Moonshot: The Inside Story of Mankind's Greatest Adventure - Dan Parry (2009)

Chapter 5. NOWHERE TO HIDE

After retrieving the lunar module the crew began a series of housekeeping tasks, starting with a three-second test of the powerful engine attached to the service module. Although the TLI burn had accelerated them to more than 24,000mph, for thousands of miles to come they would be flying against the Earth's gravitational pull which began to slow them down the moment the burn finished. If the Earth had its way, sooner or later they would fall back into the atmosphere. When Collins took control of the spacecraft, 20 minutes after TLI, they were 3,000 miles out and already down to 18,000mph. But although the vehicle was slowing down, the burn had pushed it to such a speed that eventually it would be able to break free of the Earth's hold, allowing the crew to coast towards outer space. They were banking on the Moon intersecting their journey but there was a long way to go before they would know whether the calculations they were relying on were correct.

The empty third stage, still travelling behind them, threatened to follow them all the way. To avoid a risk of collision, at four hours and 41 minutes into the flight signals were transmitted from the ground sending the last remaining section of the Saturn booster towards a path around the Sun.1 While this was happening, the crew had a chance to update Mission Control on what they could see. In Houston (an hour behind the Cape), it was 1.24pm.

Armstrong: 'Well, we didn't have much time, Houston, to talk to you about our views out the window when we were preparing for LM[lunar module] ejection. But up to that time, we had the entire northern part of the lighted hemisphere visible, including North America, North Atlantic, and Europe and Northern Africa. We could see that the weather was good all – just about everywhere. There was one cyclonic depression in northern Canada, in the Athabasca – probably east of Athabasca area. Greenland was clear, and it appeared to be we were seeing just the icecap in Greenland. All North Atlantic was pretty good; and Europe and Northern Africa seemed to be clear. Most of the United States was clear. There was a low – looked like a front stretching from the centre of the country up across north of the Great Lakes and into Newfoundland.'

Houston: 'Roger. We copy.'

Collins: 'I didn't know what I was looking at, but I sure did like it.'

Houston: 'OK. I guess the view must be pretty good from up there. We show you roughly somewhere around 19,000 miles out now.'

Bruce McCandless gave the astronauts a list of routine tasks that were necessary to maintain healthy living conditions in the cabin. He also wanted the crew to verify their navigation details, but it was more than nine hours since they had eaten and Michael had other priorities.

Collins: 'If we're late in answering you, it's because we're munching sandwiches.'

Houston: 'Roger. I wish I could do the same here.'

Collins: 'No. Don't leave the console!'

Houston: 'Don't worry. I won't.'

Collins: 'Flight doesn't like it.'

The flight director, or 'Flight', at this point was Cliff Charlesworth for whom Collins had previously worked during a stint in Mission Control. He had served in a position that was originally known as 'capsule communicator' but which was now usually abbreviated to 'CapCom'. Of the hundreds of people working in the Mission Control Center only the CapCom, who was always an astronaut, was cleared to talk to the crew in space. Charlesworth, the lead flight director for the entire mission, was coming to the end of his first shift after watching over the launch and TLI. Cool-headed and relaxed, he was known as the 'Mississippi Gambler'2 by the flight controllers sitting at the banks of computer consoles in front of him. Working in the windowless Mission Operations Control Room (abbreviated to MOCR and pronounced 'moe-ker'), Charlesworth and his team were bathed in a dull blue-grey light as they studied their monitors and quietly chatted to one another. During a mission the room was operational for 24 hours a day, the 20 or so controllers sitting in a disciplined atmosphere of intense concentration amid a stale odour of cold coffee, sweat, food and cigarette smoke. Between them, the flight control teams played a vital role in monitoring more than 350 telemetry measurements automatically transmitted by the command and service modules. Additional data would later be sent by the LM. To help them manage the vast mass of mathematical equations relating to the changing position of the spacecraft, the controllers were supported by teams of backroom staff, including representatives of the companies that built the hardware. By wearing headsets plugged into their consoles, the controllers could talk to their specialists working elsewhere in the building, and to the flight director sitting behind them.3

Facing three ten-foot-high screens set in the wall in front of them, the controllers sat in four rows raking up towards the back of the room. Their job titles, working practices, even the way they talked, were originally shaped by NASA's first flight director, Chris Kraft, a stocky engineer with a stern manner and forthright views on almost everything. Many of the decisions made by Kraft during the Mercury flights remain in practice today, and he has since come to be recognised as the father of Mission Control. The Mercury control room had been based at the Cape, but prior to Gemini 4, and Ed White's headline-grabbing space walk, Kraft and his team moved to Houston where they were given purpose-built facilities equipped with computers and an internal radio network.

Since Kraft had found that the quickest way to swap messages with the spacecraft was through acronyms and jargon, each controller was known by an abbreviated version of his title. In the front row – referred to as 'the trench' – on the left-hand side sat the technician who monitored the rocket stages, operating under the call-sign Booster. Next to him was the retrofire officer (callsign Retro), who was responsible for abort procedures and the spacecraft's re-entry into the atmosphere. He assisted the flight dynamics officer sitting beside him, call-sign FIDO (pronounced like the dog's name), who studied the spacecraft's flight-path. On his right sat the guidance officer who would monitor the LM's computer and radar during the landing (call-sign GUIDO, to rhyme with FIDO). Behind them, in the second row, the 'systems people' sat on the right, including the electrical, environmental and communications controller (EECOM) and the guidance, navigation and control officer (GNC). Across the aisle on the left sat the CapCom, who was often accompanied by at least one other astronaut, and sitting at the end of the row was the flight surgeon. The flight director sat in the middle of the third row, and during a mission he had absolute authority. 'His decisions during a space flight are the law,' wrote Kraft, adding that managers could only overrule a flight director by firing him. Kraft said that during his Mercury and Gemini missions he had the feeling that 'I'm Flight. And Flight is God.'4

By 1969, Kraft had become the director of flight operations and in this capacity he appointed four flight directors to support Apollo 11, each with his own team of controllers. During the critical moments of a mission Bob Gilruth, Kraft and other senior figures sat at the back of the room, in 'management row'. Minutes before the launch of Apollo 11, Kraft had asked so many niggly questions that Charlesworth had been forced to tell his boss, 'Chris, if you don't settle down, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the room. You're making me nervous.'5 Risking the wrath of God, Kraft gave a thumbs-up and sat back in his chair. Nobody argued with the flight director.

Six hours into the mission, Charlesworth's green team handed over to the white team of Gene Kranz, a former fighter pilot who regarded his job almost as a personal crusade. From the start, NASA had been a civilian organisation but many of its staff had a military background, as was reflected in the command and control structure adopted in Mission Control. This was also apparent in the sense of self-discipline fostered by Gilruth, which extended to unwritten rules on beards and long hair. No-one's hair was more military than Gene's. Kranz was regarded by Kraft as 'sometimes too militaristic, but so quick and smart that it was sometimes scary to remember that he was human'.6 Kranz's military bearing largely stemmed from his perception that NASA was defending the frontline in the Cold War, and that as a 'Cold War warrior' he was flying the flag as much as anyone in uniform. A loving family man who was prone to tears of emotion during the highs and lows of his work, Kranz was warm and easy-going. Wearing a white waistcoat embroidered with silver thread, made by his wife in honour of the mission, at 2.30pm Gene slipped into Charlesworth's seat. 'A position in Mission Control was the next best thing to being in the spaceship,' Kranz later wrote.7 In a surprise addition to the flight-plan, he was soon to get an unexpected glimpse of space-flight for himself.

Armstrong: 'If you'd like to delay PTC [passive thermal control] for ten minutes or so, we can shoot you some TV of a seven-eights Earth.'

Houston: 'Apollo 11, Houston. We're ready at Goldstone for the TV. It'll be recorded at Goldstone and then replayed back over here, Neil, any time you want to turn her on, we're ready. Over.'

Having completed TLI, retrieved the LM and abandoned the third stage, the crew had entered a period of relative calm. The risk of the spacecraft suddenly losing pressure had decreased and the astronauts were finally able to remove their bulky pressure suits along with the uncomfortable urine-collection and fecal-containment devices. The struggle to fold the suits, stuff them into bags and stow them under a couch 'brought about a good deal of confusion', Buzz said, 'with parts and pieces floating about the cabin as we tried to keep logistics under control'.8 They pulled on two-piece, Teflon-fabric flight-suits over their underwear before replacing the spacecraft's carbon dioxide filter and tending to other routine tasks, including navigation checks, urine dumps and computer updates. Ten and a half hours into the mission, they were ready to try out the television equipment.

Collins: 'OK, Houston. You suppose you could turn the Earth a little bit so we can get a little bit more than just water?'

Houston: 'Roger, 11. I don't think we got much control over that. Looks like you'll have to settle for the water.'

Armstrong: 'Roger. We're seeing the centre of the Earth as viewed from the spacecraft in the eastern Pacific Ocean. We have not been able to visually pick up the Hawaiian Island chain, but we can clearly see the western coast of North America. The United States, the San Joaquin Valley, the High Sierras, Baja California, and Mexico down as far as Acapulco, and the Yucatán Peninsula; and you can see on through Central America to the northern coast of South America, Venezuela and Colombia. I'm not sure you'll be able to see all that on your screen down there.'

Houston: 'Roger, Neil. We just wanted a narrative such that we can – when we get the playback, we can sort of correlate what we're seeing. Thank you very much.'

Collins: 'I haven't seen anything but the DSKY [computer] so far.'

Houston: 'Looks like they're hogging the window.'

Armstrong zoomed in on the Earth, the last refuge of colour in a lonely expanse of black emptiness. Already the planet barely filled his window. As the Earth gradually grew smaller, it gave the crew their only sense of movement, yet this was so slow that Aldrin felt 'we could not immediately detect the fact that the Earth was shrinking as we sped away from it'.9 With nothing else outside the window to indicate speed it was hard to appreciate that they were moving at all, as was apparent in the TV pictures sent back from more than 50,900 miles away. The colour footage, lasting a little over 16 minutes, was received by NASA'sGoldstone communications station in California before being passed to Mission Control an hour later. From there it was fed to the TV networks.

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After returning to Houston from the Cape aboard a NASA aircraft, Janet Armstrong slipped through the huddle of reporters outside her home and quickly switched on the squawk box and the TV. She was just in time to catch the Apollo 11 broadcast. Since the TV transmission had not been included in the flightplan, NASA was taken by surprise and did not alert the wives. Of the three of them, only Janet caught Neil's images of Earth. For the vast majority of people watching across the nation this was their first opportunity to see anything of the mission for themselves. For the families of the crew, it was hard to believe that after the months of preparation the flight was actually happening. Janet knew that Neil was finally getting a chance to lay to rest his frustration following Gemini 8. Walking on the Moon was not a driving motivation for Armstrong; for the test pilot fascinated by flying machines since childhood, this mission was principally about the pioneering descent to the surface. For Neil, for Janet and for their children, this was the culmination of everything that had shaped their lives over the last 13 years, since the days when Janet had let the Sun heat tubs of water outside their remote cabin as the only way to bathe Ricky.10 They were still working on the plumbing when Karen was born in 1959.11

In June 1961, Janet had taken the children to Seattle where Armstrong was working with Boeing on a NASA project. While visiting a park, two-year-old Karen was running through the grass when she tripped and fell. 'We went immediately home,' Janet said. 'She had a little nosebleed with it, and we thought maybe she'd had a little concussion. By that evening we noticed that her eyes weren't operating properly.' Over time, it became clear that Karen was getting progressively worse; she continued to fall over and her eyes were almost constantly crossed. By the time Janet took her to hospital her eyes had begun to roll and her speech had become affected. Karen was diagnosed as suffering from a malignant tumour growing within the middle part of her brain stem. For seven weeks X-rays were used to try to reduce the tumour, though they disrupted her sense of balance so that Karen could no longer stand. 'She was the sweetest thing. She never, ever complained,' Janet later said.

That summer Neil took two weeks off work so that he and Janet could stay with Karen round the clock while also taking care of four-year-old Ricky. The treatment seemed to work and Karen began to show signs of improvement. She learned to crawl again, and by playing with her Ricky helped her regain a sense of balance. 'It was Ricky who told me, in October, that something was the matter with Karen again,' Janet said. By this time the little girl's body was too weak to take any further treatment and it was decided that she would be happier at home. 'She made it through Christmas,' Janet remembered. 'It seems like the day Christmas was over, she just went downhill ... it just overcame her.' Karen died at her home in the California hills on 28 January 1962, Neil and Janet's sixth wedding anniversary. She was a little less than three years old.12

Neil's boss at Edwards, Joe Walker, had lost a two-year-old son in 1958. His wife Grace later described how those who live with the threat of death and danger try to deal with grief: 'I would say it's a pilot thing. Most of them act pretty stoic. They would say they had an "okay flight" and then they would go into the bathroom and vomit. I think Joe was a little more supportive for me than Neil was for Janet. Now I say that not as a criticism, but just the way Neil was – he was very tight emotionally.'13 Neil's sister June remembered things differently: 'Somehow he felt responsible for her death ... in terms of "is there some gene in my body that made the difference?" ... I thought his heart would break.'14

Neil threw himself into new challenges at work. Three weeks after Karen's funeral John Glenn orbited the Earth, and that spring Neil decided his future lay in space-flight, although the extent to which Karen's death influenced his decision is hard to estimate.15 In the years that followed he talked of Karen so infrequently in public that many of his colleagues did not know that he had ever had a daughter. When the family moved to Houston many of their possessions remained in storage, and only some of the most important items were unpacked – including photos of Karen.

In 1964, many of these pictures were destroyed when a fire ripped through the Armstrongs' home in the early hours of 24 April. Struggling to get through to the local fire department, Janet rushed out into the garden and screamed for help from their neighbours. The family lived next door to Ed White, who was a year away from his pioneering space walk. Ed and his wife Pat had grown close to the Armstrongs; the wives saw much of each other and the Whites' children had an open invitation to play in the Armstrongs' pool. While Janet rushed out of the house, Neil went to get their ten-month-old baby, Mark. Meanwhile Ed flew downstairs, and after grabbing a garden hose he started to tackle the flames. He took the baby from Neil and handed him over the back fence to Pat, allowing Neil to rush back into the house in search of Ricky. By this point, with the walls glowing red and the glass cracking in the windows, Janet had to hose down the hot concrete floor just to be able to stand on it. Pressing a wet towel over his face, Neil held his breath and fought his way back into the burning building. 'When you take a whiff of that thick smoke, it's terrible,' he said. Desperately, he tried to reach Ricky's room while fearing what he might find there; he later described this as the longest journey of his life. Fortunately, Ricky was unhurt. Scrabbling the boy into his arms, Neil put the towel over his son's face and raced outside where Ed was still fighting the flames. Together the two men pushed the family's cars out of the garage, then returned to tackle the fire. Ed was as strong as an ox and without his help things could have been far more serious. The Armstrongs stayed with the Whites for a few days while they assessed the damage and listed their lost possessions. The blaze, caused by an electrical fault, consumed so much of the house it took six months to rebuild it.16

During this time, Neil continued to work on the Gemini programme. He initially served as the Gemini 5 backup commander before flying aboard Gemini 8, a mission that ultimately won him praise from many in the Manned Spacecraft Center. While some of his peers questioned the action he took, robust opinions were part and parcel of life in the Astronaut Office. In Armstrong's case the negative comments were not taken seriously by those in authority: two days after he landed he was named as the backup commander of Gemini 11. Chris Kraft believed that 'Armstrong's touch was as fine as any astronaut'.17 The Gemini 8 problems began just as Gene Kranz was settling in during a shift handover in Mission Control. 'I was damned impressed with Neil,' Kranz later said. For him, fault lay with the organisation as a whole rather than with the mission commander. 'We failed to realise that when two spacecraft are docked they must be considered as one,' Kranz noted – a lesson he came to view as one of the most valuable of the entire Gemini programme.18

During this period Neil also supported the fledgling Apollo programme, the components of which were being developed at various sites around the country. While Mercury and Gemini used converted military missiles to take men into space, Apollo would rely on von Braun's Saturn booster, the first large launch vehicle designed and built by NASA. Assembled by the Marshall Space Flight Center, the new rocket was powered by a cluster of eight modified engines taken from the Jupiter booster. It successfully completed its maiden flight on 27 October 1961. In the first of ten successful launches, the 162-foot-tall Saturn I flew for eight minutes, reaching more than 3,600mph.19 A month later, the contract to build the command and service modules was awarded to North American Aviation, who had built the X-15. North American's work was to be managed by the Manned Spacecraft Center, which would also oversee designs for the lunar module, submitted by the Grumman Corporation. Due to the protracted row over lunar orbit rendezvous, Grumman was not selected until November 1962.20

With the major Apollo development now work in progress, by 1963 the spiralling costs of the programme were causing concern for President Kennedy, whose personal interest in space was less than whole-hearted. Looking for ways of cutting the budget, in June he approached the Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, according to his son Sergei, with a view to sharing a 'joint venture' in space exploration. At the time the Russians were leading the way in space technology and rejected Kennedy's proposal. In the autumn of 1963, this time armed with the promise of funds from Congress, Kennedy tried again. On 20 September he addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, saying, 'there is room for new co-operation, for further joint efforts in the regulation and exploration of space. I include among these possibilities a joint expedition to the Moon. Space offers no problems of sovereignty.'21 This time the Russians were more receptive to the idea, although some in Kennedy's own team were less committed. 'I didn't know what the president was planning,' Gilruth later said.22 On 21 November, Kennedy joined Gilruth in Houston on an inspection of the Manned Spacecraft Center, still under construction. The site had been selected for political reasons involving Albert Thomas, a local Congressman. That night, at a dinner in honour of Thomas, Kennedy said, 'Next month, when the US fires the world's biggest booster, lifting the heaviest payroll into...that is, payload ...' The president paused. 'It will be the heaviest payroll, too,' he grinned.23 He was never to witness it himself, of course. Thomas was still with the presidential party when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas the following day.

Kennedy's death was almost as significant for NASA's efforts to reach the Moon as his initial speech to Congress. Beyond the questions and controversies surrounding his murder, America moved quickly to honour the memory of its fallen president. In 1963, Florida's Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy and NASA's Launch Operations Center became the Kennedy Space Center. Kennedy's lunar ambitions lay at the heart of the legacy of a president who had become the most talked-about man on the planet. NASA could not let him down.

Lyndon Johnson, who at the end of the 1950s had done so much to bolster America's position in space, took over the presidency, and after being re-elected in 1964 he continued to support NASA's ambitions. Under Johnson, Gemini achieved its objectives and America took a lead in the space race. He even felt comfortable enough to join the Russians in supporting a treaty preventing any country claiming sovereignty over the Moon. In fact he had no choice. Military action in Vietnam was escalating, and in order to pay for it Johnson had to curb the soaring costs of space exploration. Soviet and American presentations on the use of space were given to the United Nations in June 1966, and these were later merged into an agreement that became known as the Outer Space Treaty.24 Outlawing any military posturing in space, the treaty also promoted goodwill on the ground by requiring the safe return of any astronaut or cosmonaut who landed in what might otherwise be considered hostile territory. On Friday 27 January 1967, the agreement was simultaneously signed in London, Moscow and Washington.

A ceremony in the East Room at the White House was attended by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, along with the ambassadors of Russia and Britain, together with other international VIPs and a handful of astronauts, including Armstrong.25 At 5.15pm, President Johnson began the formal part of the proceedings with a speech in which he declared that the treaty would preserve peace in space. He added, 'It means that astronaut and cosmonaut will meet someday on the surface of the Moon as brothers and not as warriors for competing nationalities or ideologies.'26 Whether there would be cosmonauts there to greet them or not, Johnson was optimistic Americans would indeed walk on the Moon.

He could afford to be. A new type of spacecraft, capable of a lunar mission, was scheduled to launch in three weeks' time, and even as Johnson spoke three astronauts were down at the Cape testing its systems. Sitting in the middle seat of the prototype command module was Ed White, preparing for his second flight into space. On his left sat the mission commander, Gus Grissom, who had flown the second Mercury flight and later led the first Gemini mission. The third member of the team was new recruit Roger Chaffee. Together, the men were checking the spacecraft's electrical systems in preparation for a 14-day test-flight. The biggest manned spacecraft NASA had yet built, the command module contained many more systems than Gemini; its development had been repeatedly held back by its complexity. In the weeks before the test, Grissom had grown frustrated with the delays and technical problems, particularly those disrupting the communications system which was prone to interference from static. That morning, Joe Shea, the manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, had tried to persuade Grissom that the problem was under control. But according to Deke Slayton, Gus wasn't convinced. 'If you think the son of a bitch is working,' Grissom reportedly told Shea, 'why don't you get your ass in the cabin with us and see what it sounds like.' Declining Gus's invitation, Shea joined Deke in a concrete blockhouse 1,600 feet from launch-pad 34, where the spacecraft sat on top of its empty Saturn IB rocket.27

The so-called 'plugs out test' involved an assessment of the spacecraft under its own electrical power. This was to be done under simulated launch conditions, which meant the cabin would be filled with 100 per cent oxygen. The crew, wearing pressure -suits, were strapped into their couches at 1pm, and after technicians resolved a problem with the life-support system they closed the spacecraft's elaborate hatch. Consisting of three separate layers, it couldn't be removed in less than 60 seconds. Once sealed shut, the cabin was flooded with oxygen until the pressure reached 16.7psi – 10 per cent higher than normal conditions at sea level. As a simulated countdown began, the astronauts tried to talk to the operations room. Later they would be in direct contact with Mission Control, 900 miles away, but with static clogging the line Gus was having trouble talking to anyone. 'If I can't talk with you only five miles away,' he snapped, 'how can we talk to you from space?'28 The problem seemed to clear up, but at 6.20pm, ten minutes from zero, communications failed again, and as dusk descended the countdown was put on hold.

At the White House, the treaty had been signed and Johnson and his guests were attending a reception in the Green Room.29 While Armstrong mingled with the crowd, Grissom and his crew struggled to complete their tests. They had been sitting in their spacecraft for more than five hours and in that time oxygen had permeated everything inside the cabin. The polyurethane foam covering the floor absorbed oxygen like a sponge, as did the 34 feet of Velcro which was stuck on the walls to secure objects in weightlessness. Elsewhere lay flammable bags, netting restraints, logbooks and more than 15 miles of wiring, much of which had lost its protective layer of Teflon insulation after engineers had worn it away while repeatedly working inside the cabin.

At 6.30pm, defective wiring short-circuited under Gus's couch, producing a spark that quickly developed into a fire. In an oxygen-rich environment, Velcro explodes once ignited; even a solid bar of aluminium burns like wood. As flames raced up the left-hand wall of the cabin, medical telemetry showed that Ed's pulse suddenly jumped. Grissom cried 'Fire!' on the radio; then Chaffee said, 'We've got a fire in the cockpit,' swiftly echoed by White.

With flames consuming the oxygen relief valve, making it impossible to depressurise the cabin, Gus released the straps of his harness and moved over to help Ed with the hatch. Seconds after Grissom's cry had alerted those outside, a pad technician watching a television monitor believed he saw Ed reach over his left shoulder and bang the hatch window with his gloved hand. Fuelled by the oxygen, the foam, the Velcro, sheets of paper and other materials, the fire leapt across the hatch window, burning with increasing intensity. As flames destroyed the life-support system, a flammable solution of glycol cooling-fluid sprayed across the cabin, producing thick clouds of toxic gas once ignited. While Grissom and White struggled with the hatch, Roger Chaffee – who was furthest from the seat of the fire – stayed where he was and tried to maintain contact with the outside world. 'We've got a bad fire – let's get out. We're burning up,' cried Chaffee, followed by an unidentifiable scream that froze the blood of all who heard it. Then, less than 17 seconds after the first cry was heard, came silence.

As the temperature inside the cabin reached 2,500°F, the rising pressure tore open the hull of the command module, releasing sheets of flame and preventing any immediate efforts to attempt a rescue. For five minutes no-one could get near the inferno. Eventually, wearing gas masks and fighting their way forward using fire extinguishers, technicians were able to get close enough to open the hatch. Among the first to look inside was Deke, who had rushed over from the blockhouse. He described the scene as 'devastating ... the crew had obviously been trying to get out ... [the] bodies were piled in front of the seal in the hatch'. Asphyxiated, and suffering third-degree burns, Grissom, White and Chaffee had fallen into unconsciousness long before anyone had been able to reach them.30

News of the fatal tragedy quickly spread. While Deke was inspecting the cabin, Neil was in a taxi returning to his hotel. By the time he got to his room, at around 7.15pm, a message was waiting for him requesting him to call the Manned Spacecraft Center. In Houston, the Astronaut Office asked Janet to go to Pat White's house and keep away from the television until someone could get over to her.31 That evening Neil and fellow astronauts Gordon Cooper, Dick Gordon and Jim Lovell32 broke open a bottle of Scotch as they discussed the loss of their friends. For Neil, 'it really hurt to lose them in a ground test ... it happened because we didn't do the right thing somehow. That's doubly, doubly traumatic.'33

While Roger was new to NASA, Gus was known by everyone. But it was the loss of Ed that Armstrong found particularly hard. Many years later, in reference to the 1964 house fire, Neil said, 'Ed was able to help me save the situation, but I was not in a position to be able to help him.' Ed White was buried at West Point on 31 January, and both Armstrong and Aldrin were among the pallbearers. For Neil, the event was especially difficult: it was five years to the day since Karen's funeral.

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One of three X-15 rocketpowered aircraft, carried aloft under the wing of a B-52.

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John Houbolt explaining lunar orbital rendezvous. His ideas were initially rejected by NASA but proved vital to the lunar landing.

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A lunar landing research vehicle at Edwards Air Force Base.

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The crew of Apollo 1 (left to right) Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, in front of Launch Complex 34, housing their Saturn IB launch vehicle. When a fire broke out during tests the complicated hatch left them unable to escape.

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The crew of Apollo 11. From left: Commander, Neil Armstrong; Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot, Buzz Aldrin.

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The crews of Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 in a debriefing session.

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Armstrong in the lunar module simulator at the Kennedy Space Center.

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Collins (left) and Deke Slayton, walk away from a T-38 jet, July 1969. As the Director of Flight Crew Operations Slayton was responsible for selecting the crew of each mission.

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A million sight-seers descended on Florida, camping out on beaches and roads to get a glimpse of the lift-off.

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Slayton (right front) reviews charts with Collins (left), Armstrong, and Aldrin (next to Slayton) during breakfast before the launch.

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Armstrong checks his communications system before boarding Apollo 11.

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Collins prior to launch.

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Aldrin prepares himself for the mission.

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Armstrong waves to well-wishers in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, Kennedy Space Center.

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High above the Florida landscape, the crew enter the spacecraft through the tiny white room resting against the command module.

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The swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of Apollo 11.

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Apollo 11 climbs towards orbit. This photo was taken with a telescopic camera mounted in an air force EC-135N aircraft.

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Officials relax in the Launch Control Center following lift-off. Second from left is Dr. Wernher von Braun, looking at George Mueller who stands beside Lt. Gen. Samuel Phillips, Director of the Apollo Programme.