

          1. MrReal Bronze badge

            Re: What moon landing?

            If you'd done any research you'd know. I pity your ignorance.

            I guess you believe in Iraq's WMDs and Libya's 'threat to the west' too.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: What moon landing?

          Seriously, MrReal, what's your angle? I know why this kind of nonsense gets posted on YouTube (millions of clicks by the rubes generate tens of thousands of dollars daily), but here on ElReg? Do you really think anybody here is buyin' what yer sellin'?

          1. MrReal Bronze badge

            Re: What moon landing?

            The truth doesn't have an angle, lies, fraud, hoax and deception have angles. Angles to distract from Vietnam, angles to distract mass protests, angles to 'beat them ruskies', angles to spend taxpayers money on missile and ICBM testing, angles to help military satellites and surveillance.

            The NASA narrative is nonsense. Non sense. None of it makes any sense. Your problem is that you have uncritically accepted this nonsense and spent exactly 0 minutes thinking about how realistic any of their story is.

            Look at the timescales alone - preposterous. In 1967 Grissom hung a lemon on the rig, you think you know more than Gus Grissom? Seriously?

            Think about the radiation - just a few chest X-rays says NASA. Well try giving their Kodak film a few X-rays and see how fogged it gets: yet none of the film is fogged, even slightly. The blacks are so good not even fake stars can be seen.

            Mention just one thing you think was genuine and I'll take it apart for you in a few seconds. They didn't just fake part of it, they faked ALL of it. The LIE is so BIG you still can't see it.

            From the obsolete 1962 vintage F-1 engines to the size of the LM door and hatch to the suit coolant to the radiation to the unreliable rushed tech. to the impossibly precise splashdowns to the carefree attitudes on the moon to the serious sulking in the press conferences to the leaving NASA and reclusive living to the visual and sonic defects to the LRV mistakes: it's all a very poor fake.

            Obvious fake is obvious.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: What moon landing?

              "Mention just one thing you think was genuine"

              Aside from the fact that the cold war in full swing at the time, and the Russians and the Chinese would have shoved each other aside in their haste to scream "HOAX!", which they didn't ... and in fact acknowledged the landings ... What else do you need?

              There are many other non-NASA, non-USGovernment pieces of evidence that Apollo did exactly as it said on the tin, I suppose all of them are lying too?

              And of course, I (that's me, personally) saw Apollo 8 heading home from Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, above San Jose, California. As in looking through the eyepiece of a large telescope. My Dad volunteered to help send the images to KQED (for live broadcast!) and decided that I needed to go along for the education. They were WAY outside your precious Van Allen belts when we first picked 'em up visually. (As a side note, the Apollo trajectories bypassed the inner belt completely, and barely entered the edges of the outer one.)

              After the fact, I heard several of the guys who walked on the moon speak, and actually spoke to a couple of them one-on-one. I have absolutely zero reason to disbelieve them ... yet somehow I'm supposed to listen to you, a lone nay-sayer on an obscure Internet forum?

              The Woo is strong in this one ...

              1. MrReal Bronze badge

                Re: What moon landing?

                So your evidence they went is that the USSR didn't say they didn't?

                A double negative?

                You obviously know none of the background, the USSR ships were kept away from the launch site and the USSR got a 10 year grain shipment in return for their silence. The USSR lied too - notice zero Gagarin photos of him ever in a spacesuit, and his mysterious death?

                What you saw from the Lick was something, could be anything, it hardly proves they orbited the moon does it?

                Your trajectories are wrong BTW, there is no way of 'missing' the belts given the noted trajectories of Apollo as stated in the Flight Plan or Flight Journal. The Flight Journal also gives orbital distances and times, they were in the belt region for over 5 hours each way. READ it.

                Speaking to one of the actors is not evidence either, their well-being and that of their families and pensions, combined with peer pressure and their training gave them no reason to tell you the truth.

                You can't handle the truth.

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
                  Thumb Down

                  Re: What moon landing?

                  "You can't handle the truth."

                  You certainly seem to handling something. Maybe handling it a bit too much. Ain't that the truth.

                  1. MrReal Bronze badge

                    Re: What moon landing?

                    Ignorance is fine John as long as you keep it to yourself.

                    However when you combine it with your faith based belief in Apollo it leaves you unable to respond to any of the technical arguments. That is why you have to insult and slur someone who knows exactly how everything was faked and has the knowledge and arguments to back it up.

                    It must be a constant puzzle to you why NASA never 'since' crossed the Van Allen belts and why they suddenly dropped their plans for a moon base. They also dropped the Saturn V, which you think was 'mad' but Rocketdyne knew was inevitable. Rocketdyne BTW were the best rocket scientists in the western world at the time and they got 1e6 lbs thrust out of each F-1 after 5 years of tinkering. Then Von Braun strolls up and gets 50% more? Not in this reality he didn't and for very good reasons.

                    The BIG Apollo lie is made out of lots of little lies, each inconsistent and laced in neatly to the next lie. Once you start seeing through the lies you notice a pattern. Most of the NASA staff were duped, only a few knew that the Saturn V's landed in the sea and the astronauts took the out of sight tower escape chute before launch, and were then pushed out of a transport plan for splashdown.

                    That's why they were all so miserable.

                    So be fair to the USAF the splashdowns were accurate even for being pushed out of a plane, 1.0 nautical miles for Apollo 13 IIRC, amazing for a back-of-an-envelope blind GPS free projectile in a broken CSM.

                    Even films are more realistic today than the Apollo story. And remember those fog free photos subject to what NASA describes as 'as much radiation as a few chest X-rays'.

                    You should be less trusting of government, literally the same people (Cheney, Rumsfeld) were involved with the cover up that lied to you about Iraq. The SAME known liars.

                    1. jake Silver badge

                      Re: What moon landing?

                      Cheney? WTF did he have to do with Apollo? During the Apollo era, Cheney was a professional draft dodger.

                      1. MrReal Bronze badge

                        Re: What moon landing?

                        Perhaps you should be asking what Rumsfeld had to do with it.

                2. jake Silver badge

                  Re: What moon landing?

                  "So your evidence they went is that the USSR didn't say they didn't?"

                  No, what I said is that both the Soviets and the Chinese acknowledged that the United States put men on the moon, during the height of the cold war, when all three sides were claiming the other two were lying about everything else. Do try to read for content.

                  "What you saw from the Lick was something, could be anything, it hardly proves they orbited the moon does it?"

                  The position and movement through space was calculated based on NASA's numbers, which would only coincide with an object returning from the vicinity of the moon. Several hours after our first observations, we clearly watched the command and service modules separate. Splashdown was confirmed a little later.

                  "The Flight Journal also gives orbital distances and times, they were in the belt region for over 5 hours each way. READ it."

                  I've read it. And run the numbers myself. They missed the internal belt completely. They were in the least dangerous portion of the outer belt for about 3.5 hours on the way out, and about 2.5 hours on the way back, for a total of nearly 6 hours. Over the course of the Apollo program, the astronauts received an average of 0.8 rem each. The accepted dose for radiation workers in that era was 5.0 rem, so they were well within industry standard for exposure. Apollo 14 received the highest dose, at just over 1.1 rad.

                  Having spoken to the astronauts in person, and read your increasingly shriller rants, I'm pretty certain who I would trust to have a firm grasp on reality.

                  1. MrReal Bronze badge

                    Re: What moon landing?

                    You are attempting to prove a NASA story with NASA data.

                    You mention splashdowns - have you found the NASA chart giving the accuracy of them yet? Always on time, always just the right accuracy for the press. Even in AS13 calculating burn times in a tumbling craft.

                    Avoiding the inner band is impossible - they would have had to take off from one of the poles to do that. The inclination of their orbit to the equator was not that large - 18 degrees IIRC.

                    You also fail to state the distance you consider the Van Allen belts extend to, nearly 6 hours each way is given from the log if you use some of the bigger estimates. Also back then the belts had been boosted by Starfish Prime etc, the US's misguided attempts to disperse them.

                    Chest X-rays are well within accepted levels of exposure but still fog the film. Radiation doesn't suddenly end with the belts, it rains down continually on the moon and re-radiates from the surface. The aluminium film canisters merely change much radiation into X-rays, further fogging the film.

                    Additionally the question of Solar Flare Roulette has to be considered given the solar maxima back then.

                    As I said before, mere facts and evidence can't change beliefs, sorry to say you'll always believe in the Apollo fairy story and always wonder why they NEVER go back. EVER. That's your beliefs being rejected by reality.

                    Bush junior told them to return and 15 odd years later they still can't get into orbit. I guess your answer for the miracle of the 1960s was that the men were better, despite the pitiful tech and dud rockets. Well, at least they knew which restroom to visit I guess.

                    BTW Buzz confessed on video that they didn't go. A small girl caught him unaware with a question asking why they never went back.

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Forget it. A fat percentage of humanity is back at medieval levels of belief structure. Legends, elves, gnomes and angels surround us. Words and beliefs kill, the evil eye must be avoided. Magic dirt and Safe Spaces are actual things.

        How these people understand their iPhone I cannot imagine.

  32. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Nice article in CACM 2019-01 (paywalled though)

    For those who have access or know how to rogue it:

    https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2019/1/233518-hey-google-whats-a-moonshot/abstract

    The radio in my kitchen is tuned to a public station. One day it startled me by delivering a lecture, "The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure," by the implausibly named Astro Teller who, according to his website, enjoys an equally idiosyncratic list of accomplishments: novelist, entrepreneur, scientist, inventor, speaker, business leader, and IT expert. That talk concerned his day job: "Captain of Moonshots" at X (formerly Google X, now a separate subsidiary of its parent company Alphabet).a It centered on the classic Silicon Valley ideal of being prepared to fail fast and use this as a learning opportunity. Teller therefore advised teams to spend the first part of any project trying to prove it could not succeed. Good advice, but maybe not so new: even 1950s "waterfall" methodologies began with a feasibility stage intended to identify reasons the project might be doomed. Still, many of us have had the experience of putting months, or even years, into zombie projects with no path to success.b The HBO television series "Silicon Valley" captured that problem, in an episode where a new executive asked for the status of a troubled project.c Each level of management sugarcoated the predictions it passed upward and avoided asking hard questions of those below it.

    ...

    At this point, I would like you to imagine the record-scratching noise that TV shows use for dramatic interruptions. That’s what played in my head, accompanied by the thought “this guy doesn’t know what the moonshot was.” Teller’s pragmatic, iterative, product-driven approach to innovation is the exact opposite of what the U.S. did after Kennedy charged it to “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Letting Silicon Valley steal the term “moonshot” for projects with quite different management styles, success criteria, scales, and styles of innovation hurts our collective ability to understand just what NASA achieved 50 years ago and why nothing remotely comparable is actually under way today at Google, or anywhere else.

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