“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. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Sept 12, 1962. Fifty years ago today.
James B. Irwin Was the Eighth Man to Walk On the Moon: The Amorous Tale of America’s Sexiest Astronaut and the Wicked Web of Seduction and Scandal that Surrounded His Secret Life
Everybody knows Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and some even know the name of the second guy, Buzz Aldrin. But can you name the other ten guys who subsequently traversed the lunar surface? This phenomenal article will share that precious information with you, as well as many other forgotten or unknown factoids of feeble humanoids and their exploits in trying to leave Earth.
The brown nose of James Irwin
James B. Irwin – or Jimmy as I like to call him – was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh. That was a long, long time ago. Jimmy lived many places and did many things. He was a real bookworm and got all kinds of BS degrees and stuff. He got really into experimental flight and fancy flying schools. Bo-o-o-ring! But no matter what he accomplished academically or as a test pilot, all his achievements would eventually totally pale in comparison to when he became one of the few humans to ever leave the planet.
Florida: more than spring break
At the age of 41, on a beautiful Florida day, the robust man of 160 pounds boarded a rocket. July 26, 1971 was the day that some chumps in work clothes strapped James inside a little soup can by the name of Apollo 15. From the “launch pad” he “blasted off” (that’s space-talk) and traveled to the moon in very, very close quarters with two other guys. I don’t mean nothin’ by that, I’m just sayin’. A man with two first names, David Scott, was the spacecraft commander. Dave was the seventh man to walk on the moon, right in front of Jimmy. They probably planned the order before they left so they wouldn’t fight about who’s getting out first all the way to the moon.
This trip to the moon was a real adventure for these young lads. But as far as the public was concerned, Apollo 15 was small potatoes. Shits and giggles, that’s all. Previous missions had delivered the goods and the public was sufficiently wowwed as a result. Namely, Apollo 11 put the first guys on the moon. Apollo 12 proved we could do it twice, like it wasn’t just luck the first time. Apollo 13… well, you’ve seen the movie about that one. They were almost lost in space, but luckily Tom Hanks bravely made oxygen out of socks and duct tape, and saved the day.
By the time Apollo 15 rolled around in the summer of ’71, the moon was a real stinker in the PR world. Nothing new.
Neil Armstrong? Never heard of him.
Sucks to be James Irwin. For the rest of your life, every time somebody mentions Neil Armstrong, you earnestly pipe in with, “He’s not all that. I was the eighth man to walk on the moon!”
They would undoubtedly give you a reassuring smile and augment it with a stock sincere line like, “Heavens, I bet that was really something,” followed shortly by the inevitable rolling of the eyes and an awkward silence while turning away and shuffling off.
Where ya headed? The moon?
Alfred Worden was also on Apollo 15. Alfred was the command module pilot. A real fancy title, but if you’re an astronaut you know that “command module pilot” is just a nice way to say “the guy who drops off the other two dudes at the moon, and then flies around the moon for a while, and then picks them up again when they’re finished having fun, and has to hear them talk all the way back to Earth about how awesome it is to walk on the moon.”
Yes, that’s right. On each one of the six trips humans have taken to the moon, three guys went there and only two of them got to get out. The other poor sucker just had to circle the moon and wait to go home.
So if you think nobody cares about the fact that you were the eighth man to walk on the moon, imagine what it would be like for that old sap Alfred Worden who went all the way to the moon and had to stay in the boat.
Your daughter might come home from school one day yapping, “Hey daddy, my teacher said Neil Armstrong is a hero of humanity because he was the first man to walk on the moon!”
You would respond modestly, “Oh sweetie, that’s nice, but did you know that a few years after Neil Armstrong was on the moon, your daddy went there with the seventh and eighth men who walked on the moon.”
“Wow, daddy! I didn’t know you walked on the moon! You’re my hero!”
“No, honey. I didn’t actually walk on the moon. I just sort of dropped some people off and brought them back.”
“Gosh, daddy, it’s sort of funny that you’re a taxi driver now, because that’s what you did on the moon! Maybe when you come to Career Day you can just leave out the part about you staying in the plane.”
To add insult upon injury, they spent more time on the surface than any prior mission. Just how long did glorified chauffeur Alfred Worden sit in the command module by himself doing loops around the moon while Jimmy and Dave were cruising around in the moon buggy? Twenty or thirty minutes? Try 67 hours! Holy shit! That’s almost three whole days! I guess it’s probably still a thrill to go to the moon, but man, total buzzkill, dude.
Yuri Gagarin? Never heard of him.
Maybe you’ve heard of the Soviet Union. It was a country in Asia that used to be a really big deal, but they broke up. When they were still together, they were trying at the same time to put a man on the moon. Maybe you’ve heard of this so-called “Space Race.” Who would spike the proverbial football on the moon first? The Soviets or the Americans? Anyone? Anyone?
The engineers and scientists in the Soviet space program tried really fucking hard to get a man on the moon first. In the beginning, the commies kicked some serious ass. In 1959, the Soviets were the first to hit the moon with a probe. Nice shot. Two years later, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. Five years after that, they safely landed the first unmanned thingamabob on the lunar surface. Then in 1968, the Soviets sent the first vehicle containing life into lunar orbit and returned it safely to Earth. What was it? A dog? A monkey? No, it was turtles. That’s right. Turtles.
Things dreadfully slowed down for the Reds after that. Over the next months, it became apparent that their little stunt with the turtles wasn’t gonna to cut the mustard anymore. The Americans were steppin’ on the gas. The Soviet program was disorganized and short of cash. It had been struggling since chief designer and visionary Sergei Korolyov croaked in ’66. The sluggishness and lack of direction was no match for all the money, brains, and horn-rimmed glasses at NASA. A few months after the turtle show, the Americans flew a living person around the moon, totally facing the Soviets. “Yes! Eat our moon dust!” That’s something that might have been said at the time.
Neil, did you hear something?
Despite all the serious facializing from the capitalist pigs, the commies weren’t about to give up. They were trying anything they could. They did some world class blowin’ up of expensive hardware. Some rockets exploded during lift off, while others reached the moon, but just turned into fancy fireworks when they got there.
Interestingly, an unmanned Soviet spacecraft, Luna 15, crashed into the moon during a landing attempt while the Apollo 11 astronauts were on the surface. While the world was captivated watching Neil Armstrong and crew making history, a Soviet ship was crashing somewhere else on the moon. “Neil? Did you hear that?” “Huh?”
More than a year later, in September 1970, the unmanned jalopy called Luna 16 careened wildly toward the moon and made the first successful Soviet landing. It picked up a sampling of moon rocks and dust and brought them back. Ultimately, believe it or not, a Soviet cosmonaut never walked on the moon. They were never able to pull it off. It’s kind of sad really, if you think about it. It’s really kind of sad. Kind of sad. A little sad.
Your logo here: $1.25 million
In modern times, the Russians are still having a little trouble paying for the expense of exploring space. This time around there’s no race going on, a bunch of countries got together and are building a space station, in space, of course. In July 2000, the living quarters for the International Space Station were delivered to orbit after being launched from Kazakhstan. The powerful Russian Proton rocket carrying these living quarters into space placed the unit into orbit only 15 minutes after being launched… oh yes, and it had a Pizza Hut logo on the side. This is a true story. In exchange for the princely sum of $1.25 million, a 30-foot-tall Pizza Hut logo was painted on the outside of the rocket to help the Russian space agency pay for the launch and keep their program on schedule. This isn’t a new thing for the Russians. In 1996, Pepsi paid the agency five million dollars to have cosmonauts photograph one of their soda cans floating by the Mir space station. A Japanese television reporter has even flown into space courtesy of the Russians, in exchange for “green stamps” (that’s CB jargon, it means “money”).
Ironically, NASA is prohibited from selling advertising on US spacesuits, but private companies have been involved in the US program for years. Shuttle missions regularly deliver privately operated satellites and commercial gear into orbit. Who would have guessed the Russians would be the first ones selling ad space on their rockets? I mean they used to be communists, right? I thought I said that.
Speaking of communists, the Chinese space program is coming right along, too. “What the…?! Did you say Chinese space program?” You bet I did! After completing a successful test launch and return of the unmanned Shenzhou capsule, China plans to put three people in it and send them into Earth orbit in 2001. Without the people in it, the capsule weighs less than 200 pounds! That’s less than most Americans! China is now becoming a playa in the elite club of people with ability to leave Earth. They’re also debating becoming involved in the International Space Station.
The dirty dozen
I suppose it’s about time I deliver the goods I promised at the beginning of the article. That is, the names of all twelve people who have walked on the moon. They are all white, American males. Just like Jesus. Here they are in order: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Charles Conrad Jr., Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar D. Mitchell, David R. Scott, James B. “Jimmy” Irwin, John Young, Charles M. Duke Jr., Eugene A. Cernan, and Harrison H. Schmitt.
The Americans went there
The US silver dollar coin has a picture of the moon on the back. Curious, isn’t it? The moon isn’t part of the United States. It doesn’t belong to anybody, or maybe it belongs to everybody. So why should we have a picture of it on one of our coins?
Since the beginning of time, creatures from dinosaurs and pteridactyls to horses, chimps, and humans have all seen the moon at night. Hundreds and thousands of years have gone by in which people looked at the moon. The moon was there the night before a primitive human invented the wheel. Moses lived with the moon in the sky. The Roman Empire grew and fell under the moon. The moon was above Johannes Gutenberg the night he created the printing press. Napoleon conquered Europe, seeing the moon light his troops each night. The telephone was invented. All of these things happened with their participants having the moon in the sky as a part of their everyday lives. But until the Americans came along, nobody had ever been there. That’s why it’s not so nuts for us to have picture of the moon on one of our coins. People from our country left the Earth and walked on the moon. Nobody from anywhere else, before or since, has done this. So for all the havoc the Americans have brought on other people in the name of democracy, capitalism, oil, and fast food – and all the shame and/or pride that comes with it – we at least have this humbling, monumental achievement to our credit.
The Romans paved the roads. The Swiss made cheese with holes in it. The Americans left the planet, landed somewhere else, and came back.
The Jimmy Irwin Story: Epilogue
After returning to Earth in 1971, Jimmy Irwin got an assignment as a backup crew member for Apollo 17. That means he would do all the training and everything like a real crew member, but he would only go on the mission if one of the dudes in the real crew got sick or couldn’t go at the last minute; like maybe he forgot his in-laws were coming in town or something. He was like the understudy.
Anyway, his backup crew position didn’t last very long because he got wrapped up in a scandalous investigation and was removed from active astronaut status. Allegedly, he and some of the other Apollo 15 guys had taken some stamps and envelopes to the moon and were busted selling them back on Earth. Pretty cool racket, but the Feds caught up with it and threw the book at ’em.
Jimmy wrote a few books in all his spare time after he got canned. “To Rule the Night” is an autobiographical piece about his career as an astronaut and some loopy “spiritual revelation” he experienced while walking the moon. As a result, he made six expeditions to Turkey in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark. Turkey, indeed.
In 1991, Jimmy Irwin died at the untimely age of 61 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, and no matter what, he will always be the eighth man to walk on the moon.
The sky is a monster of gases that blankets the planet and protects us from the harsh nothingness of outer space. As an added bonus to this monumental task, it is sometimes really pretty or interesting to look at.
The best part about the sky is that it’s free. All you have to do is look up and there it is. Another very cool feature is that it never looks the same twice. Wait just a few minutes and it will be totally different.
Lots of people take pictures of the sky for all these reasons, but it seems sunset photos are the most popular ones. Photographs never quite capture it, though. It’s hard to fit something into a few inches of a photo that in reality is all around you, everywhere you look.
Nonetheless, I also continue to try to do this with a beat-up pocket camera. Here are a few of my latest feeble attempts to point-and-shoot something that is impossible to reproduce.
Maybe you’ve heard something about this: A few decades ago, America could do anything. Liberate Europe from the Nazis? Done. Defeat the Japanese at the same time? Done. Rebuild half the world after the war? Done. Lift a rocket off of the Earth with people in it and land them somewhere else? Done.
John Kennedy, who famously dedicated America to the cause of going to the Moon, observed, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”
Maybe it all started going to their heads. Maybe they felt all things were possible. The war his administration started in southeast Asia is probably a big part of what eventually began to unravel all the trust and goodwill that made such grand accomplishments possible.
Regardless, there’s no dispute about America’s crowning moment. It’s this day forty years ago when, after countless centuries of people looking to the heavens at a glowing white sphere in the sky every night, the United States sent some people to go check it out in person.
For everything the United States is known for, this one thing is more powerful than anything else. For the entire history of human life, the entire history of the world, thousands of generations of people were tied to the ground by gravity. The Americans were the ones who left the planet and landed somewhere else.
They stood somewhere nobody had ever stood before, and from the dusty surface of the Moon, they saw everything in a way it had never been seen before.
From that perspective they could gaze back on the Earth as a tiny blue marble, floating in the darkness of space. Three men, alone, could see in a single glance, the entire globe. The place where everything had ever happened was hanging right there. Suddenly the huge, hard Earth seemed so fragile.
From the invention of the wheel and cave drawings, to the Pyramids, to the Roman Empire, to the bubonic plague, to Shakespeare, to the horseless carriage, to electricity, to the Kaiser – they could hold a gloved thumb up in front of their view and hide all of it.
People who were alive then – of which I am not one – all remember where they were at that moment. It’s similar to how Americans feel about the asassination of Kennedy and the attacks in September 2001. The difference, of course, is that landing people on the Moon was a good thing. Rather than being a spectacle of what people could destroy, it showed what people could create and accomplish. Machines and science, dedication and resources, and the best and brightest made it possible.
All this, which still seems amazing to people who were born after it happened, was done with what we would consider to be primitive tools. The computers NASA used in 1969 to land this craft on the Moon and return it safely to Earth had only 74KB of on-board memory had no storage space. By comparison, the computer I carry around in a shoulder bag has 2 gigabytes of memory. There’s more than twenty-eight thousand times more power in this laptop I could walk into a store and buy off the shelf.
Apollo 11’s computers were employing processors with a clock speed of barely over 2 megahertz. Compare that to the 667 megahertz I carry in my pocket in the form of an iPhone, and my MacBook Pro which has a processor speed 1074 times greater. Flying to the Moon and landing? There’s an app for that.
Program commands for Apollo’s guidance computer were entered on a calculator-style keypad as series of two-digit numbers and took the form of program, verb, noun. The programs they were running, and even those now used on the Space Shuttle, contain simple code in contrast to the operating systems on our home computers.
The Shuttles have five redundant computers all cycling simultaneously. If one acts up, the other ones can vote it out of the loop. It assumes that the majority of machines which did not produce the error are operating correctly. On nearly 150 missions, there has never been an instance when all five computers failed.
Whereas much of the Space Shuttle’s guidance (aside from the airplane-style glided landing) is out of the astronauts’ hands, Apollo-era travelers had to be trained in these cerebral programming tasks along with their physical preparation and everything else. The staff at Mission Control in Houston was just a crack-beep away if something came up, and things did come up.
When the ship finally reached the Moon, four days after leaving Florida, not only did the guidance computer begin spitting mysterious error codes at them, but the area they had planned to land in was littered with huge boulders.
With Houston’s consent, the astronauts overrode the computers and Neil Armstrong’s skills as an Air Force test pilot were put into use. Armstrong took control of the Eagle and manually maneuvered it to a safe landing spot, setting it down on the surface with only 20 seconds of fuel remaining. It was dangerously close to being a very different kind of historic day.
When I was nine years old, my family went on a vacation to Florida. We arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on a hot July day in 1979 amid a crowd of other tourists.
There were hundreds of people there, in fact, and a buzz in the air. It seemed like Cape Canaveral must be one of the most popular tourist spots in Florida.
We walked into the center fully unaware that the day my parents picked was the tenth anniversary of the first lunar landing. It was quite an unexpected surprise to stumble into.
Inside the Welcome Center, we were greeted with a huge banner and and even larger, banquet-table-sized cake.
A ceremony was underway, commemorating the anniversary, and for a nine-year-old boy who was fascinated by space exploration, the “kid in a candy shop” metaphor is really inadequate. I was surrounded by the candy laboratory, factory, warehouse, and testing cafeteria. And, yes, I did get to eat a piece of the cake! Space cake, if you will.
One of the first things we recorded when my family got a VCR was a PBS documentary about the space program. I really don’t have an estimate for how many times I watched it in our Middletown, Kentucky, basement. I do remember being able recite it along with the narrator. I think if I saw it again today I may still be able to follow along with it.
At that age, I didn’t know anything about Sweden or any other place else that wasn’t America.
It doesn’t take much to capture the imagination of such a kid, though. Being able to fly is cool. Flying into space? Mind-blowing.
I guess I didn’t realize until much later how lucky I was. Some countries don’t have telephones or fully-paved roads. America has space ships. I really can’t think of anything cooler than this. Most kids… shit, most people don’t ever get the opportunity to see a space craft except on television or in pictures.
This is a photo of me and my brother and sister, 30 years ago today, standing in front of a fucking space ship. This is not imaginary or science fiction or futuristic. In fact, it was ten years after an American walked on the moon and a few years before many of my friends were born.
These photos are all from Kennedy Space Center on July 20, 1979, the tenth anniversary of the lunar landing. The Space Shuttle seen on the launch pad, I believe is Columbia. This is about two years before the first Shuttle launch in April of 1981. It looks a little different than the Shuttles do today because on the first few Shuttle launches the external tank was painted white. NASA later discovered this wasn’t necessary and leaving the tank bare (the familiar rust-orange color) freed up 600 pounds of extra weight that could be used for additional cargo.
We returned to Kennedy a few years later to actually see the sixth Shuttle launch in person. I could write about that all day. If you can imagine how amazing just to think about people leaving the Earth, it is beyond description to see it happening. There is nothing like like it.
Camped out on a narrow Florida highway with thousands of other people, miles away from a small figure on the horizon, with a hundred car radios broadcasting the countdown in unison through the humid morning air… the sky lights up, the Earth shakes, the air is filled with an incredible roar.
After a minute, among dropped jaws, cheers and applause, a white trail hangs in the sky, showing the way to space.
So, wait, what? I’m supposed to be writing about Sweden? Sorry.
I would like to say that I’m starting to get used to the surplus hours of daylight in Stockholm, but I can’t. I still find it so amazing.
During the past few weeks, it has been fascinating to me that each day has been noticeably longer than the day before. It is beyond surreal to see the sun still going down after 11 pm and coming up again at 2 in the morning.
The pages at those links are updated live in real time, so you can check them periodically if you want to see how each day inches closer and closer to midnight sunshine. Sweden is six hours ahead of Eastern Time in the United States.
The daylight hours will continue to get longer and longer here until late June. The longest days of the year are celebrated with the Midsommar festival. Midsommar is responsible for many of the stereotypical or recognizably Swedish images that foreigners have of the country. Singing, dancing, eating outside, and girls wearing flowers in their hair.
Long days where the sun never goes down are the type of thing that you just don’t believe until you see them. It’s something that people from Kentucky read about in books or see in movies. This summer will be my first experience with such extended sunlight and it is already beginning.
Wednesday night, I was up pretty late working on some stuff. When I was shutting everything down to go to sleep at about 3:40 AM, something outside caught my eye. The photo here is the sunrise over Haninge at about quarter ’til four in the morning.
Today is the warmest day since I arrived in February, a sunny, gorgeous 15° (59°F). Read it and weep, cold darkness!
A great deal of the writing I’ve done here has been observing the subtle differences between the people and cultures of Sweden and the United States.
This morning, I saw this article on the CNN site. It’s about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s address to the National Press Club in Washington this week. He discussed his belief that life from elsewhere has been to Earth. “There really is no doubt we are being visited,” he said.
Mitchell isn’t the only astronaut or NASA insider to have said things like this publicly, but hearing it from him is perhaps more unique because of his personal history.
Edgar Mitchell was born in Roswell, New Mexico, where an unidentified craft was said to have crashed in 1947. He was 17 at the time and was undoubtedly intrigued by the newspaper stories and rumors that the US military had recovered an alien ship with bodies inside.
Twenty-four years later, on the Apollo mission to the Moon, Mitchell became one of the twelve men to have ever left the Earth and landed somewhere else.
It’s remarkable but true. As I wrote about James Irwin a few years ago in K Composite Magazine, only twelve people have ever walked the Moon – or anywhere else that isn’t Earth. They were all white American men. Just like Jesus.
I kind of think of Edgar Mitchell as Earth’s exchange student. Foreigners came to his small town when he was in high school, then years later, he traveled farther away from his hometown than anyone else ever had.
When you look at it from that perspective, Stockholm isn’t really that far away from Louisville. In the perspective of other “people” visiting Earth from farther out in the universe, things like language, public transit, architecture, stairs, currency, measurements, weather, sunlight, et al; they’re really not so different. I mean, it’s not like I’m living in Japan or China. I’m pretty sure those places really are on another planet.
As you can see in the detailed, scientifically-accurate map of the solar system I posted here, Louisville and Stockholm are practically in the same neighborhood. Man, but, after you get past Mars, it’s a long way to the next toilet. (Special note to our friends from Jupiter: I’m just kidding. We don’t really think your planet is a toilet.)
In the 1971 photo above, you can see Edgar Mitchell on the left, Alan Shepard in the middle, and Stuart Roosa on the right. Stuart Roosa? Who the hell is that? I ain’t never heard of him! Me neither. That’s because he was the command module pilot.
On every Apollo mission there was one guy who went on the trip but didn’t get to walk on the Moon. He just had to stay in the module that was orbiting the Moon and pick up the other dudes when they were finished making history. Sucks, man. That was Roosa’s job on 14. And he has red hair, too? Shit. Some people just can’t catch any breaks.
Somebody needs to write a book about post-mission command module pilot depression, or PMCMPD. Maybe I just made this up, but even if there are only six or seven dudes who have the condition, it’s gotta suck to go all the way to Moon and have to wait in the car. Nobody wants to hear that story… especially if Alan Shepard is at the party. Fuck, what’s Roosa doing here? Who invited him?
Shown here is a 3D image of Edgar Mitchell walking on the Moon. How many people do you know who have vacation photos like that? You need red-blue anaglyph glasses to see it in 3D, but if you happen to have my Nashville Geographic album, the glasses that came with that CD will work. Looks like you can get it used on Amazonfor 63 cents.
See, even though this was all about our place in the universe, I brought it back around and found a way to make it about me and one of my old CDs. Still got it!
Here is another photo Alan Shepard took of Mitchell on the Moon. This one is in regular, boring 2D. It seems like Shepard is sneaking up behind Mitchell. I think that would pretty much scare the shit out of anybody, if you’re on the Moon and somebody grabs you unexpectedly. Ultimate vacation prank! Not funny, dude, I just used up half my oxygen.
While all this hootenanny is going on, I imagine poor Stuart Roosa orbiting in the command module taking pictures of himself and updating his MySpace page. Mood: lonely.
The sun. It is the closest star to earth, that’s why it seems so bright, but it is really just a medium-sized star. It doesn’t get as high in the sky since we’re higher up on the curve of the earth, so there are lots of extra long long shadows and golden light during the mornings and evenings.
Night view of a frozen park and forest seen from Iida and Erik’s kitchen window. They live on the eighth floor, which Swedes call the seventh floor. The ground level is always zero. You can’t really see it in the photo but there are some people out there cross-country skiing.
A quiet scene of the courtyard between the apartment buildings. I thought this looked kind of scary and reminded me of the awesome Swedish vampire movie “Låt den Rätte Komma In” (trailer).