Posts Tagged ‘Apollo 17’

Space Shot Finals

July 10, 2011

Atlantis lifting off on final mission as seen from a NASA training plane

As Atlantis does the last Space Shuttle work delivering supplies to the International Space Station, I reflect on another last NASA final flight, the one that took place on December 7, 1972, when Apollo 17 made America’s final trip to the moon and back. That one was a big deal anyway, but for me, an even bigger deal, because I was on Cape Kennedy filming it, and snapping a few slides of my own. Good thing I did, because I have the slides, but who knows what happened to the WRBL-TV film.  The TV footage turned out better than my inexpensive automatic-exposure camera, mainly because NASA told all professional photographers on the scene exactly what F stop to use with a 16mm film camera.

Here’s the way my cheap camera shot turned out. I had the 16mm movie camera running in one hand, while I rapidly snapped stills with the other hand.

NASA had a little bit better luck. Here is the official  photo.

I can thank then Ledger-Enquirer Chief Photographer Lawrence Smith for my being there.  He called and said a buddy of his was flying down in his small Cessna and had a spare seat and I could have it. Naturally, I jumped at  the offer.  The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer owned 51 percent of WRBL-TV and Radio at the time, so Lawrence could invite me without catching any flack from the paper’s management.

The flight down was a thriller. It was storming that day. But, the storms were scattered, so we took off.  It took us a little longer to get there because we had to fly around the storms, and when we got to Orlando where we were going to land and rent a car, it was socked in, and we couldn’t land. The pilot – I wish I could remember his name – decided to try for a small strip near  the Cape.  It was just one runway, but long enough for the big private jets that carried the big shots and celebrities to the Cape, and certainly long enough for the puddle-jumper we were in.  When we got there and looked down, there was a cloud, but it sat right next to the runway, not over it. We must have been living right.

By launch time that night, the weather cleared, and we got to experience that spectacular lift-off.  When that last Saturn 5 rocket was lit, it lit up the Cape.  And, it was one of those “you had to be there” moments. You could see it at home on a TV screen, but you did indeed have to be there to hear the roar and feel the vibrations of that Saturn loaded with enough  fuel to power the moon orbiter and lander out of Earth’s gravitational field and hurtle it to the Moon.

Now, we watch hopefully that there will be no tragedy to report as the very dangerous mission is being performed by the crew of Atlantis.    Getting to the space station and back home is dangerous.  Docking with the space station is dangerous. The shuttle itself is dangerous. For those wishing the shuttle program to continue, perhaps they need to understand that  the imperative for launching space shots has changed. It’s a new ball game. More on that next. Stay tuned.


The Endeavour Night Launch Reminds Me of the Night Launch I Saw 38 Years Ago

February 15, 2010

Endeavour crew space-walks to work on the International Space Station (NASA photo)


As I follow the news from NASA about the space shuttle Endeavour mission, which marked the last night launch of the shuttle program,  I remember the only space shot I witnessed at the Kennedy Space Center.  Ledger-Enquirer photographer and friend Lawrence Smith offered me a ride on a friend’s airplane to witness the night launch of Apollo 17.  Armed with my WRBL-TV 16 mm movie camera and my own still camera, I joined Lawrence and his friend and another man to take off from Columbus on the morning of December 6, 1972, . It was an interesting ride because we had to fly around a lot of thunder storms.  It was worth the excitement to see the first night Apollo launch, which also happened to be the last time Americans went to the moon.  

On December 7th, 1972, at 12:33 a.m. , Apollo 17 launches and heads for the moon. (NASA photo)


The pictures that the astronauts sent back on the way and on the moon were spectacular.  

Eugene Cernan walks on the moon (NASA photo)


Up until recently, there were plans for America to go to the moon again.  That idea has been scuttled, I’m told.  Americans were supportive of the moon shots almost 40 years ago, but priorities have changed, and unless there is some catastrophic accident, space shots get little publicity.  Save Space, a Florida website, is trying to get people to write Congress to save the space flight program.  It points out what the space program has given the world. 

“Satellite communications, microwaves, cellular phones, miniaturized computers, pacemakers, kidney dialysis, scratch-resistant lenses, medical and sports technology, adjustable smoke detectors, cordless tools, and water filters are just a few examples of the advances that have occurred through NASA space research. Not to mention the entrepreneurs, jobs, and commercial aspects of many space research spin-offs.” 

Wikipedia says this is probably the most reproduced picture in the world. It is earth as seen from the space craft Apollo 17 five hours after lift-off on December 7, 1972. It's called "The Blue Marble." (NASA photo)