For 20 years, Lukas Viglietti, an airline pilot and captain, has been fascinated by the conquest of the astronauts who went to space during his childhood. He has recorded their testimonies and since becoming their friend and confidant, he now offers an exclusive and unprecedented insight into their adventures.
In APOLLO CONFIDENTIAL, adults and children alike experience the all-inspiring accounts of:
The only thing they had in common was they all saw the view of the beautiful home planet from a quarter of a million miles away, an oasis of life compared to the stark and lifeless, alien moon. In APOLLO CONFIDENTIAL, Lukas Viglietti recounts what people from the history bookspeople such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrinwere like in person.
|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
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FLYING TO THE MOON
People can walk on the Moon. This notion may seem obvious today, but it wasn't always the case. It seems that the first person to be sure of this fact was the Italian scholar Galileo. One beautiful Tuscan night in 1609, he had an ingenious idea. He pointed his telescope at the Moon and discovered its plains, craters, and mountains. He then quickly calculated their heights by the shadows they cast. What shock and wonder this must have caused him. This was already a "giant leap." Did Galileo suspect that he was opening the way to another "small step for man" 360 years later? The idea, I think, must have crossed his mind.
Since ancient times, the Moon has been the subject of careful study. The regularity of its monthly phases has served as a timekeeper for all the people on Earth. The Muslim calendar is one example of this, as well as the Jewish Passover, Christian Easter and, it seems, even the engraved bones of the Aurignacian era some 34,000 years ago, which some archaeologists believe are lunar calendars.
But on that famous night in 1609, something changed for humanity. The Moon could no longer be imagined only as a supernatural luminary, a "disk" placed just behind the clouds by the gods. Instead, it was confirmed to be a world in much the same way as Earth. It was a place that you could visit, and roam, at least in your imagination. It is not by chance that barely eight years after Galileo died, Cyrano de Bergerac published his novel "The Other World: Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon," in which the narrator travels by extravagant means to this distant land.
Others had similar ideas, some long before Galileo's confirmations. Around the year 180 AD, the Syrian writer Lucian of Samosata, probably inspired by the speculative theories of Aristarchus, imagined the adventures of sailors whose ship had been flung to the Moon by a storm. Another legend claimed that Wan Hu, a Chinese Ming dynasty official, had flown to the Moon seated on a chair powered by, presciently, forty-seven rockets. With the scientific discoveries of the sixteenth century, tales of such lunar voyages became legion. Examples include Somnium by Johannes Kepler in 1634, Discovery of a World in the Moon by John Wilkins, The Consolidator by Daniel Defoe (the author of Robinson Crusoe), and, most famously, From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne in 1865, later adapted into a silent film by Georges Méliès. This is only a small sampling. It was as if the human imagination was unleashed by science, which isn't the paradox it might appear to be. Quite simply, what was barely imaginable before became irresistibly attractive.
For four centuries, even though Kepler and then Newton hammered out all the theoretical tools of space navigation, humanity had to wait for technology to move from theory to practice. In the meantime, artists and writers portrayed the speculative dreams of voyages to the Moon.
The concept seemed so futuristic that in his 1959 novel The Outward Urge, British writer John Wyndham didn't envision the first lunar mission taking place until 2020. He hadn't accounted for the small group of people who, by the mid-twentieth century, each independently got it into their heads that this dream should become a reality.
The German Hermann Oberth, the French Robert Esnault-Pelterie, the Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and the American Robert Goddard had surprisingly similar destinies, in spite of the diversity of their origins and backgrounds.
All four wanted to land on the Moon and other planets. During their youth, they understood the military potential of the rockets they sought to build, and they hoped to obtain financing for their research from their governments — another of their premonitions about the future of astronautics. But their visions were far ahead of their time.
These four pioneers did the bulk of their research with their own funds, sometimes at considerable cost. Tsiolkovsky's book The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (1903), in which he laid the theoretical foundations of almost all aspects of space flight, was widely ignored when it came out. Oberth's doctoral dissertation, "The Rocket into Interplanetary Space," was rejected by the University of Göttingen, which judged it "utopian," and he was forced to publish it at his own expense. Goddard, who hid his dreams of voyages into space so that he wouldn't alienate himself from American academic authorities, struggled to get a book published by his own university, even with the deliberately sober title A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.
As for Esnault-Pelterie, when his book Rocket Exploration of the Very High Atmosphere and the Future of Interplanetary Travel received a positive response in 1927, it was due to the support of the president of the Goncourt Academy, a writer with great foresight: Joseph Boex, one of the earliest science fiction authors.
These engineers who dreamed about the Moon did not only write technical works. Hermann Oberth seized the opportunity to pull himself out of financial difficulty by accepting the job of technical advisor for the 1929 Fritz Lang silent movie Frau im Mond (Girl in the Moon), depicting an imaginary first lunar mission. Tsiolkovsky did the same for Kosmitcheskii Reys (Cosmic Voyage), which was shot in 1936 by Vasily Zhuravlyov. It was quickly censored by Stalinist authorities, who judged the images of cosmonauts bounding in slow motion due to the Moon's weak gravity too fantastical and "incompatible with social realism." The ties that these two men maintained with science fiction — Tsiolkovsky also published science fiction books — and their revolutionary technical books paid off. They determined the careers of two kids who became avid fans: Wernher von Braun in Germany, and Sergei Pavlovich Korolev in the Soviet Union.
The revolutionary idea that drove these engineers was simple. They each understood that in the emptiness of space, there was no air to support an aircraft, so the airplanes and dirigibles of the era were impractical.
On the other hand, they also understood that Newton's law of action-reaction, the phenomenon that causes a cannon to pull back when fired, also allows a rocket that expels matter at great speed in one direction to propel itself in the other direction without needing support from anything. For a long time, they were among the only ones fully aware of the potential of this.
I cannot resist quoting one of the biggest blunders by The New York Times when in 1920 they attacked Robert Goddard, stating, "Professor Goddard does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." Goddard carried out a demonstration of this by firing a pistol inside a vacuum chamber, but it was in vain. The New York Times didn't apologize until twenty-four years after his death — the day after the Apollo 11 launch.
Long before their rocket experiments, the development of pistol technology must have benefitted from another impetus. Like many technology pioneers had already learned, that motivation was war. Perhaps it is not by chance that the two first space engineers, von Braun and Korolev, were citizens of brutal totalitarian regimes determined to compensate for their relative weaknesses by investing significant amounts into the development of new arms, even if it meant resorting to forced labor. Dreams of space were first engulfed in the nightmare of the Second World War.
Korolev, who nearly died in Stalin's Gulag before being released due to the intervention of aircraft designer Andrei Tupolev, participated in the Soviet war effort and was behind the first rocket plane tests. As for von Braun, he had to compromise with the Nazi regime in order to develop the V-2 rocket (also named the A-4) at Peenemünde, which on June 20, 1944, was the first craft to enter into space, reaching the extraordinary altitude of 108 miles.
In 1945, Americans and Soviets set out on a race to be the first to find and accept the surrender of thousands of German engineers and technicians. The Soviets' forced recruitment operations in Germany, in which the recently freed Korolev participated as an expert, failed to capture von Braun. He and 104 of his assistants were taken by the Americans during Operation Paperclip. Thus, the scene was set for the space age.
On October 4, 1957, during the International Geophysical Year, the Soviet Union shocked the world by putting into orbit the first artificial satellite in history: Sputnik. The "beep-beep-beep" of its radio signal was captured and heard around the whole planet. To the question of who built Sputnik, First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev replied laconically, "The Soviet people." The name Sergei Korolev, who was referred to in all of the Soviet propaganda only as "the great designer," would in effect be kept secret until he died.
By comparison, von Braun's status in the United States was quite similar, at least in the first decade he spent there. He and his team were confined to American military bases, which they could only leave under escort. They called themselves POPs, or Prisoners of Peace, as opposed to POWs. Their initial role was limited to instructing the scientists and military personnel who rebuilt and tested the V-2 rockets they retrieved in Germany. When the Korean War started, they were transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, where they actively participated in the development of the Redstone ballistic missile before being integrated — under tight American direction — into the Army Ballistic Missile Agency.
These former Third Reich officers and collaborators were looked upon poorly by the press, and most certainly by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had fought the Nazis in Europe. As proof, on July 29, 1955, Eisenhower had announced that the American participation in the Geophysical Year would be marked by the launching of an artificial satellite into orbit. Predicting disaster, von Braun had pleaded to be allowed to build a new rocket to do this. His request was left unanswered.
Sputnik fulfilled the promise not kept by the Americans and therefore constituted a double humiliation for the president. With his exploit, Korolev had opened the door of von Braun's golden cage without even knowing it. On November 3, barely one month after Sputnik, the Soviets launched the first living creature into orbit, the dog Laika. Comparatively, on December 6, Americans were humiliated a third time — this time by themselves — when a Vanguard rocket, meant to launch their satellite, exploded on the launch pad.
President Eisenhower no longer had a choice. He had to let von Braun out of hiding to save his own honor. With remarkable pragmatism, von Braun quickly modified the Redstone rocket that he had designed and knew well, and successfully launched the Explorer 1 satellite into orbit in January 1958. Six months later the U.S. government announced the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, with the objective of continuing the American space program as a civilian program. From that moment on, Wernher von Braun and his team were firmly in control of NASA's new Marshall Space Flight Center.
The impetus for both the American and Soviet authorities was not a pure love of exploration or knowledge. Emerging from the Second World War, the American and British had made an agreement with Joseph Stalin on the division of the world that gave him an acceptable place in the sun. The Soviet Union had suffered immense devastation and appeared weak enough to not be threatening. But in 1949, the Russians set off their first atomic bomb. They went on to detonate their first H bomb, twenty times more powerful, in 1953. Four years later, their success in space showed their missiles were capable of striking any point on Earth within minutes. This new power balance had not been foreseen in the agreements.
After Sputnik, space achievement was about showing the world — allies and enemies — that the United States was not, contrary to appearances, at a standstill. The ingenious idea of entrusting the work to a civil agency allowed the U.S. to attract brilliant minds who, just like the pioneers of the 1920s, dreamed of exploring space. At the same time, it served the vision of Eisenhower, who wished to avoid at all costs the militarization of the upper atmosphere. If, for example, the young United Nations had extended airspace ad infinitum above the borders of each country, the great powers would have found themselves in very embarrassing situations when they launched satellites — including any used to spy on their enemies.
The terrible equation of the 1940s was thus renewed under a more ambiguous form: it was again war that motivated the massive financing of the space race by the United States, while passionate idealists used the opportunity to realize their dreams. But this time it was in the context of a conflict where civilians and scientists had much greater weight. And they were going to use it. From the beginning, NASA was deeply dependent on this ambivalence. Right from the start, there were two distinct groups within the agency. There were those who worked for the sole objective of beating the Soviets, and those who, sometimes clandestinely, wanted to add a more useful aspect to the lunar program. It was the lobbying of the latter that would push the directors of NASA to accept scientific experiments on the very first missions. Years later, this double nature would manifest in another way when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara — in a quandary because of the considerable financial consequences of the stalemate in Vietnam — attempted to limit the cost of the space program by militarizing it.
But let's return to the end of 1958. The Americans recruited their first astronauts for the Mercury project with the prospect of experimental manned space flights: they were Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Deke Slayton, and Wally Schirra. Meanwhile, the Soviets continued to move from one success to the next. The Luna 1, 2, and 3 probes were propelled out of Earth orbit and sent to the Moon, with Luna 3 transmitting the first images of the lunar far side. In 1960, the Soviets responded to the American manned spaceflight plans and created a secret corps of twenty cosmonauts.
Thirty years, scarcely a generation, had passed between the theoretical work of pioneers who were often scorned, and the selection of the first real space travelers. Their dreams were becoming a reality. How did they choose who would fly?
No one was sure of the physiological effects of space travel on the human body. Some even doubted that it was possible to survive. Doctors in the American program simply decided to test all of the candidates to their physical limits. Remembering these brutal medical tests, John Glenn would say, "They checked orifices on my body that I didn't even know existed!"
In preparing for manned flights that would require a small crew confined for days in a tiny spacecraft, NASA also deemed that candidates should have "a strong propensity to cooperate to the point of being able to place complete confidence in their associates and reciprocally gaining their complete confidence." Robert Voas, a psychologist hired for the selection process, persuaded NASA to choose people who, in addition to exceptional physical endurance, had extensive experience operating technical systems. We can imagine that for several months they looked at submariners and Arctic explorers, along with test pilots. But Eisenhower declared that only test pilots would be accepted. He wanted people he could count on and who knew how to keep a secret: they'd also all be military.
The initial panel of 473 pilots was reduced to 110, then to sixty-three, then thirty-two before they started to fast run out of reasons to exempt people, decisions which were already in large part speculative and arbitrary. Dee O'Hara, the legendary astronaut nurse, once told me, "What we were looking for above all among the candidates for that first group was that they were lucky in life!"
After the selection and public disclosure of the names of the seven members of the Mercury astronaut group, the Soviets very quickly seemed to make the same choices as Eisenhower. The military jet pilots they selected had to be psychologically stable, comfortable with technical systems, and in excellent shape. We now know that Korolev added another essential criteria: not to measure more than five feet, seven inches, or weigh no more than 160 pounds. That was because there was so little space in the Vostok spacecraft that he was developing.
Two candidates stood out in the Soviet selection: Gherman Titov, and Yuri Gagarin.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Apollo Confidential"
Copyright © 2019 Lukas Viglietti.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Flying to the Moon,
Chapter 2 The Race Is On,
Chapter 3 The First Steps,
Chapter 4 Right on the Mark,
Chapter 5 Three Men in Trouble,
Chapter 6 Back in the Saddle,
Chapter 7 Mountain Excursion,
Chapter 8 Beneath the Southern Sun,
Chapter 9 The End of the Beginning,
Conclusion: The Future,
About the Author,