Moon Madness: Multimedia Treasures from the Apollo Era

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reading these journals to see how all of the astronauts, from Armstrong through Schmitt and Cernan, dealt with real-life challenges and discoveries on the lunar surface would be the best possible way to prepare.

For diehard Apollo fans who want even more multimedia content than the Project Apollo Archive and the Lunar Surface Journal have to offer, there’s a Columbus, OH, company called Spacecraft Films that’s in the process of transferring hundreds of hours of original NASA TV and film footage onto DVD, “the way it originally happened—without the filter of the media.” The apotheosis of this genre is Apollo 16: Journey to Descartes, a 6-DVD set containing complete TV transmissions and onboard films from that mission (which was commanded by one of my favorite astronauts, the imperturbable John Young, who later commanded the first Space Shuttle mission).

Being a map maven, I also have to include a link to Google Moon. Using the same tiling technology and drag-and-zoom interface behind Google Maps, the folks at the search giant have created an entertaining tool for exploring the landing sites of the six Apollo missions that touched down on the Moon. Each site is annotated with a map of the ground the astronauts covered during their EVAs and includes pushpins linked to photos and panoramas that the astronauts took from various spots. It’s a great way to organize the material, and gives you a much better understanding of how big the Moon is and what the astronauts actually did while they were there. I never knew, for example, that Apollo 12 touched down within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, a robotic lander that NASA had sent to the Moon two and a half years earlier.

Tracy\'s RockIf I’d been born a bit earlier, I might have been old enough to comprehend the Apollo missions when they were happening and remember something about them. As it was, I was just two years old when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, and my first personal memories of watching space missions on TV are from the Skylab missions, four years later. But resources like the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal aren’t a bad substitute for real memories. As my Web travels this week showed, there was probably no episode in 20th-century history more thoroughly documented than the Apollo flights. Space buffs everywhere should be grateful to Google and to volunteers like Teague, Jones, and Glover for putting so much of this material online. (And let’s thank NASA while we’re at it, for its enlightened policy of not enforcing copyright on any of the visuals it’s collected over the decades.)

I hope the space historians keep digging through the archives and interviewing old NASA hands, because Apollo, as a piece of living history, is receding fast. Of the 12 men who walked on the Moon—Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Charles Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt—three (Conrad, Shepard, and Irwin) are already deceased. The rest are in their 70s. We’re lucky that the technology to produce and broadcast high-definition, interview-based documentaries like When We Left Earth and In the Shadow of the Moon came along while they’re still kicking.

Maybe we’ll go back to the Moon someday. (NASA claims its Ares rocket and Orion crew vehicle will be ready for a lunar trip by 2020.) Or maybe the Apollo missions resulted from a never-to-be-repeated confluence of Kennedyesque bravado, Cold War paranoia, loose purse strings, and reckless confidence. There was, after all, something slightly mad about the whole enterprise of putting men inside tin cans on top of ICBMs and sending them to the Moon. I think that Gene Cernan—the last man to set foot on the Moon, in 1972—was making a useful point when he told Eric Jones in the Lunar Surface Journal, “If we went back again next week or next year or in another decade…I don’t know if we would have the mentality—I don’t want to say ‘guts’—to take the kind of risks we did when we did it the first time. Landing on the Moon was a risk. And I believe our inability to take risk today wouldn’t allow us to do what we did when we did it.”

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “Moon Madness: Multimedia Treasures from the Apollo Era”

  1. Jamie Roush says:

    Nice story. Thanks for the links to the non-NASA sites. I had always found the hagiographic NASA sites kind of disappointing. Thanks for the new word too.

    Harrison Schmitt spoke to one of my geology classes in college. Unfortunately I didn’t know enough Apollo history at that time to really appreciate who he was. I sure wish I could go back in time and meet him again!