This month’s Jim’s Corner is what I submitted to Springer’s blog for World Space Week 2019. My publisher asked for some amusing Apollo Program stories, since the theme of this year’s World Space Week was “Back to the Moon”.
In the process of research for my first book, How to Find The Apollo Landing Sites, I came upon a few of humorous behind-the-scenes anecdotes related to the Apollo 11, Apollo 13 and Apollo 17. These stories are not well known, but are so interesting and funny that I feature them in all my speaking engagements concerning the Apollo Program.
The U.S. Customs regulations collided with NASA’s Apollo 11 mission as the quarantined Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were returning from their ocean landing to Honolulu, Hawaii. In typical government bureaucratic fashion, the U.S. Customs required the Apollo 11 crew to fill out a declaration form for the moon rocks and lunar samples returned from the Sea of Tranquility. According to U.S. Customs regulations, the Apollo 11 crew had definitely left the United States to a foreign soil and was returning to the United States with items procured at said foreign soil.
The U.S. Customs declaration form was signed by all three astronauts, declaring moon rocks and moon dust samples, and their destination was the Moon. There was no monetary value claimed for the Moon rocks and Moon dust samples. Clearly an example of bureaucracy gone wrong.. The declaration form was never repeated for successive Apollo missions.
Another funny behind-the-scenes anecdote concerned the failed Moon landing but safe return of the astronauts of Apollo 13. The rescue of astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert is now legendary, and is perhaps as famous as the Apollo 11 first landing on the Moon. Books have been written, documentaries aired on television, and a very successful theatrical movie have been produced about this ill-fated mission. Apollo 13 is often described as NASA’s finest moment as the agency successfully returned the astronauts safely home. It is a testament to the many NASA engineers and scientists who brought astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert to a safe return and landing.
The anecdote centers on the designers and engineers of GrummanAerospace Corporation, who built the Lunar Module turned lifeboat Aquarius and North American Rockwell, designers and builders of the Apollo 13 Command and Service Module Odyssey.
After the safe return of Apollo 13, Grumman engineers on the LM program sent a spoof invoice A441066 to North American Rockwell, the builders of Odyssey, for towing Apollo 13 around the moon and home to Earth. The bill was submitted by Sam Greenberg, a pilot for Grumman Aerospace, and was written by workers at Grumman’s Flight Control Integration Lab in 1970. A higher level Grumman manager with no sense of humor, fired Greenberg for spoof invoice. Fortunately for Greenberg, Lou Evans, president of Grumman , found the invoice hilarious, reinstated Greenberg, signed the invoice and sent it to Rockwell. It included towing at $4.00 first mile, $1.00 each additional mile, battery charge, oxygen and addition guest at $8.00/night. Water and baggage handling was free. With a 20% commercial discount and 2% cash discount (net 30 days), the total bill came to $417,421.24, including a $100,000 charge for keeping the invoice confidential. Rockwell responded in a press conference that they still had not received payment for shipping four of Grumman’s LMs previously delivered to Earth orbit and to the Moon!
A humorous footnote to the Apollo 17 mission was mankind’s first fender bender in space and first car repair in space. During the first scheduled lunar activity, astronaut Gene Cernan brushed against the Lunar Rover, and a hammer in his spacesuit shin pocket caught the right rear fender and knocked off half of it. The half fender allowed a dust plume to kick up as the Lunar Rover moved. The dark lunar dust covered the astronauts, which absorbed the sunlight and could potentially cause overheating problems for Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. The abrasive moon dust could also cause scratching of the astronauts’ visors, and hinder the operation of the various latches, hinges, and joints of the Lunar Rover. Before the second lunar excursion, using a roll of duct tape, Cernan was able to re-attach the fender piece. This repair didn’t last long. The taped fender lasted for only four of the seven hour second lunar activity. The duct tape lost some of its stickiness because of the ubiquitous moon dust. For the remaining three hours, the astronauts stopped frequently use a dust brush to clean off the vehicle, equipment and themselves. Before the third and final lunar excursion, Cernan and Schmitt fashioned a makeshift fender out of four laminated maps and duct tape while inside the relatively cleaner LM. The duct ape worked better this time, and the new fender was attached by using clamps from from the optical alignment telescope lamp. The makeshift fender lasted for the rest of the Apollo 17 mission..
And finally, afew years ago, the three Lunar Rovers were an auction item on eBay as an April Fool’s Day joke, with the auction removed the next day. The Lunar Rover was listed as having very low mileage and driven very little for the past four or five decades. A quantity of three were available. The listing described the vehicles as four-wheel drive lunar utility vehicles, namely in today’s terms a moon SUV! Tires were described as in great shape. The items were possibly little dusty, but a good car wash would make it look like new. A real collector’s car. No rust and mint condition. No UPS, or FedEx delivery was available. The items were available for local pickup. A reminder to whoever won the eBay auction for the Apollo 17 lunar rover, the vehicle does need some bodywork!