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


Flying through a vacuum in a pressurised spacecraft involves risks that can never be eliminated, no matter how well the vehicle is tested. Of the two million parts in the command module, the thrusters, life-support system, electrical power, water supply and navigation systems could all perform flawlessly throughout the mission – but if the parachutes failed to open minutes before landing, the crew faced serious injury or worse. No spacecraft was more dangerous than a prototype, a fact not lost on Gus Grissom, who once said, 'If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the programme. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.'1

In the autumn of 1966, Grissom had been battling with the problems plaguing his command module, which was a basic 'Block I' design, an early version of the vehicle that would be flying to the Moon, the 'Block II'. At the same time, Michael Collins was working on another Block I command module, serial number 014. Following the cancellation of 014 at the end of the year, Collins and his crew were reshuffled in a move that had far-reaching implications for all involved.

With the crew in need of a new command module pilot, they were joined by Bill Anders. But Anders, who had not yet flown in space, was considered too inexperienced to be placed in charge of the command module – on a mission to the Moon he would have to operate alone while his two crew-mates departed aboard the lunar lander. To avoid this, a swap needed to be made. Anders became the lunar module pilot, and the command module role went to Collins. In this position Michael began to acquire a depth of experience that later came to be recognised and respected by his peers. 'Years later,' Collins wrote, 'I have answered a thousand times the question "How did you and Armstrong and Aldrin decide who was going to stay in the command module and who was going to walk on the Moon?" I have answered it a hundred ways, none of them completely honest, but then it's so hard to say, "Listen, lady, when they cancelled 014 I lost my chance."'2

The fire changed everything. During the subsequent investigation, the Apollo programme stalled as NASA and North American Aviation swapped accusations. The contractors pointed to the pressure they'd been under to complete the spacecraft quickly; in return, NASA attacked what it perceived as North American's lax procedures and shoddy workmanship.3 'Everybody was going around pointing fingers at everybody else,' Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton said.4 There was truth on both sides. The official report, released on Friday 5 April 1967, blamed faulty wiring, and although it wasn't able to identify the precise source of the spark, it established where the fire had begun. It also found hundreds of failures in the design and construction of the spacecraft, and recommended 11 major hardware and operational changes.5 As well as a crisis in confidence, the Apollo programme faced other equally serious difficulties. The lunar module was behind schedule, the Saturn's second stage was in Gene Kranz's words 'an engineering and production nightmare',6 and awkward questions were being asked in Congress. 'We were going too fast,'7 Deke later conceded. Michael Collins asked himself, 'Would one disaster follow another, just as airplane accidents seemed to occur in clusters ... how could NASA get going again?'8

The return to work was led by Slayton. On the Monday after the report was released,9 Deke called NASA's most experienced astronauts into his office. 'Eighteen of us returned to Houston from our various training activities around the country,' Buzz remembered. Without any elaborate preamble, Deke simply announced that 'the guys who are going to fly the first lunar missions are the guys in this room'.10 Five manned flights were scheduled, labelled C, D, E, F and G. The first would be led by Mercury veteran Wally Schirra, who would test-fly the Block II command module. Then Jim McDivitt (the commander who had attempted the first Gemini rendezvous) would test both the command and lunar modules in low Earth orbit. The E mission would repeat these tests in deep space, 4,000 miles from Earth. This flight would be commanded by Frank Borman, who had helped investigate the fire. Borman's crew included Michael Collins, while the backup crew consisted of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell. After Borman's flight, the F mission would stage a full dress rehearsal of the landing, while the G crew would make the first attempt to reach the lunar surface.

None of these flights was to be known as Apollo 1, the name being reserved in memory of Grissom, White and Chaffee. Under a revised schedule, drawn up after the fire, there was to be no Apollo 2 or 3, and Apollos 4, 5 and 6 were to be unmanned tests. Schirra's crew would use the call-sign Apollo 7, McDivitt's Apollo 8 and Borman's Apollo 9. In naming the crews, Slayton went no further than the first three flights, leaving everyone to privately rate their chances of flying to the lunar surface. Anyone in a backup crew stood a good chance of joining the first mission to the Moon, and based on Deke's rotation system Pete Conrad looked likely to go first.11 A veteran of two Gemini flights, Conrad lived the kind of flamboyant lifestyle the press envisaged all astronauts enjoyed. As the Apollo 8 backup commander, he would theoretically skip two missions and then fly Apollo 11. Armstrong looked set to attempt the second landing.

Yet all the missions would be delayed until NASA and North American (known from March as North American Rockwell) settled their differences and produced a reliable spacecraft. The work was managed by George Low, who in 1961 had led the debate on how to reach the Moon, and who now replaced Joe Shea as the manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. Under Low, 1,341 design alterations12 were made to the command module at a cost of $75 million,13 including new wiring and better safety systems. The over-complicated hatch that had sealed the fate of the Apollo 1 crew was replaced with a simpler design which could be opened in less than ten seconds. Much of the aluminium tubing was replaced with steel, emergency oxygen masks were installed, the cooling system was equipped with nonflammable liquid, the communications system was modified, and flammable materials were replaced. The amount of Velcro was also reduced, and a decision was made to discontinue the use of 100 per cent oxygen while a spacecraft was on the ground. At launch, the astronauts would breathe oxygen through their enclosed suits, but the cabin itself would be filled with 60 per cent oxygen and 40 per cent nitrogen.14 In later years, many believed that without the improvements prompted by the fire, NASA may never have reached the Moon in time.

With demands for safety and reliability underpinning the redevelopment work, confidence slowly returned, and NASA began to move forward. To help everyone release some steam, a party was organised by Pat Collins, Joan Aldrin and Deke's wife Marge. Despite the fact that they underestimated the cost, forcing Deke to fork out $200, in Buzz's estimation the party was a great success since it generated 'enough arguments and gossip to get everyone going again'.15

Still, the pressure continued. The Block II spacecraft wasn't going to be ready until at least the summer of 1968, leaving just a year and a half to make Kennedy's deadline. Meanwhile, George Mueller, the head of the Office of Manned Space Flight, pushed Wernher von Braun into testing the new Saturn V rocket as quickly as possible. The safest thing to do would have been to separately test-fly each stage of the booster. But under a principle known as 'all-up testing'16 it was decided to fly the entire rocket in a single unmanned mission. Apollo 4 – the first Saturn V – bellowed into the sky above the Cape on 9 November 1967, its awesome power astounding those who saw it. The sound of the five F-1 engines tore corrugated metal sheets from the roof of the press stands, and brought ceiling tiles down upon Walter Cronkite in the CBS newsroom.17 Michael Collins felt that 'this machine suddenly reaches out and grabs you, and shakes, and as it crackles and roars, suddenly you realise the meaning of 7.5 million pounds of thrust'.18 After much soul-searching, NASA had returned to space.

Next to launch, nearly a year after the fire, was Apollo 5. On 22 January 1968, an unmanned lunar module was lifted into orbit by the Saturn IB that was to have been used by Grissom's crew. Operated by controllers on the ground, Grumman's ungainly assembly of metal, foil and glass fired its engines in a near-perfect simulation of a lunar mission. Ten weeks later, on 4 April, Apollo 6, the second unmanned test of the Saturn V, launched. Carrying a greater load than Apollo 4, the rocket suffered dangerous vibrations that caused some structural damage. Two of the five engines on the second stage shut down early, and the third-stage engine failed to ignite a second time, preventing a simulation of TLI. There was talk of using the next available Saturn V to mount another unmanned test, but under continuing time pressures it was decided to correct the problems and stick with the programme as planned.

The unmanned tests completed, by the autumn of 1968 Schirra's crew was ready to test-fly the Block II command module. They would be launched into orbit aboard a Saturn IB, since the next Saturn V was reserved for the first manned test of the lunar module. But the LM's software and electrical systems were behind schedule19 and the spacecraft was not yet cleared for manned flight. McDivitt would have to wait, and so would the missions lined up behind him.

Without a LM, George Low and Chris Kraft began to look at how they might maintain momentum once Schirra had flown. There was no sense in sending McDivitt into space for the sake of it – he and his crew had been training for their mission for months. While they waited, it was decided that another crew should fly ahead of them. Next on the list was Borman, who was training for a flight into deep space for a second test of the LM. Again, without a LM there was little point going to an empty point in deep space and no point at all in repeating Schirra's mission into Earth orbit. For Low and Kraft, only one option was left: Borman's crew would be launched on a course that would take America to the Moon months earlier than planned. By July 1968, Borman, Collins and Anders looked set to be sent on a daring trip taking the new command module into deep space, in the first manned mission of the Saturn V. All-up testing was being pushed to the limit.

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Apollo 11's Block II command module had been named Columbia following a suggestion by Julian Scheer, NASA's head of public affairs. It was a name that resonated with the Columbiad, the fictional cannon that launched a spacecraft from Florida in Jules Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon. The name also had associations with American history, not least Columbus, and to Collins it fitted the bill perfectly.20

Whenever Michael had seen Columbia on the shop floor at North American Rockwell, it was always resting with the top of the cone pointing up. Columbia had a ceiling and walls and not much in the way of floor-space. During the weightless conditions of space-flight, however, to Collins the spacecraft seemed strangely unfamiliar as if its parts had been 'stuck together at different angles'. The crew could rest as easily on the ceiling as they could on the floor, so that Columbia seemed more roomy than it had ever done before. Michael found that his legs had a habit of heading up into the ceiling and curling around the tunnel, which took some getting used to.21 With a living space roughly the same size as a people carrier, Columbia was to serve as a bedroom, bathroom, office, observatory, dining room and recreation area for three men for more than a week.

The space was divided into two by a seven-foot-wide display panel, which incorporated a cut-away section in the middle allowing access from the forward compartment down to the lower equipment bay. In the equipment bay lay the spacecraft's computer, along with communications hardware, some of the food supplies and the waste storage facilities. Five additional storage areas, tucked into corners of both sections of the cabin, held the rest of the food along with other supplies including a medical kit, clothing, tools, survival aids, sanitary kits, camera equipment, storage bags, sleep restraint ropes, spacesuit maintenance kits and a fire extinguisher. The spacecraft carried two copies of the flightplan (each weighing a couple of pounds) together with a further 20lb of other data and documentation. The paperwork alone required an additional 5,000lb of propellant at launch. Columbia also contained spare storage capacity, sufficient to accommodate two boxes of lunar rocks.

By keeping the same hours as everyone at home – throughout the flight they set their watches to Houston time – the crew were able to reduce disruption to their sense of time and maintain a consistent sleep pattern. At 7.20am on the morning of the second day, biomedical telemetry suggested that they were already up although they had not yet been contacted by Mission Control. The spacecraft was now more than 93,000 miles from Earth and travelling at little more than 3,800mph. The press and popular fiction had long imagined space-flight to be a relaxing journey towards the stars, with ample time to look out of the window and ponder the mysteries of the universe – and for once they weren't far wrong. During the Gemini programme, the reality had been very different. Working hard on experiments, the crews had been kept busy amid cramped conditions while repeatedly orbiting the Earth. For those who imagined space-flight to be a trip into the unknown, with enough time for a quick visit to an unexplored destination, Apollo 11 met all the criteria.

For most of its journey to the Moon the vehicle was exposed to the Sun, with the risk that while one side baked in temperatures exceeding 250°F, the opposite side would be left to freeze at minus 250°. To protect it from these extremes, the spacecraft remained in a vertical position and gently rotated as it continued towards its destination. By completing one revolution every 20 minutes in a procedure known as passive thermal control (PTC), the Sun's heat could be evenly distributed around the vehicle. Apollo 11 was coasting for most of the trip so there was no need to make sure the service module's engine was pointing in the right direction. Collins had first established PTC shortly before settling down for the night. Now, as the crew took down the metal shades that kept the sunlight at bay, the Moon, the Sun and the Earth rotated past their windows as the spacecraft maintained a steady roll, much like a chicken on a spit. It was a practice the astronauts called 'barbecue mode'. Inside the cabin, the temperature hovered around 70°F.

To freshen up, the crew cleaned their teeth with edible toothpaste, shaved using cream from a tube, and washed with wet towels and tissues. The use of water had to be carefully controlled since it floated freely and could come into contact with electrical equipment. It was even difficult to stop water floating off their faces while they washed. By prior arrangement, Michael took on the brunt of the routine chores in order to allow Neil and Buzz a chance to rest ahead of the lunar landing. From a locker in the left-hand side of the lower equipment bay, Collins retrieved three pre-prepared bags of freeze-dried coffee, containing cream and sugar according to each man's tastes. Attaching the bags to a hot water gun he filled them up, kneaded them, passed out two and began sucking on a tube in the third. Apollo 11 carried scores of packets of food and drink, including chicken soup, ham and potatoes, and turkey with gravy, as well as Buzz's favourite, prawn cocktails (the prawns were individually chosen to ensure they were small enough to be squeezed from the bag). Buzz also liked the soup, and the cheese and meat spreads, but he regarded most of the food as bland.22

'Meal A, Day Two', for which an hour was allocated, included fruit cocktail, sausage patties, toasted cinnamon bread cubes and a grapefruit drink. Lunch that day would consist of frankfurters and apple sauce followed by chocolate pudding. While the frankfurters were listed as 'wet-pack' food, the other items were freeze-dried and needed to be rehydrated. After water was added, and the packet kneaded, a corner was cut off and the food was then squirted directly into the crewman's mouth. As well as the hot water gun, there was also a cold water gun; both were attached to long flexible tubes.23 Germicide pills were added to used food bags to prevent fermentation, and once discarded they were stored in waste disposal compartments. Throughout the two months before the launch the meals were tested by Collins, who expressed his opinions of frankfurters and other simplistic space fare in expansive gastronomic terms, ranging from 'a gustatory delight' to 'the perfect blend of subtle spices'.24

After a few brief exchanges with Mission Control regarding the flight-plan, at 23 hours and 14 minutes into the mission, CapCom Bruce McCandless read the morning's news:

Washington UPI: Vice President Spiro T. Agnew has called for putting a man on Mars by the year 2000, but Democratic leaders replied that priority must go to needs on Earth. Agnew, ranking government official at the Apollo 11 blastoff Wednesday, apparently was speaking for himself and not necessarily for the Nixon administration ... Laredo, Texas, AP: Immigration officials in Nuevo Laredo announced Wednesday that hippies will be refused tourist cards to enter Mexico unless they take a bath and get haircuts...By United Press International: Initial reaction to President Nixon's granting of a holiday Monday to Federal employees so they can observe a national day of participation in the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission mostly was one of surprise. Rodney Bidner, Associated Press, London AP: Europe is Moon struck by the Apollo 11 mission. Newspapers throughout the continent fill their pages with pictures of the Saturn V rocket blasting off to forge Earth's first link with its natural satellite ... Hempstead, New York: Joe Namath officially reported to the New York Jets training camp at Hofstra University Wednesday following a closed door meeting with his teammates over his differences with pro-football Commissioner Peter Rozelle. London UPI: The House of Lords was assured Wednesday that a midget American submarine would not 'damage or assault' the Loch Ness monster. Lord Nomay said he wanted to be sure anyone operating a submarine in the Loch 'would not subject any creatures that might inhabit it to damage or assault'. He asked that the submarine's plan to take a tissue sample with a retrievable dart from any monster it finds can be done without damage and disturbance. He was told it was impossible to say if the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act would be violated unless and until the monster was found. Over.

Once McCandless had finished, Collins got ready to give fresh navigation details to the computer, a task that required the suspension of PTC. From the point of view of the crew, the Moon was approaching the Sun's position in the sky and soon it would become impossible to see.

Flying towards a moving target that was nearly 240,000 miles away and could not be seen would have been impossible without Apollo's guidance computer. A pilot flying an aircraft uses the Earth as a guide: the planet's magnetic field provides a reference point for the compass, landmarks come and go, and height can be gauged as a specific distance above the ground. In weightlessness, words like 'up' have no meaning, altitude is an empty concept, and a compass is useless. Deprived of familiar points of reference, NASA made up its own, using three imaginary lines drawn through space at right angles to one another. Between them, these lines provided an interpretation of up/down, left/right and ahead/behind. The specific positions of the 'lines' varied during successive stages of the mission (for example, the references used on the way to the Moon were swapped for a different set on the way home), but all were variations on a theme.

Using software written by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia's computer was operated by two identical keyboards, one on the main control panel and the other in the wall of the lower equipment bay. In each position, a few basic command buttons and a number-pad were fitted next to a small black display screen showing green digits – a colour combination computer displays were to maintain for the next 20 years. Together, the display and keyboard were known as the DSKY, pronounced 'disky'. Also in the lower equipment bay, beside the DSKY, a telescope and sextant were built into the wall of the spacecraft, each providing a close-up glimpse of the universe outside. Both instruments were hooked up to the computer and could be used to locate any of the 37 stars the astronauts had been trained to find. Being so far away, the stars appeared to be static and so provided a fixed source of information. When one of them was identified in the cross-hairs of the sextant, a button was pressed, allowing the computer to remember its position. By checking the location of two or three specific stars, the computer could be told about the position of the three imaginary lines in use at that particular time.

To help it remember where these lines were, the computer then aligned a device known as the inertial platform, which served as a constant source of reference. Mounted between three gimbals and supported by gyroscopes, the platform remained in a precise position for hours at a time, even when the spacecraft was rolling in PTC. Over time, however, it tended to drift, which meant that it had to be checked and corrected once or twice a day. To do this, Collins would stop PTC, put a patch over one eye, bend down to look through the sextant and search once again for the relevant stars. Occasionally he would need to act quickly, particularly when the platform suddenly lost its sense of direction. This sometimes happened when two of the three gimbals began moving in the same direction, a condition known as gimbal-lock.

Once the computer knew where the three lines were (which in NASA-speak were together known as the REFSMMAT), it was ready for a final nugget of information. For a driver on a motorway one of the three lines might represent the direction of travel, another might be a vertical line rising up through the roof and the third would be the horizontal horizon. Even so, it's only when he knows that he's doing 80mph, 20 miles north of London, that he truly understands where he is. The specific details of the spacecraft's speed and position, in relation to the lines, were sent to the computer from the ground, in a chunk of data known as the state vector. Now the computer had everything it needed to tell the crew where they were at any time.

The fact that the computer was directly linked to the command module's optical instruments, as well as other parts of the spacecraft, meant it could be described as the world's first embedded system. It relied on a 36KB memory25 – tiny by today's standards, but modern machines are only as advanced as they are partly because of NASA's driving demand during the early 1960s for small, reliable computers. Until Collins learned to build a love-hate relationship with the dark arts of MIT's software, in the months before the mission the guidance system almost drove him to despair. 'You know we have this crazy computer,' he wrote, 'and we talk to it and it talks to us. We tell it what to do and it spits out answers and requests, and it complains quite a bit if we give it the wrong information.'26

The computer program that reset the inertial platform was known as P52. Collins performed this while still in Earth orbit, repeating the exercise a few hours later. Now, just over an hour after waking, he was ready to complete the operation again. Before he started, he first had to fly the spacecraft into a position that would allow him to see the specific stars he needed. Designed with the direct assistance of astronauts, all of whom were pilots, the command module was flown in a way that replicated an aircraft. Astronauts referred to up/down movements as pitch, left/right as yaw, and rotations to one side or another as rolling. Such manoeuvres, initiated by the spacecraft's thrusters, were monitored by the computer and displayed to the crew on the main panel in front of the couches. In fact the computer itself could command the thrusters to operate, via a program serving as a digital autopilot. For the P52 operation, Mission Control worked out the degree of pitch, roll and yaw that would be needed to get into the right position and then the figures were radioed up to the spacecraft. In his reply to Houston, Collins reported the number of hours each man had slept.

'Roger. OK. We note the battery charge as soon as we get around to it, and the attitude for the P52 optics [calibration]: roll 330.5, pitch 086.3, and yaw all zeros. The attitude for the P23 as in the flight-plan is OK; and I copy your battery charge. Crew status report as follows. Sleep Armstrong: 7, Collins: 7, Aldrin: 5.5. And we've completed the post-sleep checklist. Standing by for a consumable update. Over.'

While Collins looked at the details of the P23 program, a navigation experiment, Armstrong took another call from Jim Lovell.

Houston: 'Is the commander aboard?'

Armstrong: 'This is the commander.'

Houston: 'I was a little worried. This is the backup commander still standing by. You haven't given me the word yet. Are you go?'

Armstrong: 'You've lost your chance to take this one, Jim.'

Houston: 'OK. I concede.'

Once Collins had finished working on the navigation exercises, he returned to the business of flying the spacecraft. From the moment TLI ended until the point they entered lunar orbit, the service module engine was tested once and then virtually ignored. Although Earth's gravity was slowing them down, they would soon gain speed once they became vulnerable to the gravity of the Moon. In the meantime, nobody needed to do much actual flying. An exception came at 26 hours and 44 minutes when Collins fired the service module engine for three seconds in order to refine the spacecraft's trajectory. Once the burn was completed he reinstated PTC, and as he did so the spacecraft passed the halfway point between the Earth and the Moon. Because they were still slowing down, it was a statistic that meant little in terms of journey time.

As well as navigation tasks, other chores also had to be performed at regular intervals, including purging the fuel cells contained in the service module. The electricity required to run the spacecraft's computer, lights, instruments and other systems was supplied by three fuel cells, each of which generated power by combining hydrogen and oxygen. When the gases came together they produced water. Since electrons in the gases contained more energy than those in the water, the process released excess energy, about 50 per cent of which could be captured and converted into electricity. Compared to batteries, fuel cells produced several times as much energy per equivalent unit of weight, and better still the water they generated was drinkable.27 Since weight was an important factor, doing away with the need to carry enough batteries and water to last the journey was of great value to the mission planners. In fact so much water was produced, the crew were obliged to dump the excess into space, a routine task that had to be done carefully in order to avoid creating any unwanted momentum. A device attached to the water gun was designed to reduce the hydrogen in the water before the astronauts drank it, but it wasn't always effective and left the crew with wind. At one point the problem got so bad that according to Buzz it was suggested they shut down their thrusters 'and do the job ourselves'.28

As Collins went about his work, he exchanged banter with Houston, where Jim Lovell was still at the CapCom position.

Lovell: 'I said it's a lot bigger than the last vehicle that Buzz and I were in.'

Collins: 'Oh, yes. It's been nice. I've been very busy so far. I'm looking forward to taking the afternoon off. I've been cooking, and sweeping, and almost sewing, and you know, the usual little housekeeping things.'

Lovell: 'It was very convenient the way they put the food preparation system right next to the NAV station.'

Armstrong: 'Everything is right next to everything in this vehicle.'

Given the lack of room, nothing triggered as much interest among space fans on the ground as the toilet arrangements. Since there wasn't a toilet, weightlessness made the arrangements primitive, difficult and public. The urine transfer system involved an astronaut peeing into a bag via an interchangeable device that was colour-coded per crewman. In weightlessness it was a difficult process, and spills were frequent. When the bag was periodically vented overboard, the urine formed a vapour around the spacecraft,29 glinting in the sunlight as if a new constellation had been created. This made it difficult to pick out genuine stars, so a P52 could not be performed immediately after a urine dump.

It was the arduous ordeal of defecation that really tested the men's resolve. In a process that took up to an hour, the astronaut would make himself comfortable in the lower equipment bay. While his colleagues two or three yards away contemplated the meaning of life, he would take up a position with a bag, part of which was designed to fit over the hand like a glove. At the bottom of the bag a pocket contained tissue wipes, and at the top a wide lip incorporated a tape that sealed against the buttocks. Afterwards a germicidal liquid would be added to prevent bacteria developing, then once the bag had been sealed the astronaut was required to knead it in order to provide the desired degree of 'faeces stabilisation'. In case all of this wasn't humiliating enough, the bag was then stowed in empty food containers for post-flight analysis. Such bags would be used a total of five times on Apollo 11. The flap at the back of the underwear created an opening that was too small to seal the bag accurately and 'misses' were a common problem on most Apollo flights. Odours were difficult to control, as Jim Lovell discovered during Gemini 7, which he described as '14 days in a men's room'.

The P23 experiment and household tasks took up most of Michael's morning. After lunch, waste water was dumped and the lithium hydroxide filter – which removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – was changed. The crew were then ready to test the TV camera in preparation for a scheduled broadcast. After stopping PTC in order to send a continuous signal, at 6.32pm, 34 hours into the mission, the astronauts began the show. With the spacecraft now moving at 3,000mph, Collins focused on the Earth, 130,000 miles away, before handing the camera to Buzz who filmed his crew-mates in the lower equipment bay.

Collins: 'I would have put on a coat and tie if I'd known about this ahead of time.'

Houston: 'Is Buzz holding your cue cards for you? Over.'

Collins: 'Cue cards have a no. We have no intentions of competing with the professionals, believe me. We are very comfortable up here, though. We do have a happy home. There's plenty of room for the three of us and I think we're all learning to find our favourite little corner to sit in. Zero g is very comfortable, but after a while you get to the point where you sort of get tired of rattling around and banging off the ceiling and the floor and the side, so you tend to find a little corner somewhere and put your knees up or something like that to wedge yourself in, and that seems more at home.'

Houston: 'Roger. Looks like Neil is coming in five-by there, 11. Mike, see you in the background. It's a real good picture we're getting here of Commander Armstrong.'

Collins: 'Yes, Neil's standing on his head again. He's trying to make me nervous.'

With their flight-suits opened at the neck, white boots protecting their feet and communication wires taped over one ear, the men appeared comfortable and at ease. Buzz aimed the camera at a star-chart hanging over one of the windows while giving the audience an explanation of some its mysteries. Armstrong, taking the camera, then filmed Buzz exercising before inviting the audience over to a locker containing a variety of food. Michael pulled out a pack of chicken stew as an example of the menu on offer. Although Columbia's interior was well lit, the lighting was uneven and left many dark nooks and crannies. To look through the food locker Michael needed to use a small torch. At launch, when the crew had been wearing their pressure-suits while strapped into their couches, they had been hemmed in by the grey instrument panels and barely had room to move. Most of the windows had been covered by a protective shroud, and sitting in a gloomy half-light they had been confronted by a vast array of instruments and switches. Now, with the windows uncovered, sunlight flooded the cabin, bouncing off the men's white flight-suits and the bright surfaces of the storage lockers. What had once appeared to be no more than a means of getting from A to B now looked like a bright living space. As the men freely floated about their new home, Columbia had the sterile look of a clean, state-of-the-art spacecraft. The era of cramped capsules had been replaced by a taste of the future.

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Apollo 11 was spared the sense of trepidation that had accompanied the Block II command module's first outing into deep space. With the LM running behind schedule, Frank Borman's flight was changed to include a pass around the Moon. Then it was changed again, allowing Borman to spend hours in lunar orbit. At the time, Collins believed it was 'rather far-out'30 to contemplate such ideas before the first Apollo flight had even flown.

While preparing for the mission, in July 1968, Michael had begun to notice something strange. During handball games his legs didn't seem to be functioning normally, his knee would sometimes give way while walking downstairs, and hot and cold water produced abnormal nerve reactions. Finally he turned himself in to the NASA flight surgeon, knowing that as a pilot there were 'only two ways he [could] walk out: on flying status or grounded'.31 He was referred to a Houston neurologist who found that a bony growth in Michael's neck, between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, was pushing against his spinal cord. It was agreed that he needed surgery, despite the implications of the decision to operate. Collins would have to give up his seat on Borman's mission and accept that he was grounded.