WYMORE -- With the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon being next month, and talks of man landing on Mars within the next 20 years, there was plenty to discuss during the 32nd annual Sam Wymore Days event themed “To the Moon and Back”.
The Great Plains Welsh Heritage center joined in on the fun by having Julie Allen, a NASA ambassador as well as president of the board of directors for the St. David's Welsh Society of Nebraska, speak about the historic Apollo 11 landing.
“My job as an ambassador is to talk about space and NASA missions, and get people excited about exploring the universe,” Allen said.
Allen played the sound recording of the astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins as they first landed on the moon and announced they could start breathing again.
“The reason they were turning blue is when the LM [lunar module] started to descend, they weren’t in the right place,” Allen said. “As they got closer and closer, there was an absolutely enormous crater that was right where they were going to land. So at the very last minute, Neil Armstrong took manual control of the LM and powered ahead.”
Allen explained that when they were calling out "30 seconds, 20 seconds" and so forth, they were not announcing the time it would take them to land on the moon, but the amount of fuel that they had left.
“So they almost ran out of fuel on that descent,” Allen said. “What’s interesting was when they parked it, it was only 25 feet from another crater. So that was the toughest parking job of all time, I think.”
Allen briefly discussed the backgrounds of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. She said all three astronauts were born in 1930, making them 38 during the moon landing. They were also all Eagle Scouts which, according to NASA roughly 66 percent of astronauts have been scouts or active in scouting.
Allen also discussed the 21-layer, three-piece hand-sewn space suits that they wore, which were made by a division of Playtex that were known for making bras and girdles.
“The engineers were really nervous about working with girdle makers to put their men to space,” Allen said. “There was a huge controversy of whether or not the suits should be hard material or fabric. The part that’s closest to the astronaut’s body looks a lot like a girdle, and it’s some of the same materials.”
The outside of the suits had patches of the NASA logo and a specific Apollo 11 patch, which depict an eagle holding an olive branch above the moon while the Earth lies in the background.
The patch was designed by Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and was the only Apollo patch without the astronauts’ names on it. Allen explained that this was symbolic, as they wanted to recognize everyone who worked on or was interested in the moon landing.
Armstrong’s suit also had a pocket made to collect rocks and dirt, which was the one of the first things he did after exiting the spacecraft.
“They wanted him to grab as much dirt as possible in case something went wrong and they didn’t have time to collect the rocks,” Allen said. “If he had to immediately go back to the LM, he would at least have a pocket-full of rocks.”
That same bag, minus the moon rocks, was sold at an auction in 2017 for 1.8 million dollars.
The astronauts took post card size flags of over 100 nations as well as each state to the moon and back. They were then gifted back to each territory by then President Richard Nixon, accompanied with a moon rock.
In Nebraska, it was given to Governor Norbert Tiemann.
“Mrs. Tiemann took possession of the rock and offered the public eight days to come visit the mansion and see the acquired moon rock,” Allen said. “Very exciting, except then Mrs. Tiemann then promptly lost the moon rock.”
Another rock was sent in 1973, which was also lost.
The rocks were found in 1997 by then first lady Diane Nelson, and are currently in the Nebraska State Museum.
As for what was left on the moon, a plaque was placed signed by the astronauts and Nixon that says “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
“We left two medals for the two Russian astronauts that had died in the space race, Yuri Gargarin and Vladimir Komarov,” Allen said. “We left a patch for the Apollo I astronauts who were killed in a fire. We left a gold olive branch pin, which was the symbol for peace, on the Apollo 11 patch. And we left a recording about the size of a 50-cent piece. It had messages from presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and 73 countries. This was all left in a bag, and it’s still sitting on the moon.”
Roughly 600 million people watched the moon landing.
Nearly 400,000 people worked on the Apollo missions, and the cost was about $25 billion at the time.
Allen discussed some of the devices that resulted from the moon landing.
“We got the CT scan, which was originally used to look at structural integrity of space-going capsules and equipment. We got microchips, cordless tools, the ear thermometer, freeze-dried food – which has improved a bit since then, invisible braces, the joystick for playing games, memory foam, satellite TV, scratch-resistant lenses for our glasses, water filters and the dust buster,” Allen said.
Allen dispelled the popular myths that Tang, Teflon and Velcro were invented by NASA.
Returning to Earth took roughly 44 hours, where the astronauts and anyone that came into contact with them were put in quarantine until it was certain they didn’t bring moon diseases back with them.
“How about saying ‘hi’ to your husband after all of that stress through a window,” Allen said, displaying a picture of the men smiling through a window of the camper they stayed in.
After the moon landing, Collins joined the administrative staff of the Smithsonian, where he worked as an aerospace consultant.
Aldrin officially changed his name to his childhood nickname, Buzz, and started the ShareSpace foundation, which promotes space education and exploration.
Armstrong became an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc. He died of complications from a cardiovascular procedure in 2012.
Their efforts led to more space explorations, themed events like Sam Wymore Days and a memorable experience watching them explore the moon.
Several audience members explained in detail what they did during the moon launch.
“I was at my in-laws’ house, and my son was not quite a year old,” a woman said. “We’re trying to convince him to watch this, because he’ll learn about it in history someday.”