20 July 1969
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon today the 20th July 1969 at 20:17 UTC. That’s:
- T + 102 hours 45 minutes (after planned liftoff)
- in 19 hours 45 minutes time from now (the time of this publication)
Apollo 11 Movie
I watched the movie Apollo 11 last night. It is an amalgamation of videos from the Apollo project. It represents the sequence of fragile high risk critical steps that NASA had to thread together into one serial project to get man to the moon and back again. The many heart thumping and time critical countdowns reinforce how important it was that every separate stage had to succeed to enable the next.
The most resilient engine in the world was the Lunar Module Ascent Engine that lifted the Ascent Stage off the moon and propelled it into orbit around the moon. The hypergolic chemicals (N2O4 and Aerozine 50) spontaneously ignited on contact with each other.
There was no redundancy, backup or mitigations if that engine failed. All six Bell Aerosystems engines operated perfectly for the six Apollo takeoffs from the moon.
In the event that the this engine failed and marooned Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon, Nixon had prepared a contingency speech starting with the words:
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.“
Nixon’s contingency speech was never required.
Intrepid and Resilient
The Apollo Project is synonymous with and resonates with two words: Intrepid and Resilient.
Apollo faced the highest threats, committing to a project when the technologies to achieve it did not exist. Technologies had to be invented (for example computers, digital Fly-By-Wire, Inertial Navigation and orbital intercepts), tested and proved. Lessons were learned and many rules and procedures were written in blood.
NASA strung those high threats together then mitigated them with their best defence, resilient humans. All the astronauts had The Right Stuff, and they also had all the Elements of Resilience that I documented in FLY!
In FLY! (p156) I described Eagle’s lunar landing because Neil persisted and landed amidst a barrage of unknown errors, approach deviations, bad terrain and fast-diminishing fuel – oh and with the stress of 500 million people on Earth listening to his every word. Most people’s cognitive skills start to deteriorate at a pulse rate of over 145 bpm (FLY! p46). Neil’s pulse rate was 156 bpm at landing.
At that time, Neil did not know that 10 days prior, backup teams in the simulator at Houston, aborted their approach because they faced just one 1201 error. ( Failure is not an Option. by Gene Kranz p267-71) Neil faced five 1201 and 1202 errors during his approach. He didn’t abort because deep within his decision making psyche he knew “never abort for just one cue”. Neil was meant to look out the window at 20,000 feet. With all the noises, lights and other distractions he didn’t look out until 2,000 feet.
“Bullet-Proof not Gun-Shy”
I have written many times about the feeling of being “Bullet-Proof Not Gun-Shy”. This is the confident feeling to face risks because you have prepared to survive all known contingencies. For the unknown events, you also have the confidence that you will be able to amass sufficient skills and resources to survive.
A person who feels “Bullet-Proof Not Gun-Shy” is unafraid to face mitigated threats.
Neil, Buzz and Mike had that “Bullet-Proof not Gun-Shy” feeling. They knew what that knew. They knew what they didn’t know. And they had the resilience to leap over and survive these chasms in times of crisis.
Apollo Lessons for All of Us
Apollo did more than just land a man on the the moon. Apollo changed the way we viewed ourselves. Apollo showed us that humanity can do great things when we unite our skills, determination and effort. Part of that effort is to continually strive to advance, that means surfing the edge of chaos.
Great things happen when you disrupt yourself and combine creative and latest generation technologies with human resilience.
Accept failure as part of the human condition. Fail fast and fail well in the small things so you get the big things right. This is what Gene Kranz meant in his book Failure is not an Option. NASA thrived under Gene’s leadership.
Intrepid and Resilient
Gene Kranz, in his Kranz Dictum (FLY! p189) used the words “Tough and Competent”. These are two of the six attributes in his Foundations Values of Mission Control (Failure is Not An Option p 393). Tough and Competent are features of resilience, but are not a part of being intrepid.
Apollo to me represents the best humanity has to offer the human spirit of perseverance and science. We must bottle the intrepid spirit of the 1960s, never forget it, and ensure we are no less intrepid today.
We must never lose our spirit to be Intrepid and Resilient.
20 July 1969
Apollo 11 lifted off from Earth on the 20th July 1969 at 20:17 UTC. That’s T + 102 hours 45 minutes after the planned liftoff.
At the time of publishing this page (20 July @ 0032 UTC), we are exactly T+83 hours.
Follow the progress with these flight plans.
Todays Detailed Flight Plans