By Quin Hillyer at the Washington Examiner, June 17, 2019.

Some time in this next month, dear reader, please, please, please find and watch the documentary film “Apollo 11.”

It’s a merely good, not great, movie, but it provides an immediacy and sense of awe that is appropriate for next month’s 50th anniversary celebration of man’s first-ever moon landing. That July 20, 1969, landing and safe return remains, in the judgment of many wise minds, the single greatest achievement in human history. The movie, despite some narrative flaws, elucidates that appraisal.

The film’s main flaw works hand in hand with its main strength: For the most part, it lets the raw footage speak for itself, with very little narration. What’s gained is a real sense of “being there,” watching live, from the public viewing stands near Cape Canaveral, from the rows of technicians at mission control center, and even from the inside of the spacecraft itself. What’s lost is the ability to explain a lot of what’s going on, the science, the “whys and wherefores,” the particular nature of the risks and rewards.

Still, the wonder of it all comes through, both to minds and to hearts. We’ll all certainly be treated to a lot more of the heart-appeals in the next month — Neil Armstrong’s first step off the ladder, the American flag planted there, the multiple human footprints left behind on the dusty surface as Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reascend into the lunar module. Let’s focus for now, then, on those aspects that should continue to astonish the mind.

How did NASA do it all?

The capacity of its entire, massive computer bank was a tiny fraction of what today’s average smart phone can do. With such comparatively rudimentary equipment, combined with ancient tools such as manual slide rules, NASA’s thousands of scientists and mathematicians had to figure how to provide enough power to escape Earth’s atmosphere, keep three men alive for 240,000 miles of airless space travel (each way), orbit the moon, have one module separate from the main spacecraft in order to descend to the moon’s surface, land safely, refire said module enough to return to the main craft, dock with said craft while it orbited at four times the speed of sound, achieve enough thrust to escape lunar orbit, return to Earth, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere while enduring temperatures half as hot as the sun itself, and splash down safely in the near-vicinity of a predetermined spot in the Pacific Ocean….

[Read the rest here.]


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