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chicagotribune.com >> Entertainment


Space pioneers talk about the Apollo MOON MISSIONS:

Orbiting alone, enduring quarantine and steering the lunar rover

By Nick Thomas
Special to the Tribune
Published May 9, 2006

Long before humans traveled into space on the Shuttle, there was Project Apollo.

The goal of the Apollo program was to land a manned spacecraft on the moon and to return craft and crew safely to Earth. This was achieved July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin climbed down the ladder of Apollo 11's lunar module and pressed the first human footprints in the dusty surface of the moon.

Six more Apollo missions followed from 1969 through 1972. Although Apollo 13 never made it to the moon, all the Apollo spacecraft returned their crews safely home.

In addition to Armstrong and Aldrin, 10 other astronauts visited the moon. Among them were Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Ed Mitchell (Apollo 14), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17). Mechanical problems prevented Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) from reaching his lunar destination.

This week, Aldrin, Bean, Mitchell, Duke, Schmitt, Lovell and Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden answer questions from KidNews readers on the Apollo space program.

Second grader Kayla T. of Winnetka wants to know what it felt like to walk on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin: When Neil Armtrong and I stepped out onto the moon's surface, we were very much focused on what we were doing. Of course, we were aware of the bigger picture and historic nature of our mission. My first words were "magnificent desolation," which indicated the magnificence of human beings who could build a machine to get them to the moon and the desolation of the lunar surface, which was truly unique compared to anything I had seen on Earth.

Andrew A., 13, of Western Springs wonders what Buzz Aldrin found most inconvenient about his historic flight.

Aldrin: All pioneers, including space travelers, expect to have some hardships. For me, the most inconvenient part of our mission was when we returned to Earth and had to be quarantined. Astronauts from the first three moon missions were quarantined for 21 days after landing to prevent any germs that might be on the moon from getting back to people on the Earth.

John O., 6, of Clarendon Hills wants to know how the first step on the moon was photographed.

Aldrin: At the beginning of Neil Armstrong's descent down the ladder to step onto the moon for the first time, he pulled a lever that unfolded a TV camera. The camera was prepositioned to point right at the ladder as he stepped down.

Robert M., 7, of Highland Park wants to know how electronic equipment is powered on a spaceship that has to travel many years to the outer planets.

Alan Bean: Our Apollo 12 mission employed the first nuclear-powered electric generator on the moon's surface. It contained plutonium, which produced heat that was converted into electricity to operate our equipment. Similar devices are used to power satellites and rockets that have to travel in space for many years. Solar panels wouldn't be effective so far away from the sun.

Jamie B., 12, is curious whether the movie "Apollo 13" accurately represented what happened on the ill-fated space mission.

Jim Lovell: The movie was very accurate. All incidents were true except the argument between Jack Swigert and Fred Haise--some artistic license was introduced. In the movie, it appeared that Swigert was not trained to replace Ken Mattingly. That was not the case. It also appeared that toward the end of the movie, Mattingly figured out how to charge the Odyssey batteries. Actually, four people were involved. By the way, look for me at the end of the movie--I play the captain of the recovery ship!

Ed Mitchell flew aboard Apollo 14, the flight following the Apollo 13 mission. Bianca B., 10, of Decatur wonders if he was scared.

Mitchell: No, I was not frightened, but crew members were very alert for signs of trouble and malfunction. Although we were aware of the problems that prevented a lunar landing for [Apollo 13], our spacecraft had been thoroughly checked to prevent a similar malfunction from reoccurring.

As command module pilot for Apollo 15, Al Worden orbited the moon alone for nearly three days while the rest of the crew worked on the lunar surface. How did that feel, asks 2nd-grader Bryce T. of Winnetka.

Worden: Being alone during the flight was actually a good time for me--not scary, because we were so highly trained. When I was alone, I was especially busy. On the few occasions that I had time to reflect while alone, I put my thoughts and feelings in a journal that became my book.

Jack C. of Chicago and Aidan E. of Deerfield were curious about space walks, which is something Worden experienced on Apollo 15's return journey to Earth. How can astronauts walk in space even though they are traveling thousands of miles per hour?

Worden: It's possible because we are already going the same speed as the command module and there is nothing in space to slow us down (no friction or wind). To keep us from drifting off, we have a tether or rope attached to the ship. By the way, we refer to a space walk as an EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity).

Michael F., 4, of Naperville had questions about the Lunar Roving Vehicle. The LRV is the buggy that some Apollo astronauts drove across the moon's surface. How fast did the moon buggy go, and will a "Mars buggy" be different?

Charlie Duke: I was the navigator in the passenger seat of the LRV for Apollo 16; John Young was the driver. The rover was very sensitive in steering and easy to overcontrol and skid. Our maximum speed on the moon was 11 m.p.h., and we could not go more than a few miles from the lunar module because if the LRV broke down, we would have to walk back! We did not have enough oxygen in our backpacks to go more than that. The rover was powered by batteries that were not rechargeable. On Mars, I think you would need batteries that could charge from the sun.

Michael F. also wants to know how hard it was to plant the flag on the moon. We asked Harrison Schmitt, who was a geologist aboard Apollo 17, the last spacecraft to land on the moon.

Schmitt: We had to pound hard on the top of the flagpole to get it to go into the lunar soil. The soil had been compacted so

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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