Luna Close Up Burning

Apollo missions were always timed to arrive at their planned landing sites soon after sunrise. If the mission had been planned to set down on the eastern side of the Moon's disk then, from Earth, the Moon would appear as a crescent at the time of landing because the terminator - the line that divides night from day - would also be to the east. A western landing site called for a western terminator, at which time the Moon would appear gibbous, or approaching full. In all cases, the spacecraft flew over a night-time Moon soon after they lost contact with Earth in the run up to LOI. In most cases, they would not be able to view the Moon close up until after this burn was completed.

Apollo 8 was the pioneer of human travel to the Moon, and although they did not intend to land, they were to reconnoitre an easterly landing site in Mare Tranquillitatis under planned lighting conditions with a sunrise terminator. This meant that having approached the Moon through the lunar night, they could hope to cross the sunset terminator and fly back into daylight around the far side barely 5 minutes before they were to fire the LOI burn. Frank Borman, peering out of a rear-facing spacecraft, was hoping to see some sign of a lunar horizon to crosscheck his attitude, even if only by seeing a part of the sky that lacked stars.

''On that horizon, boy, I can't see squat out there.''

Bill Anders suggested that they turn some lights off to help him to see some trace of the lunar surface. As they were flying heads-down, their large windows were looking off to the side and below and even though they were fogged, a sunlit lunar surface ought to have been visible. Then Lovell piped up: ''Hey, I got the Moon.''

For the first time in the mission, the crew could see shafts of sunlight obliquely illuminating the lunar surface.

When Anders managed to catch his first view of the forbidding, harsh landscape, he let out his astonishment. ''Oh, my God!''

His commander, who was focused on the preparations for the burn, was brought up short by this utterance, most uncharacteristic of a test pilot.

''Look at that!'' Anders exclaimed again. His commander was more concerned that, at a critical phase of the mission, his crewmates were being distracted by the unreal scenery passing below.

''Well, come on - Let's - What's, what's the...'' said Borman, working to bring the crew back onto the task in hand. Lovell immediately got into line, calling out the mission time.

For the next minute, the crew's concentration returned to the checks and calls defined in their checklists. Yet with 3 minutes remaining, Anders's attention returned to the scenery below. ''Look at that - fantastic!''

''See it?'' continued Anders. The curious scientist in him was dominating.

''Fantastic, but you know, I still have trouble telling the holes from the bumps.''

Borman, whose main responsibility was to 'keep the troops focused', had to gently chide his crewmates to keep their eyes inside the cabin.

''All right, all right, come on. You're going to look at that for a long time.''

And they did, for 20 full and tiring hours followed by an important burn to get them home.

The Apollo 10 crew experienced the same dynamic with the LMP Eugene Cernan having opportunities to see out while his commander Tom Stafford and the CMP John Young exchanged checklist calls.

''Look at the size of...,'' he exclaimed in the middle of his colleagues' dry technical checks. ''God, that Moon is beautiful; we're right on top of it...''

''Oh shit!" was Stafford's reaction. Cernan continued, ''God dang. We're right on top of it. I can see it.''

Stafford began telling Young what was out of his window on the left. ''Oh, shit; John! It looks like a big plaster-of-paris cast.''

With less than 2 minutes to their LOI burn, Stafford's sense of responsibility reasserted itself. ''Ok, let's get busy,'' he called to his crew.

For some time, their procedures took precedence until Cernan's curiosity bubbled up again. ''My God, that's incredible,'' he said as the very rough, obliquely-lit landscape of the far side slid below in wonderment. ''It looks like we're close,'' said Stafford. ''That's incredible,'' interrupted Cernan.

''It does look like we're - well, we're about 60 [nautical] miles, I guess.'' And they were. With only a minute to go, the spacecraft was at its perilune of 110 kilometres and Stafford and Cernan were again getting caught up in the view. ''Shit, baby; we have arrived - It's a big grey plaster-of-paris thing. . .'' ''Oh, my God, that's incredible," Cernan interjected.

''Okay, let's keep going; we've got to watch this bear here,'' said Stafford, referring to the strength of the engine about to keep them in the Moon's arms. Eventually, it was the ever-cool Young who reeled the moonstruck Cernan back in. ''Put your head back in the cockpit, Gene-o.''

''Look at that!'' was the final spurt of wonder that came from Cernan before he began helping to monitor the health of the engine on which their lives depended.

Each crew reacted differently to their initial view of the Moon. Apollo 11's crew were very focused during their preparations for LOI, making little comment on anything but the health of their ship until the last few seconds before the burn. Then Mike Collins, the most gregarious of the three, threw in an observation: ''Yes, the Moon is there, boy, in all its splendour.''

Neil Armstrong started into conversation, ''Man, it's a...,'' before Collins interrupted, ''Plaster-of-paris grey to me.''

Buzz Aldrin felt moved to speak. ''Man, look at it,'' before Armstrong, maintaining the mantle of his command, advised, ''Don't look at it; here we come up to tig [time of ignition].''

Apollo 11 began its entry into lunar orbit and the crew chatted about tank pressures, propellant utilisation and how much their engine was moving from side to side controlling its aim, wondering whether there might be a problem with it. Two minutes into the burn, Armstrong suggested that Aldrin might like to enjoy the view. ''Look, okay, over there, Buzz?''

''Man, I'm not going to look at them.'' replied Aldrin, lacking the enthusiasm of the previous two LMPs. Armstrong stuck with Aldrin's viewpoint. ''Alright. Probably a good rule.''

The crew concentrated on the rest of the burn and the activities that followed; power-down, backing out of the armed status of the SPS engine and setting up the spacecraft for coasting flight again. Only then did any of them relax enough to take in the scene. Armstrong was first to comment: ''That was a beautiful burn.'' Collins agreed, ''God damn, I guess.''

''Whoo!'' exhaled Aldrin, before making an initial observation. ''Well, I have to vote with the [Apollo] 10 crew. That thing is brown.''

There had been some debate and contradiction between the first two flights about what colour the Moon appeared to be close up. The Apollo 8 crew had reported nothing but grey, whereas the Apollo 10 crew thought that tans and browns were common. Armstrong and Collins agreed with them but took their observations further.

''Looks tan to me,'' observed the commander before Aldrin qualified himself.

''But when I first saw it, at the other sun angle. . .''

''It looked grey,'' interjected Collins.

The last word goes to John Young when he arrived at the Moon for the second time on Apollo 16. Soon after their first AOS, Young described his crewmates' reaction to the scenery: ''It's like three guys, they've each got a window, and we're staring at the ground. Boy, this has got to be the neatest way to make a living anybody's ever invented.''

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