Imagine going back to when the impossible had not yet happened - to when we had only ever seen the moon from our earthbound vantage, and getting a human being to it was still a science fiction dream fueled by WWII rockets and computers. These days, several generations of Americans have only known lunar travel as a foregone conclusion. But in 1961, when John F. Kennedy declared that sending a man to the moon would “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” we still had to apply those skills to every tiny, yet vastly complex, step of the process. In our Important Winter Auction
, we are offering one of Neil Armstrong’s training flight suits from the most difficult part of that trip: the very end.
In the minds of us laypeople, flying to the moon is like a flight to the next state over, just longer. You get in the rocketship, take off in one place and land in another. But of course, it’s actually nothing like that. For one thing, a lunar flight involves taking off in a place with 1G of gravity and landing in a place with ⅙ G. So “landing” takes on a whole new meaning. For the engineers and astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission, this last 300 feet of the 240,000 mile journey to the moon was the hardest and the most dangerous. No pilot on earth had flying experience that could approximate the lunar landing.
At first, scientists thought that they could use helicopters to mimic the vertical flight that would be required to land on the moon, but it soon became clear that because helicopters were designed to work around terrestrial conditions like wind and gravity, they weren’t suited to train pilots to land on the moon’s unimaginably different exosphere.