Men on the Moon
If you were old enough on July 20, 1969, you must have been among the 600 million people to watch as the spacecraft Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. However, despite the excitement surrounding this milestone for humanity, it has long been debated whether the moon landing was real or not.
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second person to walk on the Moon after Neil Armstrong, has opened up about the moon landing’s famous photographs and raised speculation far and wide. The renowned astronaut’s phrasing fueled conspiracy theories and created renewed controversy regarding this fifty-year-old feat.
Do You Believe?
Aldrin’s confessions regarding the trip to the Moon were mainly about the photographs snapped during the mission. Neil Armstrong shot all the still pictures during their venture to the Moon. The photos were taken on a semiautomatic Hasselblad camera with a handle added by NASA to help him hold the camera in his spacesuit.
However, many people believe that Armstrong and Aldrin didn’t actually go to the Moon. Conspiracy theorists have pointed out discrepancies in the photographs supposedly shot on the Moon. Others have alleged that NASA hired director Stanley Kubrick to fake the entire thing.
Stars and Stripes Forever
It is so easy to develop theories about the moon landing because the primary evidence of the trip is the pictures the astronauts took during their twenty-one hours on the Moon. For instance, there is an iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin’s first footprints on the Moon’s ground.
Furthermore, there is the eternally influential snapshot of Aldrin standing beside the Stars and Stripes of the American flag the two moonwalkers put on the lunar surface. There are barely any photos of Neil Armstrong himself walking on the Moon because he was mainly behind the camera.
Buzz Generated by Buzz
However, the snapshot that created the most buzz is a photograph of Buzz Aldrin walking towards the camera with the reflection of Neil Armstrong and the lunar landing module, Eagle in his visor. The rumors about the photo were actually incited by something that Aldrin accidentally said himself.
Many people were already sure that the U.S. government and NASA had faked the moon landing. They believed that the U.S. wanted to better the Soviet Union in the race to space and prove themselves the dominant superpower of the Cold War and that reaching the Moon would help.
So Well Staged
The astronaut’s fateful misstep occurred during an interview at the London Science Museum in 2016. The discussion covered many subjects, one of them the visor reflection photo from Buzz and Neil’s mission to the Moon. When questioned about the seminal image, Aldrin said that the picture had been “so well staged.”
This sentence fragment was taken as an admission that the moon landing itself had been faked or staged. Buzz actually meant that Neil was a great photographer and knew how to direct his subjects and catch excellent snapshots. Maybe he should have phrased himself better.
Fly Me to the Moon
Conspiracy theorists took his phrasing to mean that the Moon landing was really a “well staged” hoax. Many people believed that he was confirming their suspicions that the whole mission was directed by Kubrick and done only to uphold John F. Kennedy’s 1961 promise.
The late president was assassinated in 1963, but two years earlier had promised that America would get a man to the Moon by the end of the decade. J.F.K had explained that the U.S. was choosing to fly to the Moon, not despite but because it was an expensive and risky challenge.
Cold War Contests
Some conspiracists delved deep into Cold War politics and tried to prove that the moon landing was a hoax meant to get back at the U.S.S.R. The clash between the capitalist and communist superpowers had caused wars to break out in allying countries and much blood to be shed in the name of ideology.
Buzz Aldrin himself had been a jet fighter pilot in the Korean War, and Neil Armstrong had been a Navy combat pilot. Theorists took their military affiliation as further proof that the two astronauts were part of what they thought was an elaborate hoax.
The Race to Space
John F. Kennedy gave his speech about America’s intentions to reach the Moon after the Soviet Union was already beating them badly. Far ahead in the race to space, the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, Earth’s first orbiting satellite, back in 1957. But that wasn’t all.
Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, was the first human in outer space, successfully journeying out of Earth’s atmosphere before anyone else. He orbited the planet in the Vostok 1 capsule on April 22, 1961. Suspiciously, just one month later, J.F.K. made his famous pledge that the U.S. would be first on the Moon.
A Presidential Pledge
Despite being motivated by the Soviet’s success, the president’s promise was followed by an acceleration of the space program. Throughout most of the 1960s, the main accomplishments of NASA were called the Gemini missions. Buzz Aldrin himself was an astronaut in the 1966 Gemini XII mission.
The twelfth Gemini mission proved to be the final one, but NASA had perfected various vital techniques to be used in the future of space travel. For instance, Gemini 12 achieved its goal of proving that astronauts can work outside of the spacecraft, and Aldrin became the first person to complete umbilical EVA successfully.
Houston, We Have a Problem
After the success of the Gemini program, NASA launched the Apollo program, meant to land human beings on the Moon successfully. However, things got off to a rocky start when Apollo 1 failed and ended with three casualties caused by a cabin fire.
The fire happened in January 1967 during a launch test at Cape Kennedy, Florida, now called Cape Canaveral. After the disaster, NASA convened and tried to determine the cause of the fire and make sure that it wouldn’t happen again. The following three Apollo missions were uncrewed to ensure that the spacecraft was safe.
Orbiting The Earth
In 1968 NASA okayed another crewed flight, the Apollo 7 mission. The three-person crew successfully launched and were able to orbit planet Earth 163 times. Apollo 7 was also the first American space mission that transmitted photos back to the public that were shown live on television.
Apollo missions 8 and 9 were also crewed spaceflights. Each one came closer to successfully landing on the Moon, and Apollo 10 was a complete mission to the Moon except for the final descent onto the lunar surface. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Apollo 11 that humankind would make that seminal step forward.
Just the Three of Them
The first crewed moon landing was the Apollo 11 mission which was broadcasted live on television worldwide. The three fateful crew members that flew to space in 1969 were lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, Commander Neil Armstrong, and Command module pilot Michael Collins.
The lunar module was the aircraft that would disconnect and fly Buzz and Neil to the Moon and back to the Command module, which after orbiting the Moon for 21 hours, would fly the three men back to Earth. The Command module was called Columbia, and the lunar module was named Eagle.
Get Ready for Takeoff
On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida, with the help of the Saturn V, which is the tallest, heaviest, most powerful launch vehicle ever used to date. It is the only launch vehicle in history to take humans beyond low earth orbit.
Approximately one million people watched the launch from highways and beaches near Cape Canaveral. Among them were the families and friends of the three brave astronauts taking off into outer space. Despite the firsthand accounts, the millions of eyewitnesses, and the live television broadcast, conspiracists remain adamant that it was all faked.
To the Moon and Back
The spaceship left planet Earth’s atmosphere and headed in the direction of the Moon. The Saturn V had blasted the spacecraft off the ground using its first module, which stayed on the ground. The launch vehicle had helped them through the Earth’s stratosphere with its second module.
The third module of the Saturn V remained with the spacecraft and powered them toward the Moon. It looked to the nervous speculators as if the Apollo mission was well on its way to the Moon. However, many theorists would still say otherwise, sure their own eyes were deceiving them.
To Infinity and Beyond!
Around three hours following the initial launch, a vital part of the mission ensued; the astronauts needed to disconnect the Apollo modules from their launch vehicle, the Saturn V rocket. Furthermore, they had to separate Columbus, the Commander module, from Eagle, the lunar module.
After disconnecting, the two Apollo modules had to reconnect in the correct configuration and continue their ascent to the Moon. They achieved their re-docking successfully, and about two days later, the spacecraft began to orbit the Moon while Neil and Buzz started preparing for their descent to the beautiful orb.
The Eagle Sets Flight
Early in the morning on July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong climbed inside Eagle, the lunar module, and Aldrin proceeded to pilot them towards the Moon’s glowing surface. The three astronauts had orbited the Moon twelve times and were prepared to begin their historical descent.
Meanwhile, Aldrin and Armstrong left Michael Collins to continue alone in his lunar orbit, circling the sphere repeatedly until they returned. Collins orbited the Moon thirty times while his fellow flight mates got to walk on the Moon; it’s admirable that he took one for the team like that.
The Eagle Leaves the Nest
To successfully land on the Moon, the pilots had to maneuver the Eagle out of the standard orbit it was in and into an elliptical orbit. Doing so would take them 50,000 feet from the surface of the orb. Once they successfully achieved that step, they could use the lunar module’s engine and begin a controlled descent.
When the two were just five hundred feet from the Moon’s surface, they switched to manual controls and directed the module to land safely. Collins looked on and inspected the Eagle from abroad Columbia, making sure the lunar module wasn’t damaged.
The Eagle Has Landed
The Eagle had traveled a little too fast to the Moon’s surface but thankfully landed without a hitch. Upon landing, Neil Armstrong transmitted the famous words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” The two first men to land on the Moon were supposed to rest for five hours before exiting the aircraft.
However, they were both too excited to sleep and instead started getting ready to go out and step where no man had before them. So instead, the two men rested for two hours and then began their preparations for EVA.
The Sea of Tranquility
Getting ready to go outside took them three and a half hours. Then finally, approximately 110 hours after departing his home planet, Neil Armstrong stepped outside the Eagle onto the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. The Sea of Tranquility’s terrain was rocky and rough, but Armstrong couldn’t see his feet because of all the equipment he carried.
It was during the first hour outside that he stepped off of the spacecraft’s footpad and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong admitted that he had intended to convey “for a man” and not “for man.”
One Small Step for Man
Nineteen minutes following Neil’s descent down the Eagle’s ladder and the first step onto the Moon, Buzz did the same, describing the Moon’s view as “magnificent desolation.” Meanwhile, Armstrong had set up the television camera and transmitted the mission’s events live to millions of television sets on Earth.
The astronauts proceeded to explore the Moon’s surface, first collecting some moon dust in case of an emergency return to the aircraft and then beginning to document their journey. They described the fine dust as slippery and agreed that loping was the best way to move around.
Photoshoot on The Moon
Armstrong and Aldrin spent twenty-one and a half hours on the Moon’s surface before returning to the Columbus Command module. While they walked around the Moon, they documented with a video camera and a stills camera, taking some of the most famous photographs of all time.
However, the photos have both been used as proof that the moon landing occurred and as proof that it did not. Those determined to prove the latter have pointed out several inconsistencies in the images. They claim that these anomalies support their allegations that the filming took place in a studio.
Theories of The Moon-Truthers
Conspiracy theorists that call themselves “Moon Truthers” have been attempting to use the supposed discrepancies in Armstrong’s moon photography as proof that the event was staged for over fifty years. For instance, they insist that this photo of Earth from the Moon is not genuine.
Since the Moon’s shadow on Earth is not parallel to the ground on the Moon, “Moon Truthers” believe that studio lighting was used and caused this trick of the light. However, experts have reviewed this claim and found it to be preposterous, and rejected it completely.
A Matter of Perspective
The Director of the British National Space Academy, Professor Anu Ojha, has publicly explained the shadows on Earth’s surface in the photo. He has easily made it clear that the shadows are caused by perspective, which also affects our view here on Earth.
As any art student knows, when attempting to draw something with a realistic perspective, parallel lines must appear to be non-parallel. However, many people were not convinced by Anu Ojha’s explanation or by the confusing rules of perspective and still remained adamant that the landing was staged and the photos faked.
When You Wish Upon a Star
Ojha further elaborated that when attempting to reduce a three-dimensional situation onto a two-dimensional plane, lines always do weird things and don’t remain straight. The professor explained that the artists have been using perspective since the earliest days of the Italian Renaissance.
Ojha also debunked another allegation claiming that the moon landing was fake. “Moon Truthers” believe that the whole ordeal was made up because of the lack of stars in the sky of Armstrong’s photographs. How could Buzz and Neil be in outer space if there are no stars in the sky?
Blowin’ in the Wind
In spite of the valid point made by conspiracists, Ojha was able to debunk their theory again quickly. The professor reminded the public that the photographs on the Moon had been taken during the day and that the Sun’s light ensured that stars would not be visible.
However, the “Moon Truthers” had more theories up their sleeves, having thoroughly inspected every photograph. They called out to the fact that the American flag in the photos appears to be blowing in a breeze. But since there is no wind on the Moon, therefore the image must be fabricated.
Too Much Information
But, according to NASA, the flag has a stiffened pole inside its top to keep it upright. Furthermore, the waves and wrinkles are simply because the flag was folded up and rumpled for days in the spacecraft. It appears that everything is easily explained.
As Professor Ojha himself asserted, the internet is full of unlimited information, and it is hard to know what is true and what isn’t. He explained that aside from critical thinking skills and scientific experiments, it is hard for people to differentiate between fact and fiction.
Buzz’s Bubbling Temper
Buzz Aldrin isn’t as calm and collected when it comes to dealing with conspiracy theorists who deny the truth of the moon landing. The astronaut is known for getting extremely agitated when confronted by “Moon Truthers,” this is understandable, considering they are essentially calling him a fraud.
Aldrin’s life’s work was to be an astronaut, and he is one of the first few brave people to have reached space. So naturally, he would become annoyed when people say that his most outstanding achievement was a hoax. However, Buzz really lost his temper when encountering one determined “Moon Truther.”
Lured Under False Pretenses
The person who made Aldrin so angry was named Bart Sibrel. At the time of the incident, in 2002, Sibrel was a thirty-seven-year-old man; he weighed approximately two hundred and fifty pounds and was around six feet and two inches tall. Aldrin, at the time, was seventy-two years old and way smaller than Sibrel.
Sibrel lured Buzz Aldrin to a hotel in Beverley Hills, California, under false pretenses. The conspiracist was planning on confronting the astronaut on film for his documentary movies about how and why the moon landing was faked. He’d already accosted other astronauts to do the same.
Knocked His Lights Out
When Buzz was walking around the hotel, with his stepdaughter in toe, he was confronted by the conspiracy theorist. Bart Sibrel approached Aldrin, demanding that he swear on the Holy Bible that he had honestly and sincerely flown to the Moon. However, Aldrin did not play along.
The second man on the Moon punched Sibrel in the face and knocked the lights out of him. Bart had not seen that reaction coming and was caught off guard. Aldrin claimed that the other man had poked him aggressively with the Bible, evoking his response.
Never Saw It Coming
Later, Sibrel admitted to the St. Petersburg Times that Aldrin was a very good punch. He also said that he thought it was pretty foolish of the famed astronaut to punch him with two video cameras filming them. Sibrel said that Buzz’s punch came at him so quickly that he didn’t see it coming.
Beverly Hills police looked into the incident, but Sibrel quickly dropped charges after eyewitnesses backed up Aldrin’s allegation that the filmmaker had poked him with the Bible. The case was closed, and Aldrin’s punch was concluded to have been thrown in self-defense.
All The Worlds a Stage
When interviewed in February 2016 at the Science Museum in London, England, Buzz Aldrin was much more amicable and forthcoming. The 2016 Q&A was hosted by Professor Brian Cox of the University of Manchester. The professor is also known for his work as a television presenter.
The two covered many subjects, from the Moon to colonizing Mars in the future. During this interview, Buzz made his misphrased statement and used the word “staged” when discussing the visor photograph from the moon landing. His slip-up caused many moon landing theories to become refueled and strengthened.
The Best-Known Photos
Cox and Aldrin also went into great detail regarding the photographs of Buzz that were taken on the Moon. He went down memory lane, remembering the first space selfie he had taken aboard the Gemini Twelve. He also spoke about the iconic photograph of him walking on the Moon with Neil’s reflection in his visor.
Buzz praised Neil for being a great photographer. He remembered that he had been walking towards his partner when Neil had told him to stop mid-stride and snapped the photograph. That explains why it looks like he is moving forward in the shot.
It Had to Be You
Cox stated that the visor image was probably the most famous of all the images taken on the Moon and was utterly enamored by the photo. He also mentioned a widespread misconception regarding the image, acknowledging that most people assume it is a photo of Armstrong, when in fact, it is of Aldrin.
Neil Armstrong appears in the photo as well; however, he is but a tiny reflection in Aldrin’s visor. Neil is seen clearly in the reflection standing beside the lunar module and holding the camera at his chest where it was attached to his spacesuit.
Walking On the Moon
Cox continued to praise the photograph calling it the most iconic photo in human history. In response, Aldrin continued to reminisce about the moment when the picture was taken. He even mimed in out, explaining that he was walking along, mimicking a walking man with his fingers.
Aldrin recalled Armstrong yelling out to him, “Hey, stop,” after which he paused while walking and looked up at his Commander. Neil snapped the picture right away, taking advantage of the perfect frame. Little did they know that later the photo would be considered the most iconic image of all time.
The Wrong Phrase
Aldrin then went on to say that people often ask him about the image because it is “so well staged.” He explained that they call it the visor picture due to the reflection of Neil and the lunar module in his visor. Buzz hadn’t even realized that he had just said the wrong phrase.
He had no idea that conspiracy theorists worldwide would take his words out of context and read them as an admittance of falsifying the moon landing. People went as far as to say that the esteemed astronaut was confessing to having staged the whole thing.
Location, Location, Location
Oblivious to his mistake Aldrin went on to joke about the iconic photo, saying that when people ask him how it came out so perfect, he tells them three simple words “location, location, location.” His joke drew out quite the laugh from Cox and the audience.
One can only assume that Buzz had used the “location” joke in the past. The famous and renowned man has been speaking publicly about his accomplishments and experience for over fifty years. How did he manage to slip so naively and say that the photo was “so well staged?”
Fuel For Conspiracy
Buzz’s innocent words can easily be removed from the context in which they were said and used as fuel for conspiracy theories. The Daily Express, a British newspaper, headed an article written in July 2020 with the words, “Buzz Aldrin admits ‘it was so well staged.'”
Just by using the word “admits” before quoting Aldrin’s phrasing, frames his words as a confession. They titled another article with an even more incriminating headline ” ‘It was so well staged!’ Buzz Aldrin’s Moon landing confession revealed after 50 years,” making it sound as though he was admitting the entire moon landing was staged.
Easy to Manipulate
When Buzz Aldrin’s words are removed from their photography context and applied to the moon landing as a whole, it is easy to make it sound as if the man was admitting that the landing was a hoax. However, it is doubtful that Aldrin would admit to such a thing even if it were true.
Some would claim that Aldrin doesn’t want to continue living a lie in his old age and therefore exposed the whole operation. If that were the case, some secret branch of the government would have killed him by now to protect the confidential information.
Huzlers Fake Confession
A similar assertion was used in a prank article from 2014 on the website Huzlers. The self-proclaimed fake news website published an article claiming that Aldrin had tweeted that the moon landing was completely fake and all staged on a set.
Huzlers wrote that Twitter removed the post after being pressured by the CIA. The website went on to say that Aldrin had confessed that he was ashamed and couldn’t take it anymore. Unfortunately, readers didn’t know that the Huzlers website has “a combination of real shocking news and satire news to keep its visitors in a state of disbelief.”
Fake News Travels Fast
After this 2014 article, “Moon Truthers” again began to speculate and spread the fake news about Aldrin’s confession throughout social media; they must have forgotten to read the small print. Funny that those who were so sure that the moon landing was faked were so easily tricked by fake news.
It is a well-known fact that Americans love conspiracy theories and that everyone is entitled to have their own ridiculous opinions. However, if you do think that the Moon landings were a hoax, please refrain from mentioning your opinion to Buzz Aldrin – unless you want the lights knocked out of you.
Still Venturing to Outer Space
Despite the many theories claiming that space travel is fabricated, humans are still venturing to outer space today. For instance, SpaceX’s Demo-2 test flight mission recently made history in May 2020, when it became the first commercially operated and constructed spaceship to bring humans to the International Space Station.
SpaceX is a private company that was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, who acts as CEO and chief engineer. The main goal of SpaceX is to reduce the cost of space travel to enable human colonization of Mars. Musk is also an owner of Tesla and other innovative tech companies.
Privately Funded Space Travel
SpaceX Demo-2 was a quest that achieved so many firsts. Among its novelties, the flight was the first to land in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, it was the first time since 2010 that U.S. astronauts launched into space from United States soil. They launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
However, the most significant first of the whole mission was that it was a commercial spaceflight and privately funded. There is a distinct possibility that the mission’s commercial nature is what caused the astronauts to face grave danger upon their return to planet earth.
Sponsored By SpaceX
Never in history had a private corporation blasted humans into space. Of course, the whole launch was done in agreement and collaboration with NASA. However, all of the hardware was designed and developed privately by SpaceX’s engineers. Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, called the mission extraordinary.
SpaceX’s team of engineers were sure that they had dealt with every single potential danger when planning the Demi-2 mission. However, these engineering geniuses missed something. A deadly and unforeseen threat was exposed as the mission moved forward, putting the lives of the spacecraft’s astronauts in the balance.
Life On Mars?
Shotwell, who is also SpaceX’s chief operating officer, expressed that the Demi-2 mission was just the beginning and that the company plans to transport humans to space regularly. The goal is to travel to and from low Earth orbit before moving on to the Moon and Mars.
Musk and Shotwell hope to live to see human life on Mars, estimating that it may be possible by 2040. They have soaring ambitions; however, their confidence might be less high since the debacle that happened during the Demi-2 landing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Elon Musk’s Dragon
Elon Musk’s pioneering corporation currently has over 6,0000 employees working towards improving commercial space travel. The company’s Dragon 2 spaceship is a unique feat of engineering. So far, it has successfully launched two astronauts into space; the coolest part about it is that it’s a reusable spacecraft.
Furthermore, the Dragon 2 is the only contemporary spacecraft that can bring back large cargo to Earth. So far, the Dragon 2 is also the first and only private craft that has transported human beings to the I.S.S., or the International Space Station, and back to Earth.
Men Are from Mars
NASA also has high ambitions for the future of space travel. Jim Bridenstine, the former National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s administrator, explained that launching commercial air travel is a phenomenal way to demonstrate the excellence of the United States of America, pledging NASA’s support of SpaceX’s endeavors.
Bridenstine went on to acknowledge the importance of privatized space travel for the future of space exploration. It has become abundantly clear that without private funding, it is unlikely that the U.S. will ever put a man on Mars, or the Moon again for that matter.
Ready, Steady, Go
The SpaceX Demo-2 mission launched the SpaceX Crew Dragon into space, using the Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle and rocket. The Falcon 9 is also partially reusable; one reason why SpaceX’s developments are supposed to reduce the costs of space travel is that they are reusable and therefore cheaper in the long run.
On May 30, 2020, the Dragon 2 took off into space, launched by the Falcon 9. The two men onboard were Robert ‘Bob’ Behnken and Douglas Hurley, both American astronauts. Hurley and Behnken respectively took part in the last four space shuttle missions before joining SpaceX.
International Space Station
The Dragon 2’s flight goal was crystal clear; the spacecraft had to transport two humans to the International Space Station and back successfully and prove that it was a safe spaceship. Part of docking on the I.S.S. was also being able to orbit Earth. The astronauts named their capsule Endeavor.
The launch was successful, and the two men set off towards the ISS. After nineteen hours aboard the spacecraft, Endeavor neared the space station. On May 31, the astronauts proved that the Dragon 2 could dock onto the ISS; there, they joined the three-person crew aboard the station.
Certified By the Space Administration
Clearly, because of its name, the SpaceX Demo-2 was actually the second test launch of the Dragon. The Demo-2 was the landmark launch because it was the first flight to have humans on board; the previous one had been an uncrewed mission.
The Demo-2 also had a larger goal than to reach the ISS successfully. The flight was SpaceX’s chance to get certified by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. If they could gain certification, the Dragon 2 would be officially allowed to make future crewed trips to the International Space Station.
Aiming High Up to Space
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, or C.P.P., was created to assist in the development of making American space transportation commercial. Furthermore, the C.P.P. was formed to aid private companies in reaching their goal of developing safe enough spaceships for human crews to travel to space commercially.
NASA pledged to assist private companies in achieving reliable and cost-effective results. They had the end ambition of allowing private corporations to build spaceships that would eventually low Earth orbit and fly to the International Space Station. Commercial transportation to the ISS will help NASA expand the utility and create opportunities for further galactic discoveries.
Reach For the Stars
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and husband of Grimes, admitted after the Demo-2 launch that it was a dream come true for him and his company. He explained how hard everyone at SpaceX had worked to make it happen and thanked NASA for their help with the momentous project.
Musk went on to say that around 100,000 people had helped the project launch, whether by directly taking part or not. Elon has expressed that he “can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” After reaching for the stars, Musk had finally succeeded.
Can’t Control the Weather
SpaceX’s Demo- 2 flight, was an exciting moment for the future of space travel. However, the project ended up having its fair share of problems. Firstly, the original plan was for the launch to happen in July 2019, but due to an anomaly, the Crew Dragon Demo-1 was destroyed, and the problem needed to be fixed before a crew boarded the Dragon.
Secondly, the launch was scheduled to happen three days before it did and was postponed due to dangerous climate conditions in Florida. No matter what humans have achieved in space, we still can’t control the weather here on Earth.
All Aboard the Orbiting Lab
Finally, on May 30, 2020, the Dragon 2 successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The next day they docked on ISS and joined their fellow American astronaut, Christopher Cassidy, and two Russian cosmonauts named Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
Docking safely at the International Space Station was just the beginning of Behnken and Hurley’s mission. The next step was to live and work aboard NASA’s orbiting laboratory, or the ISS. They stayed there for sixty-two days, working alongside the crew of Expedition 63. After that, they still needed to return to Earth safely.
Crew Earth Observations Study
During their two months aboard the International Space Station, Behnken and Hurley spent more than one hundred hours doing science experiments. Over those sixty-two days, they traveled 27 million miles and orbited Earth 1024 times. Bob Behnken also went on four spacewalks with Chris Cassidy of Expedition 63.
The astronauts took a lot of photographs of the crew on the ISS. They also snapped pictures of Earth from space to add to the Crew Earth Observations study project. The project is meant to record how the Earth has changed over time due to urban growth, climate change, and natural disasters.
Fly Away Home
When they had completed their tasks on ISS, the two men were ready to fly away home. It was time to learn if the SpaceX Dragon 2 could bring its crew back to Earth as successfully as it had brought them to space.
Garrett Reisman, a retired NASA astronaut, explained that they were only halfway done according to the laws of physics. He elaborated that all the energy required to launch an aircraft needs to be deployed again to bring one back to Earth. Thus began the last stretch of their test.
Slow Down You Crazy Capsule
After reviewing seven different landing site options, one was declared the safest. The landing spot scheduled for the reentry of the capsule to Earth was a site off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico. The only question remaining was, would Endeavor make a successful water landing.
On August 2, 2020, after spending two whole months in space, Hurley and Behnken flew towards the Earth’s atmosphere at the terrifying speed of 17,500 miles per hour. How is it possible to get an essentially free-falling aircraft to gear back and fall at a slower pace?
Successful Water Landing
The trick to slowing down is to shed the 6,400-pound disposable trunk attached to the capsule, which they successfully did. That way, upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, the space shuttle began to drag, and its speed went down to 350 mph: fifty times slower than before.
However, 350 miles an hour is still pretty fast, so in order to further slow down the capsule, parachutes were released, and they landed in the Gulf of Mexico. It seemed as if they were home-free, but that was not the case. One final hurdle stood in the astronaut’s way to safety.
Mexico, We Have a Problem
Oddly enough, the Crew Dragon Demo-2 had made it to space and back without a hitch, but once they arrived on Earth, things got messy. One would expect that out of all the risks and potential problems, anticipating and fixing anything related to our home planet would be the easiest to do.
It seems, however, that this was not the case, and even here on Earth, genius engineers and astronauts can be taken by surprise. What ended up going wrong was completely and foolishly unanticipated by anyone who had organized the flight.
Surrounded By Boats
The problem was caused, in a word, by people. The space flights organizers and the many viewers watching on television were shocked when the capsule was immediately surrounded by civilian leisure boats after landing in the water. They created a massive problem as it was a safety hazard.
No one had expected people to be so foolish as to go near a spacecraft having just landed on Earth. Any number of things could go wrong, and sailing near the Dragon 2 was extremely unintelligent, and the people were putting themselves and others at risk.
Taken by Surprise
Due to the commercial nature of the mission, spectators were less respectful of regulations and boundaries regarding the safety and privacy of the spacecraft. If the launch and reentry had been government exercises, it is possible that people would have been warier, not wanting to get in trouble with the law.
However, NASA and SpaceX were taken by surprise. Jim Bridenstine said that NASA hadn’t anticipated so much attention so quickly. He and his colleagues had been shocked that the boats had just sailed towards the spacecraft as it bobbed in the gulf.
What Went Wrong?
Until the boats arrived, the landing had been going well. Behnken and Hurley hadn’t experienced any adverse reactions during their swift descent. Furthermore, according to plan, the ship scheduled to recover the two men arrived at the landing site right on time. But something wasn’t right.
The Coast Guard claimed that clearing the area had been completed efficiently. They must not have done a good enough job, ensuring that no one would come near if, after no time, boats filled the landing waters. Officials explained that the crowd of onlookers could have easily impeded rescue efforts.
Making the Job Harder
No one had expected people to disobey the Coast Guard’s warnings and make a beeline for a hazardous area. NASA and SpaceX officials admitted needing to do better next time and even said that they would establish a better policed to entry zone in the case of future water landings.
However pesky and hazardous the leisure boats were, they were not the only problem. There was a much graver danger on the horizon that would make the recovery crew’s job more dangerous than they had bargained for; no one knew what lay ahead.
Bystanders in Grave Danger
The SpaceX recovery crew finally managed to get through the onlookers, and most of them dispersed. The staff then proceeded to make their way to the capsule and started to extract the astronauts. Meanwhile, the civilian boats hovered close by, trying to watch the events from a little further off.
Despite efforts made by NASA and SpaceX, the people wouldn’t leave, and the companies’ boards tried to think of what to do. These bystanders were inadvertently putting themselves in grave danger. How could they know what would happen next when even SpaceX and NASA didn’t anticipate the following hazard?
Deadly and Toxic Fumes
Little did they know, toxic fumes were surrounding the returned capsule. The fumes could even kill people if inhaled and were potentially oxidizable gases. The combination of the leisure boats, the efforts to remove them, and the dangerous toxic fumes could have ended in irreversible damage and death to crew and civilians.
What caused these hazardous gases to be released and to create deadly fumes around the capsule? The fumes had essentially escaped from a mixture of fuel and oxidizer, used to propel the space capsule towards planet earth during descent.
What Was the Hazard?
Called nitrogen tetroxide or NTO, the substance is liquid and has a reddish-brown color. It releases an unpleasant and sharp chemical odor. Nitrogen tetroxide is highly dangerous because of its acute toxicity and irritant properties. The substance’s poisonous brown vapors can cause eye damage, drowsiness, dizziness, and death.
Furthermore, when exposed to fire or heat, NTO can erupt violently, rupture, and its containers can even rocket. The same properties that allow the substance to propel rockets into space are also life-threatening when encountered in an uncontrolled situation or environment.
The Fumes Can Kill
Nitrogen tetroxide isn’t initially life-threatening, but if it evolves into brown vapor, it can kill a person, even if they only inhaled a small amount, because the vapors cause fluid to build up in the lungs. Worst of all, water acts as a reactor for NTO.
When the recovery crew’s boat finally reached the craft, the staff detected the presence of nitrogen tetroxide fuming outside the capsule. The brave team proceeded to purge the area of the substance, and then all they could do was wait before attempting to extract the astronauts so as not to endanger them.
A Serious Fail
However, neither the rescue crew, SpaceX, NASA, or the United States Coast Guard had complete control over the civilian boats hovering nearby. Luckily, the dangerous fumes were within limits, according to Steve Stich, the manager of the Commercial Crew Program. The vapors could have led to civilian casualties.
Imagine the catastrophe if innocent bystanders had been killed by toxic vapors caused by the first successful commercial space travel carrying crew members. The failure would have seriously impacted the future of privatized space travel, possibly ended this new frontier before it officially started.
Admitting Their Mistakes
Stich explained that there was a faulty part in the spacecraft that needed to be worked out. Somehow, the substance remained contained around the outside of the capsule instead of entirely evaporating during descent. Apparently, some faulty mechanism was trapping the gas in the capsules service section.
Key members of the enterprise promised to solve the problem before the next SpaceX flight to ensure that nothing like this would happen again. During NASA’s previous water landing in 1975, the aircraft also let off fumes of the same gases, putting the mission’s crew at risk.
Don’t Come Any Closer
Thankfully, no one was hurt this time. Nevertheless, Bridenstine confessed how close to imminent danger the civilian boats had been. Never before had bystanders casually approached an aircraft emitting nitrogen tetroxide. Needless to say, NASA and SpaceX were shaken and felt responsible for the situation.
A high-ranking administrator at NASA admitted the severity of the occurrence and suggested ways to fix the issue in the future. The Space Administration would make sure to clear the landing area better next time. No matter how vital and exciting space travel is, it should not endanger people’s lives here on planet Earth.
The Problem with International Waters
Officials of the U.S. Coast Guard were critical of the rogue civilians who had breached the landing area. They explained that due to limited assets, they had difficulty establishing zones that would effectively deter boaters from entering the reentry area. They also explained that they didn’t formally have the authority to do so.
The reason for their lack of authority in the matter stemmed from the distance the landing area had been from the U.S. coast. It was beyond their jurisdiction and essentially in international waters. Therefore, they could not legally kick civilians out of the area.
Words of Wisdom
Once they had been successfully recovered from the bobbing capsule surrounded by toxic fumes, the two astronauts also recommended that no one try sailing so near a returning spacecraft next time. Any number of dangerous substances be in the air around a reentering capsule.
They explained that even though they take every precaution to have things go smoothly and safely, something can always go wrong; therefore, it’s better to keep a safe distance. Hopefully, their wise words will be remembered by curious people next time an aircraft lands on planet Earth.
Next Time Around
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell agreed that many improvements needed to be addressed for next time. She suggested that next time there be far more Coast Guard policing the area and more NASA and SpaceX staff on hand in case of emergencies.
However, Shotwell also admitted that no matter how well they had planned everything, it was inevitable that there would be some issues during the first try. That was why it was called a Demo flight and why they had to accomplish it to achieve certification successfully. She wasn’t surprised that something went wrong.
People Are the Wild Card
Shotwell explained that it was a demonstration mission, scheduled explicitly in order to learn what can go wrong and fix it. The point of the Demo was to be prepared for any potential issues next time around. Thank goodness they had a demo mission and that none of the problems turned out to be fatal.
Human beings are hard to predict, and they had no way of knowing that people would blatantly disregard the Coast Guard’s instructions. Humans may be able to plan missions to outer space, but they can’t control the way other people will act back on Earth.
Taking Notes for the Future
Of course, a couple of mistakes were made by Spacex and NASA. Kate Tice, a SpaceX engineer, addressed the issues during NASA’s live feed of the landing. Tice suggested that next time they keep the landing spot a secret, the Coast Guard could have restricted the area without telling people why.
Not a bad idea, considering how easy it was for boats to reach the capsule. Humans are quickly excited and curious about things as exciting as a spaceship landing, and it’s not actually that surprising that many would want to see it from up close.
Threatening Astronaut Lives
As well as endangering themselves, the leisure boats surrounding the landed capsule also threatened the astronauts. Behnken and Hurley knew that any delay in getting the recovery boat to their capsule could have been fatal for them. Water landings can be dangerous for the human body.
It is necessary to help the passengers out of the spacecraft as quickly as possible. Furthermore, theirs was the first water-landing in forty-five years. So, it’s no surprise that everyone was nervous that something might go wrong. However, Hurley had been confident that everything would be fine, although he hadn’t accounted for the spectators.
A New Era of Human Spaceflight
In the end, despite all the issues that cropped up during the water landing, the demonstration mission was a success. Bridenstine beamed at the cameras after the two astronauts had been successfully recovered from the capsule, stating that they had “really made history” and were “entering a new era of human spaceflight.”
Crew Dragon Demo-2 had accomplished their mission, and SpaceX received the certification they needed from NASA to continue and execute operational crewed flights. Since then, SpaceX has completed two fully crewed missions to the International Space Station, one in November 2020 and the other in April 2021.
A Giant Leap for Mankind
The two crewed operational flights were successful! They were called SpaceX Crew-1 and 2 and were flown by crews of four people. Both missions reused some parts of the capsules and the rockets from SpaceX’s previous missions, proving that the SpaceX parts indeed are more cost-friendly and sustainable.
SpaceX Crew-1 stayed at the ISS for six months and returned to Earth in May 2021. The SpaceX Crew-2 is still at the ISS and set to return in November 2021. SpaceX has already scheduled another mission called SpaceX Crew-3, which is expected to launch into space in October 2021.
A Moonage Daydream Come True
Currently, SpaceX is not the only private company to have accomplished successful launches to space. Both Virgin Galactic (founded by Richard Branson) and Blue Origin (which is owned by Jeff Bezos) launched crewed flights into space in 2021. In July 2021, Richard Branson himself flew to outer space in his own spaceship.
Both companies have recently begun offering commercial flight tickets for private citizens to fly to space and are expected to start commercial flights in 2022. Jeff Bezos and three other passengers are scheduled to fly to space on one of Blue Origins’ spaceships on July 20, 2021.
Happy to Be Home
The astronauts of Demo-2 shared how happy they were to be home. Behnken has a young son, who was six years old when he launched, and shared that his son had changed and grown a lot while they were apart. Reuniting with their families must have been emotional.
Private citizens interested in flying to space can now buy tickets; the only problem is that they cost a lot of money. Virgin Galactic tickets are around $250,000, and Blue Origin offers a range of tickets up to $300,000. Hopefully, in a few years, space tourism will be less expensive.