Lunar rambling

On the phone to dearest mater a week ago, I was blahing endlessly about Apollo 11 in that tedious nobody’s-interested-but-I’m-saying-it-anyway way I have. She said she’d been thinking back to the day of the landing and now remembers that the three-month-old me was unwell at the time. She’s absolutely convinced I was on the settee with her and pater as they watched events at Tranquility Base unfold in the company of Patrick Moore and James Burke and 600 million others.

Take that, kids of today! You might have your youth and your hair and your stupid 80s throwback fashions, but you never saw the first moon landing while wearing a nappy.

The further that milestone recedes into history, the more amazed I become that they succeeded. It’s almost as if Jules Verne’s space cannon in From the Earth to the Moon actually happened. For this anniversary, sites such as http://www.wechoosethemoon.org replayed events from launch to landing with as-live comms recordings, and I fully confess to listening to hours of it. A great deal of it was static and Capcom relaying coordinates to Apollo, but it was nerdily exciting nevertheless.

Naturally I listened throughout the descent and landing. The greatly condensed replays shown on TV don’t convey the drama, instead boiling it all down to the standard soundbites. What struck me was how much time they spent simply trying to keep communications up: moving antennae around, that sort of thing. And the coolness of Armstrong, overriding the system (that tried to land them in a boulder field) and scooting around a couple of hundred feet above the surface hunting for a flat bit, with less than a minute’s fuel remaining.

I just cannot imagine the tension of everyone listening in at the time. So many unknowns. The whole enterprise a teetering tower of risk upon risk.

Space nerd that I am, I’ve also been looking at various transcripts of the mission, with commentaries by knowledgable parties such as the crew. Which led to a surprising discovery: that, as well as the radio transmissions we’ve all heard a million times, there are audio recordings from inside Eagle as Armstrong and Aldrin took her down to the surface. These I hadn’t heard. But, of course, they’re now on the web (albeit only in a stupid streaming format as far as I can see) – see the transcript for details.

Now, 40 years on, we of course have permanently crewed bases on the Moon and Mars and we’re mining the asteroids. How vividly I remember that day in 1988 when Michael Jackson actually moonwalked across the lunar surface.

Ah well. Perhaps in another ten years or so we might actually get out of Earth orbit again. As it happens I strongly suspect the Chinese will reach the moon before the Americans return.

Which leads me to Moon, the new film starring Sam Rockwell as a solitary moon-based employee of a mining company scraping Helium-3 from the lunar regolith. Not exactly the setup you’d expect for a science-fiction thriller, but it works. Without giving anything away, Things Are Not What They Seem.

The film toys with your expectations somewhat. Don’t expect a blockbuster, an effects extravaganza: it’s not that sort of movie. Some people have compared it to 2001, but that’s a lazy and obvious comparison and entirely misplaced.

Much has been made of the retro model effects – no CGI here. There’s a definite dusting of Gerry Anderson over the proceedings, with the gentlest aroma of Michael Bentine. But if you come out of the film moaning about the models (or the odd scientific inaccuracy), you’ve rather missed the point. The lunar setting enables the story to be told.

And it’s an interesting story, original and thought-provoking, and in the tradition of good science fiction all too contemporary in many respects. I liked it a lot.

I don’t expect it’ll be a contender for the next Oscars, but I’d like to think it would get a nod for Original Screenplay. Sam Rockwell deserves something simply for the number of scenes he’s in.

Avaragado’s rating: opal fruits

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1 Comment

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One response to “Lunar rambling

  1. Anonymous

    Resentment

    I still resent you for having seen Apollo 11! My only consolation is having been born exactly 3 months almost to the hour after that first footstep, but nice round numbers are not the real thing.

    There are quite a few good books about that time written by people who were there that give a lot more detail about what went on and the reasons why. Not the sort of thing for today’s ADD afflicted instant justification minds but fascinating to those of us who remember a time before you could have your own computer.

    The skin on the lunar module was so thin you could puncture it with a pencil. The astronauts had to sleep inside something that had no chairs and only space for two people to stand, while there was a copious quantity of dust. Neil Armstrong was unflappable being within half a second of sure death both in space and on the ground.

    Some of my book recommendations: Last man on the Moon, Failure is not an option, Flight: My life in mission control, First man: The life of Neil Armstrong, Apollo moon missions: The unsung heroes & Two sides of the moon: Our story of the cold war space race.

    Flight ends with this: “The attention span of the American mind proved to be the biggest disappointment of the century.”

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