Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In praise of Commander Lovell: The astronaut as philosopher, Oct. 8, at Heritage

Sept. 1, 2009
Posted by Noah

Just read this:

"Well my first chance was interrupted by CSQ requesting a fuel cell purge. Lift off was great... Plenty of engine noise, little vibration - but a definite knowledge of moving up... As the acceleration built up, the horizon came into view - absolutely beautiful - black sky - bright blue band around the horizon and dazzling white clouds... Spacecraft separation accomplished and commencing the turn around... we see sitting majestically behind us - the second stage of the booster. Brilliant silver in the sunshine - venting fuel that forms a million stars around it...

"I can't get over the beauty of the earth from here (a 121-171 orbit). Sunsets are fantastic - all shades of blue... 0g is amazing - I wonder if I will get used to 1g when I get back to earth? This book just floats in front of me when I let go of it...

"Tonite (sic) - flight called up to ask if we wanted to abort the mission... As we were deciding whether to land tomorrow or go to Saturday - the lite(sic) went out and decided it for us. Yes - there is a Santa Claus."

All of the preceding comes from Commander James Lovell's (the Pilot Lovell) personal flight log written during his first space flight, Dec. 4-18, 1965, in what was at that point the longest manned space flight. It will be up for auction as part of the Oct. 8 Space Exploration event here at Heritage, and I can't tell you how much I love these sales…

The log is also, I can pretty much guarantee, the closest you will ever get that kind of amazement and insight into the inner emotional state of any early astronaut - or any astronaut of any period. It is beautiful, moving stuff, for sure; simple and unguarded. The not considered words of a poet, but those of a not-so-ordinary man bearing witness to the whole of creation as it was known - just the earth - and to the astounding possibility of the future as it was unfolding - putting a man on the moon and conquering the stars.

Gemini 7 may have gone on to be eclipsed by the Apollo missions and the successful moon shots, more than a few of which Lovell took subsequent part in. None, however, would ever turn out a piece of ephemera like this one. To think of anything associated with the space program is pretty moving, but the astronauts were not trained to be sensitive. They were trained to be analytical technocrats with infinite capability to do their jobs - and that they were - but for a few brief days, when the moon still lay unconquered and the technology to get there still just a blueprint, Lovell gave voice to the awe and wonder that the entire planet was feeling at the quest. One of the touchstones of the whole human experience is that we can bear witness to our own existence. But bearing witness to the whole of existence, the whole planet? It simply had not been done… Until Lovell took pencil to paper and wrote this extraordinary log.

This is indeed one of the most extraordinary pieces of Space Exploration that you will ever see in your life. It is singular, epic… I may not get to outer space in my lifetime, but if this is as close as I get, then I will die a happy man.

To leave comment, click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

No comments:

Post a Comment