HT This Day: July 24, 1969 -- Apollo crosses midway point on way back home

Published on Jul 21, 2022 06:48 PM IST

Yearning for the good earth Apollo-11 moon explorers slept long and deep today, heading for a splashdown in the Pacific tomorrow.

HT This Day: July 24, 1969 -- Apollo crosses midway point on way back home
HT This Day: July 24, 1969 -- Apollo crosses midway point on way back home
By, Space Centre, Houston

Yearning for the good earth Apollo-11 moon explorers slept long and deep today, heading for a splashdown in the Pacific tomorrow.

The spacemen were to have awakened at 9 p.m. (IST) but they were slumbering so well that mission control decided to let them sleep as long as they wanted for the critical re-entry through the atmosphere.

They still were asleep at noon, their spaceship speeding along at 3,645 miles an hour, 132,790 miles from the earth.

Mission control said all systems were normal and the spacecraft’s path was so accurate that a minor mid-course correction that had been scheduled for 1102 p.m. (IST) had been cancelled.

Nice to get home

Apollo-11 crossed the midway point in time between the moon and its return to earth at 6-47 a.m. (4-17 p.m. IST). At that time, it was about 148,000 miles (238.183 km) from the earth.

Starting their last full day in space and the seventh of their historic flight that conquered the moon, all three men were in excellent health, flight surgeons reported.

Their spacecraft will accelerate as the grip of earth’s gravity gets tighter until they are racing along at 24,000 miles an hour (38,624 kph) when they hit the earth’s atmosphere about 75 miles (120 km) high over Australia.

Earlier. Armstrong summed up the crew’s feelings as they faced just one more full day in space: “No matter where you travel. it’s always nice to get home.”

He explained that the moon samples were closed in vacuum packed containers and were sealed to prevent possible contamination of the earth.

The final television show from Apollo-11 is scheduled on the eve of the astronauts’ home-coming.

As they head for their fiery dash back through the atmosphere. the astronauts may see an unusual number of lights alone the west coast of the United States.

Homes and business houses in several cities have been asked to turn their lights on early tomorrow.

American television watchers last night saw colour pictures of the moon, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, and their scientific equipment in a programme beamed directly from the home-bound spacecraft. They showed their two containers of geological specimens and their apparatus for collecting “solar wind” particles.

In the evening, radio communications between the space control centre here and the Apollo had been cut for 40 minutes, due to a faulty aerial.

When contact was re-established, the Centre announced it had picked up inexplicable and bizarre noises which appeared not to have come from Apollo-11. The noises, which were like those made by a triumphant sports crowd, were similar to those picked up during an earlier Apollo flight and never explained.

Soon after the mid course correction, mission control discovered that Apollo-11 was rotating too rapidly when placed in what is known as the automatic “barbecue mode.”

This entails rotating the spacecraft at the rate of about three revolutions per hour to ensure that no one side of the Apollo-11 is exposed too long to either the heat of the sun or the cold of space.

It was decided to turn off the automatic system and start again or to “recycle” the computer, in space jargon.

When contact was re-established after the short cut, the astronauts calmly responded to another request for a radio check. With “Houston-Apollo-11 how do you read me?”

With relief evident in his voice, Controller McCandless responded: “You’re loud and clear Apollo-11.”

“So, what’s new?” asked Collins. “We were wondering what was new with you up there,” was the reply.

“It’s all very quiet. we’re just sitting letting the thruster (rocket) firings damp down. When it gets good enough just let us know and we’ll start the PTC (passive thermal control-the barbecue roll”).

A little later, the astronauts added: “It’s nice to sit here and watch the earth getting larger and larger and the moon smaller and smaller.”

The astronauts will go into 18 days quarantine in the laboratory on their return as a precaution against any possibly harmful micro-organisms which they might have picked up from the moon.

The total quarantine period is 21 days, but this includes the three days of their flight home. taken from the moment when Eagle rejoined the mother ship Columbia.

The astronauts had only a few light duties left to perform.

The weakest link in the elaborate quarantine comes on Thursday when the spaceship hatch is opened for less than 30 seconds.

It is during that half-minute that lunar organisms, should they exist, would most likely leap from the lungs of the returning spacemen into earth’s atmosphere. “We believe that the danger. If there be any danger, will be from the material that is contained within the astronauts. This is where it will be viable. ‘ said Air Force Col. John Pickering, Director of Lunar Receiving Operations in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) office manned space flight.

The experts feel the precautions are adequate and that while the hatch opening may be the weakest link it did not constitute what they would call “a breach in the quarantine.”

The mission control centre reported that weather in the mid pacific splashdown area. 10 degrees north latitude, 170 west longitude, was “looking good” for the landing and recovery of the space adventurers by the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

Waiting aboard the Hornet will be President Richard Nixon. Mr Nixon will again have to settle for an electronic congratulation of the astronauts. Who will be whisked inside a quarantine facility aboard the carrier as soon as the helicopters which pluck them from the water have landed. He will see them through a window.

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