It was back in 1967 when Apollo I tests ended up in tragedy: an unlucky fire killed three astronauts and destroyed the probe on land. It could be said the US went for broke… and actually ruined everything.
The crazy lunar project was launched by President John F. Kennedy. Though, few people know that his famous speech, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”, was made up after a drunken night shared with Marilyn Monroe. Actually he wasn’t fully recovered, and in a moment of happily inspired drunkenness, he suddenly decided to talk about it instead of addressing his discourse about rye production and its implications for the domestic US market. His consultants told him off for acting as a lunatic and even for being a loony, but it was too late to hide his speech.
The cabinet thought on the possibility of issuing a denial, but media coverage was so wide and overwhelming that a major scandal was feared. Miss Monroe, somehow upset because she was always a second fiddle for Kennedy, tried to speak on that subject, but she was systematically silenced until 1962, in which she was permanently silenced.
Anyway, the US was in a very tough situation to face that challenge for every former Nazi Germany’s rocket expert was in the hands of the Soviet Union after the Second World War. Only Wernher von Braun seemed to be ready to tackle it. But everything was just a fake motivated by his need to survive, as confessed by von Braun himself in a book he wrote a few years before he passed away -called “from a hen house to the stars”. “I had a hen house, I used to bring fresh eggs to Hitler. For God’s sake, I wasn’t a Nazi and I didn’t know anything about the Holocaust. I didn’t even know anything about rockets, I was even scared of firecrackers. But if I wanted to survive I had to tell that lie to the US government or else I would end up in the Soviet Gulag.”
Therefore von Braun learned in a hurry everything he could find in order to pretend to be an expert. He had a German accent that was very useful, for it sounded grave and self-confident. But first experiments were an utter failure, and it was the Soviet Union that managed to send the first man -and even the first woman- into space. Nevertheless, his sleepless nights finally brought some discrete success, but always behind the communists.
The end of the 60s was coming. After the mentioned accident, President Nixon, elected in 1968, lost all his faith in the project. Dispirited, he suggested his cabinet to film a fake moon landing and pretend it was the heroic deed needed by his countrymen. The first idea was to hire Stanley Kubrick for that purpose, but the famous filmmaker showed up his hurt feelings, because the government of the US didn’t want to help him in shooting “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, a 1964 movie full of criticism against war and the army. Unlike patriotic movies, permission wasn’t granted to shoot actual airplanes -they had to make up the inner look of a B52 bomber- nor military facilities. Negotiations were tough to the extent that some witnesses tell that Kubrick might have shouted “so now ya need me, f’king mo’on” at Nixon (including the apostrophes). What is confirmed is that Kubrick thought through the possibility of leaving the US forever and move to the UK, where he expected to find a peaceful and kind welcome for the new movie he was thinking of: “A Clockwork Orange”.
Finally, the US government was forced to call up Mr. Dennis Hopper. His growing passion for psychedelic drugs made him a perfect candidate both to imagine a trip to the Moon and also for being discredited in case he decided to talk too much. Full of enthusiasm, he began to work on the project. His overwhelming creativity had to be limited by the cabinet: some scenes had to be removed from the official script, for instance that one of “exploring the Moon with fellows while riding a bike”, that he picked up again for “Easy Rider”, filmed also that historical year of 1969.
In order to make the huge plot more believable, and also to provide witnesses of the take off, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were trained to fly into a low orbit inside Apollo XI, to circle the Earth a couple of times, and to come back as soon as possible.
Thus, on July the 16th, 1969, the rocket was launched. To Nixon and his cabinet’s horror, Argstrom communicated a message via a secret radio channel codenamed “u2”: “We’re going to the Moon, we’ll do it with or without you”. The three astronauts were really upset because of the fake landing idea and were decided to make it come true. Nixon feared it could drive him to the watery gates of resignation, an idea he had never thought before. At first, Earth control tried to persuade them to abandon the idea by explaining to them that Van Allen’s radiation would kill them due to the lack of shielding against cosmic rays. During the four day trip to the Moon, they tried to use advanced psychological techniques to discourage them, by repeating sentences like “radiation is killing you softly”, “your wives are having a great time here on Earth” or even “you won’t receive free tickets for the Super bowl anymore”.
But the three iron horsemen arrived in the lunar orbit without hesitation. Just in case, Nixon wrote a speech to be broadcast on TV in case Apollo XI crashed into the Moon, for that spaceship was just a cheesy mockup created to look like a lunar module. For instance, the casing isolating the three passengers from the hazardous outer space was just one centimeter thick and, following Hopper’s intoxicated ideas, that module looked like a bizarre kind of insect covered with silver and gold instead of having a convenient spherical shape to deal with extreme pressure differences.
The astronauts didn’t find that machine very reliable, so they decided to leave Collins in charge of a part of the probe, easily detachable by using a screwdriver. Only Argstrom and Aldrin would land. Later on, the official version justified that by saying it was due to design constrains, both an orbital and a landing module, without noticing that things orbit alone without any human help.
While descending onto the Moon surface, the second problem was the onboard computer: it was just a fake panel full of flashing lights, inspired by popular movies in the 60s, designed just to be part of the movie’s set. The Captain decided to switch to “manual mode”, but the truth is that there wasn’t any other mode available. A time later the official legend would say the computer was “saturated” and required further Argstrom’s work.
Finally, having in account it was initially designed to orbit the Earth only a couple of times, it was running out of fuel, to the point they were forced to land on the first place they could reach. Obviously, NASA covered it by arguing the intrepid astronaut had drain the fuel tank while looking for the best place to land.
The first astronaut got out the module 6 hours after landing. The official explanation says they needed to rest, but it’s really hard to believe you will sleep just after landing on a new word when you’re the first human over there. At least, you would like to stroll on the Moon that day. More reliable rumors say Armstrong and Aldrin were struggling to be the first one, to the point they squeezed, bitten and gave low blows to each other. Anyhow, the defeated one put himself together and knew how to behave properly under that historical event.
Here on Earth, without arrangements for that unexpected situation, NASA was able to contact only a poor local TV station in Australia that barely received a dim signal from the Moon. As a result of that, the event was broadcast and seen live in a range that experts officially call “Shitty Quality Broadcast”. Nonetheless, those brief steps on the Moon’s surface astonished and delighted half part of the human race and, after a pleasant and peaceful return to Earth, the three astronauts were welcome as global heroes.
May be that adventure was a wild dream, a lack of discipline, or pure folly, but the important thing that remains is that Argstrom’s words are still marked by fire in all humans’ minds: “what a wonderful world”.