Planetary Radio • Jul 28, 2021
Andy Chaikin on Apollo 15 and the lessons of Apollo
On This Episode
Author, Speaker, Space Historian
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan said of Andy Chaikin’s book A Man on the Moon, “I’ve been there. Chaikin took me back.” Andy returns to help us mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15 and the first use of the Lunar Rover. He also talks with Mat about what the Artemis generation should learn from Apollo, how astronauts have evolved, the challenge of putting humans on Mars, and much more. Bruce Betts picks up the Apollo 15 theme with this week in space history.
- Apollo 15
- Andy Chaikin’s website
- New Folio Society illustrated edition of A Man on the Moon
- August 29, 2011 Planetary Radio: Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden
- The Downlink
- Subscribe to Planetary Radio's monthly newsletter
This Week’s Question:
After the Mir and Skylab space stations, what was the third largest artificial object to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere?
This Week’s Prize:
A copy of Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings by Earl Swift.
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, August 4 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
Name all the people who have flown longer than 365 days in space on a single mission.
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the July 14, 2021 space trivia contest:
What was the first successful Venus orbiter?
The Soviet Union’s Venera 9 was the first successful Venus orbiter (and lander)!
Mat Kaplan: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15 with Andy Chaikin this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. You are moments away from one of those classic conversations that makes me so glad we bring you this show. Andy Chaikin and I will talk about so much more than Apollo 15. The author of A Man on the Moon has been thinking about the lessons Apollo can share with the Artemis generation about the beauty and importance of the moon, about how astronauts have evolved over the decades, and about how difficult it will be to put humans on Mars, but how important that goal remains. We'll follow that act with another visit by The Planetary Society's chief scientist, Bruce Betts. Want to thank us for bringing you all this interplanetary goodness without commercials? Leave us a rating or a review in Apple Podcasts.
Mat Kaplan: Shouldn't we be sending a robot to Saturn's moon, Enceladus? Of course we should. I mean, just look at it, which is something you can do in the July 23rd edition of The Downlink, our free weekly newsletter. You can also see China's Zhurong Mars rover making a visit to its own back shell and parachute on the plains of Mars. These and much more are at planetary.org/downlink, which is also where you can read about the second anniversary of our LightSail 2 unfurling its sails. And did you know that you can sign up for my monthly newsletter? Also free of course. Planetary.org/radionews.
Mat Kaplan: Andy Chaikin has written at least four of my favorite books about space. They include A Passion for Mars, Voices from the Moon, and the classic that started it all, A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. As you'll hear, that book inspired Tom Hanks to create his award-winning miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon. Andy is also a space historian, a geologist, a musician, and a brilliant public speaker. He recently joined me from his New England home. Settle in for a great conversation about some of your and my favorite topics.
Mat Kaplan: Andy Chaikin, it is a tremendous pleasure to welcome you back to Planetary Radio. It has been too long. And we have such good excuses for talking again now. Welcome back to the show.
Andy Chaikin: Thank you, Mat. I always look forward to being here.
Mat Kaplan: Happy Apollo 15 50th anniversary.
Andy Chaikin: I know. I want to say that time flies and it doesn't seem like that long ago but it actually does. I mean, I remember that summer. I remember being in the den with the air conditioner going, because it was a hot Long Island summer, glued to the TV. Absolutely, just like always on every Apollo flight following every minute that I possibly could. And I think right around now... After they left the moon, Al Worden, the command module pilot on Apollo 15, became one of the only three humans, he was the first, to make a spacewalk halfway between the moon and the earth. And by God there was live television of that. So I have this vivid memory of being in the den, watching this ghostly figure floating alongside the side of the ship in the blackness of space. It's just indelible. So that part really doesn't seem like that long ago.
Mat Kaplan: No. And that part for me as well. I don't know where it is, but like I did for Apollo 11, I believe, I had my father's Super 8 camera and I was shooting off of the television screen, the black and white television screen. That film is around. I know where the Apollo 11 one is but I'm not sure where that one is. I got to look for it.
Andy Chaikin: Yeah, you do. I have those films-
Mat Kaplan: Oh, you do.
Andy Chaikin: ... and they are all organized and I just need to transfer them to digital, because I was shooting off the TV too.
Mat Kaplan: See. Great minds. Get to that soon. I happen to know that one of the things you and I have in common is that we've been fascinated with space travel and exploration almost since birth, right? You were early on reading all the books you could get your hands on, right?
Andy Chaikin: Yeah. I just turned 65, so 60 years ago when I was five years old, usually on the floor with a handful of astronomy books in front of me, and I have to say, it was the pictures that drew me in. I was actually not a great reader as a kid but the pictures drew me in. And to this day, I am such a visual thinker, and it is the visuals of Apollo as much as anything that has stayed with me and propelled me through life.
Mat Kaplan: How appropriate, because there is this new edition of your book, A Man on the Moon, which I want to talk about a little bit. I read the book, God, decades ago. That also seems like a long time. Now of course I have, and it's sitting next to me, this two volume set from the Folio Society. It may be the most gorgeous, beautiful, spectacular book that I've ever seen. And of course what sets it apart from the original, Man on the Moon, are these incredible images, and here you are an image guy.
Mat Kaplan: I got to say, first of all, for anybody who hasn't read A man on the Moon, just do it. Read it. There have been so many chronicles of the Apollo program. There was another slew of them two years ago, of course, as we hit the Apollo 11 50th anniversary. And I saw a lot of them, nothing touches what you did with A man on the Moon because of... Not only are you just a consumate storyteller of all of the action that took place, but it is so personal because, of course, you talk to all these guys. All of them except for Jack Swigert, sadly passed away before you started the book. I could go on and on reading "praise for the book" but I picked three, selfishly, only because all three of these people have been on this show.
Mat Kaplan: "The power of A man on the Moon truly astounded me. I found myself transported. Reminded of all that was wonderful about Apollo. I laughed and cried." That was Dava Sobel, a New York Times bestselling author. Arthur C. Clarke called it a superb account of what may be the only achievement by which our age is remembered a thousand years from now. And finally, somebody who said, "I've been there, Chaikin took me back." That was Gene Cernan, as you well know, the commander on Apollo 17. Not bad praise.
Andy Chaikin: I don't even know how to wrap my head around all that. It's wonderful. It's so gratifying because it was a labor of love for me in the sense that I was absolutely hardwired to want to put my head into that experience. I still am. I didn't know when I was a kid that there was such a thing as a space historian, let alone that I would become one, or a storyteller of space. The anecdote that I just described to you of being in the den with the black and white TV going outward and floating in space, or days earlier watching Dave Scott and Jim Irwin drive up the side of a lunar mountain and get out and do geology on the moon, that was the spark. That was what lit the fire, was seeing that.
Andy Chaikin: And then all those years later, when I became a writer, I became somebody who was in the business of relating space flight and space exploration to the public. First at Sky & Telescope magazine, then writing for other magazines, and then finally in 1984, I had the idea to do a book about the astronauts experiences on Apollo. And I was so driven to be able to bridge the gap between what they experienced and what the rest of us can comprehend here on this planet that we live on.
Andy Chaikin: And how do you bridge that gap? So, primarily as a storyteller, I was going to do it through relating what they told me in my interviews with them. Synthesizing those conversations with all of the research that I did. Reading the debriefings that they gave when they came back from the flights. Reading the mission reports. Going through the transcripts moment by moment. Watching every scrap of film and video from the flights. All of that. Interviewing people who worked on the missions: flight controllers, managers, scientists. Putting all that together into a story that made the reader feel like they were on the moon or in the spacecraft with the astronauts, that was my goal. That's what got me through eight years of really teaching myself how to write a book. I had to figure out how to be a storyteller that would live up to the magnificence of the material. How do you put down on paper after you've sat down with somebody like Dave Scott?
Andy Chaikin: I still remember this also very clearly. Dave and I did three interviews. We went to a restaurant somewhere in the L.A. area. I can't remember where it was. I just remember that we were there for hours at a time. And he took me through every aspect of Apollo 15. And I will never forget him describing... I said to him, "Well, okay, you and Jim, you're up on the side of this lunar mountain called Hadley Delta. You're hundreds of feet up." I brought to the restaurant photographs that I could show him as a memory jogger.
Andy Chaikin: And he started to describe it. And he talked about the brilliance of the scene, the pristine quality of the landscape. And I got this feeling for this vast ancient pristine wilderness. And then he said, and then out in the middle of all that he could see three and a half miles away, was their lunar module. Now this is a big machine. You go and see a lunar module in a museum, one of the ones that didn't actually get to go to the moon, there are a handful of them, and this is a big thing, but at three and a half miles it was just a little speck. I had that image from Dave verbally. I had to then turn it into narrative that would get the reader there with the experience.
Andy Chaikin: Flash forward to a couple of years ago now, sometime late 2019, Folio in the UK, the Folio Society, a wonderful, very high quality publisher that does special edition books, contacted me and said they wanted to do an illustrated edition of A man on the Moon, I was thrilled to do it. I began work on it last year in the spring just as the pandemic was getting to its height. I mean, it was such a strange juxtaposition, but my pandemic project turned out to be choosing the images for this book, which I did with my wife, Victoria Kohl, who's a space person and a wonderful writer and editor. And then once we had chosen the images, I did a whole bunch of Photoshop work to make them worthy of putting in the book.
Andy Chaikin: And I got to say, when I go to the Apollo 15 chapter, I am always drawn to this pair of images that I put in. One is a photo that Jim Irwin took from the side of Hadley Delta, of that bright pristine panorama. And if you look very hard, and you know exactly where to look, and I've indicated it with a little white square, you can see a little dot. But on the opposite page I've put in an inset, which is a photo that Dave took with a 500 millimeter lens, and you can clearly see the lunar module sitting on the plains of what they called Hadley base, when they landed at the Hadley Apennine region of the moon. What I'm getting at is here, the chance to add these images, these beautiful images, gave me a chance to bring this storytelling to a new level.
Mat Kaplan: I reread that chapter over the last couple of days because it had been a long time. And I had, maybe not quite forgotten, but some of the beauty of your prose, which stands on its own had slipped away, but those two images, I was going to mention to you if you didn't, because they are so impressive. And of course it was enabled by the fact that these were the first two guys to have a wheeled vehicle on another world. They had the lunar rover for the first time and it allowed them to go so much further and to get that wonderful panorama. There's so much more about this mission. All of the photos that you chose, by the way, are terrific. It really is an amazing publication. It's not cheap, we should warn people, but I think for what you get, if you are a fan of this stuff, it is worth every penny. Well, it's one of the thing I should mention that the introduction for the book was written by some guy named Tom Hanks, who I think you did some work together a few years back.
Andy Chaikin: Well, Tom was filming Apollo 13. My friend put me in touch with the production designer for Apollo 13, a wonderful guy named Michael Corenblith, and Michael was kind enough to host me on a couple of visits to the set of Apollo 13 while they were shooting, and so I met Tom Hanks. In fact, Dave Scott is the one who introduced me to Tom.
Mat Kaplan: Oh wow.
Andy Chaikin: And we instantly connected. Tom and I are the same age. Our birthdays are just a couple of weeks apart. He was a space nut living in Oakland, California. I was a space nut living on Long Island. We really bonded. And when he got done filming he called me and told me about this idea he had for a 12-part miniseries based on my book, which was just an unbelievable turn of events. He brought me in on the ground floor. And that was a fabulous experience. And of course, my publisher was very keen to put out a new edition of the paperback to tie in. And Tom-
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, you think?
Andy Chaikin: Yeah. Right. So Tom was gracious enough to provide a foreword for that. He's so eloquent in his expression of what Apollo means to him. And we've stayed in touch over the years, and it's been really a great association, and I'm very grateful. So yeah, the Tom Hanks 1998 foreword is still here, plus a little bit of explanation by me about that the imaging, choosing the pictures.
Andy Chaikin: And here's the thing, anybody who's listening to this can go online and go to a number of online archives and see these images on a monitor, and blow them up and zoom in and see details that you never knew were there before these beautiful new scans were released back in the early 2000s. Those images are amazing. They are like portals into the experience. There's the Apollo archive on Flickr. Arizona State University has a website called March to the Moon that has not only all the Apollo images, but all the pictures from Mercury and Gemini. I was fat. I was like a happy camper being able to choose which scan was the best, download them all.
Andy Chaikin: But then when you're putting together something like the panorama of Dave Scott collecting a sample on the side of this mountain, which is another one of my favorites, I mean, my God, I think that took me weeks, well, I'm probably exaggerating but not much in Photoshop, because all the individual pictures were taken at slightly different angles, different illumination. There was sun coming into the lens that was blowing out the image in places. Then there are these little crosses that are on the camera that provide kind of a reference. Well, if I had just mosaic them the way they were, it would have looked like a mess. I decided that I would take the liberty of cleaning these things up and making them as beautiful as possible and as true to life from everything that I know about what they actually saw on the way the moon would have looked, from everything I've studied talking to planetary scientists and talking to the astronauts also. And so I really endeavored with these images to give the reader a clear portal, visual portal into that experience. It took a lot of work but it was worth it.
Mat Kaplan: Clearly. I absolutely agree. And your work shows off in each one of those images, I think. You kind of love the moon, don't you?
Andy Chaikin: I've always loved the moon. The wonderful thing about it is, the moon that I knew as a child through the eyepiece of my small backyard telescope-
Mat Kaplan: Me too.
Andy Chaikin: ... has evolved into the moon that I know having studied the geology of the moon in college, having written about and interviewed lunar scientists over the decades. Understanding now that the moon is really... I think of it as the crown jewel of the solar system. And I say that because of several things. First of all, it is the place in the solar system where we can decode the earliest history of our solar system in the cleanest possible way. Scientists have a phrase that they call, a witness plate. When you do an experiment, you have a witness plate to record what happens in that experiment. The moon is a witness plate for cosmic history. I always say that it's like being led into the rear book room of the cosmic library, because it hasn't been wiped out that early history unlike the earth, where there's plate tectonics, and there's volcanism persisting right up to today, and there's weather, and oceans. None of that has happened on the moon. Nothing much has happened on the moon in fact in about 3 billion years.
Andy Chaikin: So the moon is really the Rosetta Stone for decoding what the other planets have to tell us about the earliest history of the solar system, including the time when impacts were bombarding the earth and may have played a key role in the origin of life. Contributing energy, contributing water, organic molecules that were encased in asteroids and comets. All of this, to me, elevates the moon's importance. So that's one thing.
Andy Chaikin: The second thing is that it's the only place in the solar system where you can stand on another world and see the earth as a planet. And you'll see that in the images in this book. The astronauts were mesmerized by the earth. They took countless photographs, including many, many from the lunar surface, where you actually get a sense of place. This is one of the things that I was so struck by when I was writing A man on the Moon was, what must it feel like to stand on this airless dust covered, void, ancient world.
Mat Kaplan: Magnificent desolation.
Andy Chaikin: Magnificent desolation, thank you very much, as Buzz Aldrin so eloquently described it, and look up in this blackness and see this breathtakingly beautiful blue and white planet. The moon is the only place where you can do that. When you go to Mars, the earth is going to be a bright star in the sky. It's not going to be the same experience.
Andy Chaikin: And then finally, the moon is what a couple of science fiction writers I know have called an outward bound school for learning how to live off planet. We have great dreams of becoming a multi planet species, and of course we talk about Mars in that context, but we are not ready to go to Mars. We are ready, thank God. I'm so happy that I'm alive to see this because it really does look like NASA is about to go back to the moon at long last. And they will do that with the full goal of learning how to live on another world. Learning to deal with things like the dust that is ever present and gets into anything that moves. The radiation environment once you leave the earth's magnetic field. You're vulnerable to cosmic rays and solar flare particles. Well, you're vulnerable to cosmic rays anyway, but solar flare particles.
Andy Chaikin: Resources. Can you actually live off the land in any measure using all the brain power that we have to take advantage of surface chemistry and so forth? Can we extract water from the lunar soil or even from these craters at the lunar poles where there are certainly now we know ice deposits?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, lots of them.
Andy Chaikin: So the moon has become such a magnificent world in all of these ways, and I really just am filled with anticipation for seeing this new phase of the adventure unfold.
Mat Kaplan: I'm going to come back to this new effort called Artemis to return humans to the moon, as NASA likes to say, the first woman and the next man. But let's stick with 50 years ago for a minute, Apollo 15. You're a geologist. Is it that geology that these guys did? And apparently according to the chapter in your book about Apollo 15 that they took so seriously, Jim Irwin and Dave Scott. Is that what set them apart from the previous landings? I mean, what else made this mission to the moon unique?
Andy Chaikin: No, that was it. Apollo 15 took advantage of the fact that NASA had upgraded the Apollo spacecraft, taking advantage of a performance margin in the Saturn V, things like that. They ended up adding about 3,000 pounds-
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Andy Chaikin: ... to the weight of the spacecraft, the lunar module and the command service modules. And that included a battery-powered rover, as you mentioned, to let them go miles over the surface and even up the sides of lunar mountains. Extra oxygen and cooling water in their backpacks that let them go outside for more than seven hours at a stretch as it turned out, a full working day on the surface of the moon. With that came an intensified focus on the science return from these missions.
Andy Chaikin: Remember that when we first started going to the moon, science was a passenger. Everybody at NASA knew that going to the moon was so risky that they really had to prioritize getting there and getting back safely. Just getting there and getting back safely was going to be a brilliant accomplishment. So we did that. We did that, not once but twice. Apollo 11, Apollo 12. Apollo 12 showed we could land at a pre-chosen spot by touching down next to a unmanned surveyor probe. And then things were going to get more science-oriented. That's what Apollo 13 was supposed to do, was carry out a more science-oriented exploration. Of course, that didn't get to happen on 13 so 14 was handed that mission. But of course, they had their hands full recovering from 13 and making sure that everything was good to go. And quite honestly, Al Shepard was not particularly interested in geology. He turned out to be a pretty competent lunar observer just from his native intelligence, as one of the geologists told me.
Andy Chaikin: But it wasn't until 15 that the opportunity and the interest came together in the person of Dave Scott. Dave understood that the way his mission was going to stand out was by maximizing the amount of science they got back. And he also genuinely felt a tremendous excitement at the chance to solve mysteries that nobody had ever been able to solve before. To actually pick up rocks that were billions of years old. I mean, he told me, when he first started geology training, they would talk about billions of years old and he would think to himself, "What? Nothing's that old." You can't wrap your brain around it.
Andy Chaikin: And then by the time he went, he and Jim Irwin had been out in the field with some of the country's top geologists. People like Lee Silver from Caltech, Gordan Swann from the US Geological Survey, and many others. And of course, Al Worden had been training with Farouk El-Baz and others on the orbital observations. When they got down onto the surface, Dave and Jim were lunar field geologists. They performed as well as anybody could have asked within the confines of a pressurized space suit. The limitations of being on a timeline that was...
Andy Chaikin: One of the things they had to do was design the moonwalks, so that at any given moment mission control would be watching how much oxygen do they have left in their backpacks, and they could never be allowed to drive the rover farther from the LEM, the lunar module, than they had oxygen to walk back if the rover broke down. That's what makes that picture from the side of Hadley Delta, the one where the lunar module is this little speck, you realize looking at that picture, my God, if the rover breaks down, they've got a three and a half mile walk back to the relative safety of their lander. And yet, as I say in the text, Dave and Jim were anything but apprehensive. They were in fact elated to be there. They knew everything was working. Let's go do some geology.
Andy Chaikin: Now, let me bring in Artemis, because one of the great joys that I've had this year has been the chance to talk to some of the mission control people, the astronauts, the scientists, and share with them lessons from Apollo. And I was able to give a presentation in which I show them clips from things like the Apollo 15 moonwalks, and I showed them how Dave and Jim performed under the pressure of the timeline and did lunar field geology, and they are so jazzed.
Mat Kaplan: Is this what you did at the Johnson Space Center, the academy of engineering there, working with these, what, second or even third generation people who are going to take us back?
Andy Chaikin: That's actually another facet of what I have been doing. I've actually been doing that work for about 10 years now at the request of NASA. Back in 2011 I was asked by the Goddard Space Flight Center to delve into success and failure as a historian, and try and capture what that requires, what it means. What does it take to be successful in something as unforgiving as a space project. And so I decided to go back to Apollo and use Apollo as a model for how you do a space flight program.
Andy Chaikin: Now Apollo was unique in NASA's history because it's the only time, ever, that space has mattered on a scale of national priorities like Apollo did at the height of the Cold War, so it was funded like a war. But having said that, what I do is I've looked at Apollo through the lens of human behavior. What is the mindset that engineers, and managers, and technicians, all the way up and down the food chain in an organization in NASA, in its contractors, what attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions got them to the moon?
Andy Chaikin: And there were missteps, obviously. The fire that killed the first Apollo crew in their spacecraft on the launch pad during a practice countdown with high pressure pure oxygen. Nobody saw that that was a bomb waiting to go off. So I talk about the human behavior elements of how they got to that point. The things that led them astray. And then, how did they recover? It was January of '67 that the fire happened, it took them until October of '68 to make the first pilot at Apollo mission. But by that time Apollo was in such better shape because of the attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, the mindset that they brought to the work in the wake of that tragedy that we got to the moon in July of 1969.
Andy Chaikin: So that is my new career. Really, I am now more of a teacher than I am a writer these days, and I love it. In fact next month I'm giving my class on success and failure in space flight online to the Johnson Space Center as I have done every year for the last five years. But as a kind of subset of that, I have had the opportunity now to talk directly to people who will be working on the Artemis missions, and share specifically the lessons of how do you explore the moon as we learned from missions like Apollo 15.
Mat Kaplan: I think this is utterly fascinating. These things that we can learn from what was done before and avoiding, hopefully, some of those mistakes. It appears that one of the lessons that you try to convey to people is as basic as organizational structure, and making sure that the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid, that their voices are heard. And I'm thinking of how not just with tragedies like Apollo 1 but the Challenger disaster, because there were people telling them, "Don't launch, it's too cold, those O-rings are going to fail." Am I right? Is this one of the things that you try to communicate?
Andy Chaikin: Yes, but it's more than just about communication. Because even when you've created channels of communication, which is absolutely essential, and they worked very hard in Apollo to do that, to make sure that there were independent channels of communication so that if the guys working in the factories lower down or on the shop floor or whatever had problems, that those problems could be elevated to a level at NASA where they could be solved, where the resources could be applied to solve those problems. Opening those channels of communication is absolutely critical, however, two other things come to mind.
Andy Chaikin: One is, you have to create a culture in which people are empowered to present dissenting opinions without fear of retribution. There's a lot of pressure on an organization like NASA. At the time of the early flights of the space shuttle, NASA had promised the world, under duress I must say... They were told to do this even before the shuttle was approved. NASA was told, you will build a space shuttle that will launch not only your payloads but big spy satellites of the Department of Defense, and we'll do reconnaissance missions that can come down after one or two orbits and land at the launch site, which is why they had those big heavy Delta wings, to be able to steer a thousand miles or more away from their initial flight path during re-entry. All of those things. Big, big shuttle orbiter with 60,000 pounds of payload capacity, which is not what chief spacecraft designer Max Faget wanted to build. He wanted to build a much smaller shuttle.
Andy Chaikin: The other requirement that was dictated to NASA was that the shuttle would have to fly often enough to be less expensive than existing throw away boosters. Well, how often is that? Well, they ran the numbers way back in 1970 to after the shuttle was approved, and it looked like if you could fly the shuttle 30 times a year, it would be cost-competitive. Just to give you an idea of the mood they were in after the successes of Apollo, they said, "Hey, why don't we go for 50? We'll fly every week." Okay.
Andy Chaikin: Flash forward to 1981, they start flying the shuttle. By the way, I have to say, the fact that NASA was able to build this amazing vehicle for half the money that they asked for... They asked for 10 billion, they got five. They managed to do it with one little bailout from the White House as the time approached for the shuttle to fly. And they did a magnificent job. But they realized, hey, this thing is never going to fly every week. That's crazy. Let's make it every other week. So that's what NASA headquarters decided at the time of the first shuttle flight.
Andy Chaikin: So now you go through the years leading up to Challenger, and NASA is chasing this goal of flying every other week by 1988 then it becomes 1989. And the pressure from headquarters filters down to Houston, and it filters down to Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama. And so you get to the night before Challenger, the engineers at Thiokol who built the solid rocket boosters have a telecon with managers from Marshall, who were at the Cape for the launch, and they say, "We just found out it's going to be freezing tomorrow morning when you're going to launch this thing, and we've seen on past launches indications that cold temperatures really affect the performance of the O-rings inside these boosters. We really don't feel comfortable launching."
Andy Chaikin: Well, here's where you get into a really important aspect of human behavior. Cognitive scientists have been able to demonstrate, experimentally, that very often when we are presented with a situation, we filter the sensory information that comes to us. Our brains interpret what comes in through our belief system, and very often we don't see what is really there, we see what we believe is there.
Mat Kaplan: This is, I think, often called confirmation bias, but I like your phrase better. Reality distortion field.
Andy Chaikin: Well, right. So I've coined that phrase. And I looked it up after I decided to use that phrase, I said, "Does as anybody out there use this phrase?" And it turns out the only other place it's been used is a description of Steve Jobs as a walking reality distortion field.
Mat Kaplan: Carried the field with him. Right.
Andy Chaikin: Right. So if you are a manager of a shuttle program, or in this case the manager of the solid rocket booster at Marshall, and you know that you've got to get Challenger off the pad so the next mission can be brought to the pad to fly on schedule, which by the way, one of those missions was going to be the Galileo mission to Jupiter-
Mat Kaplan: Oh, man.
Andy Chaikin: ... was going to be in the spring of 1986 with a very scary upper stage in the cargo bay, which that's a whole other story. Would have been an accident if Challenger hadn't happened. When you are in that position, when you are in that reality distortion field of cost pressure, schedule pressure, and political pressure, it's almost like when we were kids, remember the optical illusion. If you look at it one way, it's a pair of faces-
Mat Kaplan: Sure.
Andy Chaikin: ... looking at each other in profile and if you look at it another way it's a vase?
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy Chaikin: You can look at the same data and see it through one lens that says the Thiokol people were saying, "Oh my God. We almost killed a couple of shuttle crews because of these O-rings and the vagaries of their behavior with temperature, which we still haven't really characterized yet but we've seen enough to really be worried," versus the other lens that the Marshall guys were using that says, "You haven't proven to me that we have a problem serious enough to postpone the launch." And that's why Challenger happened, among other things. And well, really, I think the crux of it is that story... Again, this is another aspect, the stories we tell ourselves. We are such storytelling animals. Stories have such power. NASA told itself and the world a story about the shuttle that it would make space flight routine and affordable. And I think that's the heart, not only of the Challenger accident but the Columbia accident because we forgot the lessons of Challenger by the time Columbia flew.
Mat Kaplan: I'll be back with more from author Andy Chaikin in less than a minute.
Sarah Al Ahmed: There's so much going on in the world of space science and exploration, and we are here to share it with you. Hi, I'm Sarah, digital community manager for The Planetary Society. Are you looking for a place to get more space? Catch the latest space exploration news, pretty planetary pictures, and planetary society publications on our social media channels. You can find The Planetary Society on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Make sure you like and subscribe so you never miss the next exciting update from the world of planetary science.
Mat Kaplan: Since you've brought up Columbia, it made me think of another one of your rules, and it can be stated in two words, physics rules. Because people, even after we lost Columbia, couldn't believe that these pieces of fluff, this foam that regularly was stripped off of the external tank, that it could possibly damage something as tough as the leading edge of the shuttle wing, but then they learned, no, physics rules.
Andy Chaikin: Physics rules. And as Richard Feynman said in his minority view addendum to the Challenger commission report, the Rogers Commission, he said, "Mother nature can't be fooled," which is another way of saying the same thing. If you pick up a piece of reinforced carbon-carbon, the material that they used for the leading edge of the wing, because it was so temperature resistant, it feels like really tough stuff. It feels like it's going to take a rifle shell to penetrate this. But the thing is that we as humans, we're so often limited by our experience, and just like the pure oxygen under high pressure that caused the Apollo fire. Most humans in 1967 had never had any experience with oxygen at 16.7 pounds per square inch. They couldn't grok the-
Mat Kaplan: Great word there.
Andy Chaikin: They could not grok the extreme increase in flammability that happens when you put pure oxygen under high pressure. Same thing with this foam. Sean O'Keefe got up before Congress about a week after the accident, and he said, "It's like an astronaut explained to me this morning. That foam coming off the tank and hitting the shuttle is like you're driving down the highway at 50 miles an hour, somebody in front of you has a styrofoam picnic cooler, and it comes off the top of their car and hits your windshield. It's not going to do anything." Well, actually, that's not true.
Andy Chaikin: First of all, we are not talking about styrofoam, we are talking about tank foam, which is not the same material, and it may have ice in it because of the cold temperatures of the skin of the tank causing air to freeze and moisture to freeze. The other thing is, they weren't going at no 50 miles an hour. The shuttle was accelerating at a horrendous rate of speed. It actually ran into the foam. The foam got caught up in the slipstream, and the speed of contact was 500 miles an hour. So that's a tenfold increase in velocity and a hundred fold increase in kinetic energy, but it took a full-scale reenactment at the Southwest research Institute in San Antonio to show everybody what that does. And you can watch the video and you can hear the gasps of the NASA people who were witnessing that because they had no idea that that would happen. It blew a hole right through that re-enforced carbon-carbon the size of a suitcase.
Mat Kaplan: So how do we avoid these things? How do you build it into the organization? The organizational culture. The success culture as you've referred to it. And how much of this is dependent on having great people in charge? Really good leaders.
Andy Chaikin: It's critically dependent on having what I call superb leaders and the culture they create. And I use Apollo as a model for this because the culture of Apollo really stemmed from people like Wernher von Braun and Robert Gilruth, both of whom created cultures that were physics based, physics rules like you said. One in which they wanted to hear dissenting opinions. They wanted to hear from people lower down in the organization who had other, what I call, spotlights of awareness on the problem. It's critical because no one person or even group of people can possibly have enough bandwidth to anticipate all the behaviors of a complex system like a space vehicle. If I was going to sum up what it takes to succeed in that business, it's the image of the high-wire walker. To me that says it all. You look at a high-wire walker... And even better, there was a Chinese acrobat who tried to walk across a very long steel cable back in 2011 wearing a blindfold, and almost made it.
Mat Kaplan: Almost. I'm not sure that counts.
Andy Chaikin: Well, but he did survive. He was lucky because he fell off the wire, and he was going over a big gorge in Western China, and there were trees and bushes that broke his fall. And I use this anecdote in my class and in the companion book that I'm now writing. And I talk about the fact that when you're on a physical high wire, you cannot lie to yourself. You can't tell yourself a story that you're prepared if you're really not. You can't tell yourself a story that you don't really have to worry. You know at any given moment that a false step will kill you. So we have to instill in everybody who works on space flight that you're on a high wire, and it's hard to remember that when you're sitting in the relative calm of a conference room.
Andy Chaikin: But the other thing you have to instill, and this is what I do, is I talk not only about success behaviors but failure behaviors. The aspects of our human nature that are hardwired into us, those are the blindfold. Those are the things that steer us away from success. Things like negative tribal behavior, where we are closing our minds to ideas that come from another group simply because they are not us. Just close mindedness itself, which has become epidemic in our culture. We are all consuming sources of information that confirm what we already believe, but to be successful in space flight, you must be open to real-world information that conflicts with what you already believe. Things like the warning signs on those O-rings.
Andy Chaikin: Everybody thought those solid rocket boosters would be the no-worry element of the shuttle. In fact, there was no escape system to get off that vehicle during the first two minutes of launch. Chris Kraft, the giant of Apollo, later told a group of engineering students at MIT back in 2005, he said, "Look, we talked ourselves into believing that the solid rockets were our escape system, because they are so reliable, get us up to an altitude where we can safely separate from the tank and then we'll come back."
Andy Chaikin: I talked to people who worked on the Surveyor lander, the very first soft landers that we sent to the moon. One of the project engineers said to me, "You've always got to be running scared a little bit." And Gentry Lee, I know you know Gentry at JPL, now a gray-beard engineer who looks over the shoulder of much younger engineers doing things like Perseverance rover. I met Gentry when I was a college student working on the Viking landing as an intern. And when I interviewed Gentry years later about Viking and about the success culture that Viking had, he said it came from his boss, Jim Martin, who was the project manager, who said, "You gather the best people and then you instill," what he called, "proper paranoia," which means you are scared blankless that it won't work. It's a little bit different from writing stories and being a book author but I love it. I really feel like I'm in my element with this stuff.
Mat Kaplan: And I look forward to seeing that book based on this stuff, which you told me about several years ago when we ran into each other at APL, the Applied Physics Lab, that you were working on.
Andy Chaikin: Yes.
Mat Kaplan: We were there to see new horizons past that big rock out past Pluto. All right. I haven't forgotten.
Andy Chaikin: I'm working hard for it to be out next year so I will be back.
Mat Kaplan: Great.
Andy Chaikin: I will keep you posted.
Mat Kaplan: I want to take you back to the moon, and especially the men, they were all men, of course, who went there, and how they fit into this paradigm, this structure that you say you need for success. They weren't leading programs, although several of them had a lot of responsibility within Apollo. You interviewed every one of them, as we said, except Jack Swigert. I've only met a handful, but I suspect that they all had a few things in common, that generation of astronauts. Am I right? What do you think?
Andy Chaikin: Sure. At that point in time the whole selection process for astronauts was a very narrow filter. For the first two astronaut groups, you had to be a test pilot. So that right there, not that many pilots in the country were test pilots with experience with high-performance aircraft. They are coming out of the ranks of places like the Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland, and the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. And then with the third group, many of whom flew to the moon on Apollo and the groups after that, they removed the requirement to be a test pilot and now you could have pilots who flew fighter aircrafts, many of them in combat. Buzz Aldrin, for example, who flew in Korea and shot down a couple of MiGs.
Andy Chaikin: You start with that kind of person. What kind of person enjoys climbing into a machine that can kill you without thinking about it? If you're careless or even if you're not careless, things can go wrong very fast in a supersonic jet. So enjoys doing that, and then throw in the dangers of flying in combat, and then has the intelligence, the observational skills, the perception to be a good test pilot, if that's what they are. They tend to be loners. They tend to be highly competitive intelligent overachievers. Those are the similarities. And that all came out at the time. I mean, that was very much in the life magazine portrayal of these guys that you and I grew up reading and that was all the information we had really was profiles like those.
Andy Chaikin: When I sat down with them, what I discovered to my happiness was the differences that were kind of lurking below the surface of those life magazine profiles. They were surprisingly different in their personalities and outlooks. I mean, you take two people as different as Frank Borman, who was and still is... And I'm still in touch with Frank. Frank is an unreconstructed cold warrior. I think one of the other things about these guys, they all came out of a time when it didn't matter how you felt about something, what mattered was what you did. They weren't great about feelings. And Frank has been very candid about that. He said to me, "We weren't humanists in this business." And yet Frank can be very eloquent. His comment at the end of the Genesis broadcast, "God bless all of you on the good earth," is one of the greatest phrases ever spoken from a spacecraft, in this case orbiting the moon.
Andy Chaikin: Contrast him with Ed Mitchell, who in many ways had the same, don't screw with me, I'm a macho guy test pilot attitude, but there was this other piece of Ed that was just endlessly curious about the nature of the universe and the nature of reality. And that came to full flower when he went to the moon, and on the way back to earth had an experience of the universe as a living conscious intelligent entity. Well, the other guys just rolled their eyes at that stuff. And in fact on Apollo 14, you probably remember this, that Ed Mitchell brought along some little cards with pictures on them that he used to do a little ESP experiment, obviously clandestine. No, Deke Slayton didn't know about that one. But it came out after he got back.
Andy Chaikin: The other guys just laughed and rolled their eyes and they even made a joke during one of the moonwalks, somebody said, "I guess Ed Mitchell's transmitting because we already thought of that. He already thought of what you just said so Ed Mitchell must be psychically transmitting." So your take about two people is different of those two personalities and you begin to understand that it was actually a rich landscape within that narrow filter. And that's what I was going for when I wrote my book. I really wanted to make each of these guys come alive as three-dimensional human beings.
Mat Kaplan: And you succeeded that brilliantly. I mean, that is so much of what makes this story human and real to all of us who... I still wish I had the opportunity to go up there and do a couple of the things that they did, but did I have the right stuff, do I have it? Probably not to the degree that they did and do. I've also met a couple of the newest astronauts chosen by NASA, gotten to talk with them, along with many of the shuttle and ISS travelers. They seem to me like a very different sort of group. Still tremendously capable, brilliant people. I mean-
Andy Chaikin: Oh my God.
Mat Kaplan: Bill Nye likes to say that they put on the astronaut application, how many PhDs do you have? A, three. B, five or more.
Andy Chaikin: I have to tell you something funny. I won't say who said this to me. But I was talking to an astronaut who had retired, and this astronaut had flown on the International Space Station, and so not as young as today's astronauts obviously and had now retired. But this astronaut had sat in on the selection of some of these new astronauts that you're talking about, and this person said to me that as they were listening to these applicants come before the selection board, they turned to one of the other astronauts on the board and said, "I'm not sure I would pick us today." So that gives you an idea. Even for them, they understand how quickly the curve is rising on the level of talent and capability.
Mat Kaplan: It's not just that though in what I have seen. And tell me if you agree, these people seem... They are just the nicest people in the world, by and large, because they are chosen to be. NASA knew these people are going to be living together, in some cases for up to a year, in very tight quarters, they have to be people that just get along really well and are a pleasure to be with.
Andy Chaikin: Absolutely. And that's been true actually since the shuttle. NASA kind of pivoted with the selection of the shuttle astronauts beginning in 1978. They realized that the old Apollo model was not going to work going forward. The prime example in Apollo that I write about in the book, Apollo 14, you had, again, Ed Mitchell, who I've just described to you, in the same spacecraft with Alan Shepard, the icy commander of Tom Wolfe's right staff. Those two guys could get along on a 10-day Apollo mission without any problem. But as you point out, you put two people or six people or seven people in a space station and stick them up there for months at a time, you've got to have people who know how to get along and who know how to deal with the inevitable moments when somebody is going to be having a bad day and is in a bad mood and wants to be alone.
Andy Chaikin: They started to find that stuff out on Skylab back in the '70s. Jerry Carr, who was a good friend and lived up here in Vermont right near where I am, talked about his Skylab experiences. He said, "There were some times when you just want to be a wart. You feel like a wart and you want to be alone." He was very candid about that, and they ended up having their little seance with mission control about, "Hey guys, you're giving us too much to do, we've got to back off and be human beings here and have some time off."
Andy Chaikin: Well, the guys now, NASA is choosing them with all of that experience under their belt. Doesn't mean that they are always going to do exactly the right thing by those people, and there are still going to be moments when astronauts need to come back to mission control and say, "Wait a minute guys," but that stuff is so much less of a factor now than it ever was before. What I am struck with when I talk to them is not only the extraordinary degree of skill and capability, but the extraordinary passion. In the Astronaut Corps today, it doesn't matter if you are a biologist, or an engineer, or a test pilot, if you are going to the moon, you are all in for the science of the mission. That comes through loud and clear when I talk to these folks, and the mission controllers.
Andy Chaikin: On Apollo 15, one of the things that made things go smoothly was the fact that at Dave Scott's suggestion and encouragement, the flight directors for the mission went along on those geology field trips. Jerry Griffin, the lead flight director for the moonwalks, was along on those trips and got to see what it was like when they did their practice moonwalks, and the constraints that they would be under, and the way that they carried out the task of being a lunar field geologist, so that when the time came on the moon when things would come up, Jerry was in the loop, literally and figuratively.
Andy Chaikin: And one story that I tell in the book that comes to mind... I told this story to the astronauts and flight controllers who I gave this talk to a few months ago who are working on Artemis. Apollo 15's third moonwalk. They have a battery power drill that they've used on the previous moonwalk to drill a core sample several feet down into the surface to get at some of the dust layers and the little pebbles that are encased in that dust to bring it back as a coherent sample that they can then examine layer by layer by layer by layer, paging through this millions and billions of year old history that it records, but the drill was stuck in the ground.
Andy Chaikin: Dave and Jim struggled for a long time, and think about how precious time is during a moonwalk. As they were struggling, both Jerry Griffin, in his flight director's chair, and Joe Allen, the young scientist astronaut who was the capsule communicator, and also intimately involved in the science development of that mission, they started to be aware of the fact that the managers in the back row of mission control were getting restless. There were other objectives that were being delayed by this struggle. And Jerry Griffin walked over to Joe Allen, leaned down and said, "You take care of that core, I'll worry about the back row."
Mat Kaplan: It's a great episode.
Andy Chaikin: It's a fabulous episode. I told this to the guys, I said, you've got to have the people in the flight director chair out with the crew so they know what's at stake at any given moment. Of course, that deep core that they did get out of the ground finally turned out to be one of the great treasures of Apollo.
Mat Kaplan: And we could go on with some of the treasures that these guys dug up, including that fantastic Genesis Rock, which there is that wonderful photo you included in the book of this thing sitting as if it's Arthur's sword, Excalibur, waiting to be picked up by the astronauts.
Andy Chaikin: Isn't that a great photo? I love that photo.
Mat Kaplan: That's great.
Andy Chaikin: And you can see that rock, it's got a lot of grime on it. It's been sitting there for millions of years since the impact that excavated it from the moon's primordial crust, but between the layers of grime, you see the white of pure anorthosite calcium feldspar that the scientists had told Dave and Jim, "We think that's what the primordial crust of the moon is made of." And that's why they both reacted to it so ecstatically and Dave said, "I think we found what we came for."
Mat Kaplan: You geologist you, I can hear your thrill as well. You talk about the human challenges and the engineering challenges, whether it's a stuck drill, or a failing life support system, now we turn to the red planet from the moon. Now the moon is bad enough. To quote somebody you already used a word from, "It can be a real harsh mistress." A good place to practice, but Mars, my goodness. Mention the story that you were told by one of your mentors, Jim Van... Is it Laak? Is that how it's pronounced?
Andy Chaikin: Yes. Jim Van Laak was just a brilliant manager at NASA. He, among other things, helped to run the Shuttle–Mir program. Remember the flights when shuttles would dock with the Mir space station and one of NASA's astronauts would live on Mir for months at a time and so on. And Jim has seen a lot of history at NASA from the inside. And he's got a great mind and he and I have spent a lot of time talking over the last 10 years. And Jim told me that when he gives public talks and he talks about the challenges of going to Mars... I think of going to Mars as the Mount Everest for humanity. It's that difficult. It really towers above Apollo in difficulty.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely.
Andy Chaikin: And the way that he expresses the magnitude of that is, he says to the audience, "If you're on the way to Mars and the toilet breaks down, you're dead." Everybody laughs and they think it's a potty joke, but no. He explains that the toilet is one of the ways that you recycle water and nutrients on a Mars mission, which lasts from the time you leave till the time you get home, upwards of three years. There's no way you can bring along all of the water, all of the food that you need for a mission that long. You've got to have what's called closed-loop life support, where everything is recycled to the fullest extent that's humanly possible.
Andy Chaikin: When I hear people talk about going to Mars, even in the 2030s, I just don't buy it because I think about challenges like that. I think about the reliability that you have to have in all of the parts and pieces on a Mars vehicle. I mean, what are you going to do? You can't 3D print every possible thing that could break, right? And you can't bring spares for everything that could possibly break. I think about the radiation. We talked about this, when you leave the earth's magnetic field. How are you going to protect the guys from solar flare particles if there's a storm? Well, the people are working on that. Water blocks those particles, so you build a storm shelter surrounded by tanks of water that's your water supply.
Andy Chaikin: But I also think about the psychological challenges. And when you go to Mars, as I mentioned earlier, the earth is just a bright star. You have to realize that you will never have a real-time conversation with anybody on earth once you're, I don't know, a million miles away. And of course, by the time you get to Mars, you are somewhere approaching a hundred million miles away depending on where Mars is in its orbit. So you've got to be prepared for a level of isolation for most of that three years that most people never have to experience. And your only conversations in real time will be with the people who are on the mission with you. All of those things say to me that we have a long way to go.
Andy Chaikin: Now, who knows? Elon Musk may get his star ship flying, I'm very excited about that by the way, and may decide to try to launch people to Mars a lot sooner, but we have to be prepared for the very real possibility that that won't end well, and not let it completely derail us, I guess, is the way to think about it. I don't hold much hope that at age 65 I'm going to live to see people walking on Mars. I hope I'm wrong. I guess if I live another 20, 25 years I guess there's a good chance. I guess there's a chance.
Mat Kaplan: Let's watch together if that happens because I'm a roughly your age and I'm not giving up hope yet. So we are left with this question, we know how difficult it's going to be, we know how challenging it is, and that we may have to accept some failure along the way and which people may lose their lives, should humans go to Mars? Do you think that this is part of something that we should be striving for?
Andy Chaikin: I definitely think we should be striving for it. By the way I forgot to mention, another hazard is if we do get to Mars and live on the surface in our little Hab modules and so forth, the dust could end up being toxic. I'm just adding that to the list. We've already gotten indications of potential toxins in the dust like perchlorate.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. And just as dangerous on the moon but for different reasons. I mean, little razorblades.
Andy Chaikin: Exactly. Impact particles, and what's that going to do to the respiratory systems of the astronauts. Even if you build space suits that never come inside, they stay docked to the Hab module or the rover and you climb in and out of them through the back of the suit, how do you service this suit if the dust starts to interfere with their functioning? We've got so many unknowns to solve. Look, I wrote a book called A Passion for Mars.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, yes. I was going to bring it up about the original Martians, the Mars underground, and people who have believed now for decades, so many of them are still with us, that, oh yes, we need to be the Martians as Ray Bradbury put it.
Andy Chaikin: I am a dyed-in-the-wool Bradbury devotee from the time I was in high school and I first encountered his essays, and poems, and Mars and the Mind of Man. Bradbury is one of my all time mentors and for so many of us, but the reality is that you get to Mars and you're living on a place, you're living on a world that is basically inhospitable. It's not like the Western expansion of this country. It's not like other pioneering efforts in human history where people may have had to surmount all kinds of obstacles to get to the new frontier, but they didn't have to bring their own oxygen. They didn't have to live basically underground to avoid being dosed with radiation constantly. I wonder whether or not we really have what it takes to create a settlement on a world that's that hostile, where as I say, you are so far removed from humanity.
Andy Chaikin: I have to say I was sitting next to one of my planetary science friends several years ago having dinner, and he said to me, "I'm really wondering at this point, by the time we are ready to go to Mars, will we need to go, because we'll have virtual reality that is so sophisticated that we'll be able to be there without actually having to make the trip." Now, believe me, I'm the last person to say that that negates the human drive to go to the next hill, and look over the mountain top and see what's there, and all the things that are so much a part of what makes us human. And I want to hear the voice of human beings talking to us from the surface of Mars.
Andy Chaikin: Right after Apollo 11 and those ghostly black and white pictures from the sea of tranquility, I drew in my drawing pad an image of what the TV signal might look like of the first step on Mars. And at that time we were told it might be 1983. That's been in me for a long time. I want to hear those voices. I want to hear about it when they get back. But I don't know. That's a huge mountain for humanity to climb. I just am really curious, I would say, about how that's going to unfold.
Mat Kaplan: I am reminded, though, of a comparison that you made between what was really the first Earthrise image that we got from lunar orbiters, robots, and how that got some press but was nothing like the notoriety that came when those first Earthrise images came from Apollo 8, and how much more meaningful that was because some of us had taken that picture.
Andy Chaikin: Right. And in particular Bill Anders, who was the rookie on Apollo 8, and I worked very hard to show that it was Bill Andrews, by the way, because Frank Borman had claimed credit for that picture.
Mat Kaplan: I'd forgotten that.
Andy Chaikin: The NASA transcripts were incorrect and made it look like Borman had taken it. That was close to my heart, that little piece of detective work. And I have to say, for me, the fact that it was taken by a camera held by human hands is a big, big difference. And the fact that Bill could come back from the moon and tell us what he thought, what he felt as he looked at the earth and saw the contrast with this bleak lunar landscape, that elevates it to a level of a human experience now that is absolutely momentous. Now contrast that with New Horizons, which you mentioned, and being on the imaging team for New Horizons, which has been a fabulous experience for me, and I'm now kind of the team historian and I will be writing a book about that down the line.
Mat Kaplan: And by the way Alan Stern will be my guest next week on Planetary Radio talking about sub-orbital science but also about this new Pluto compendium of data that has just been published.
Andy Chaikin: Well, we could spend a whole hour on Alan Stern and his impact on the exploration of the solar system.
Mat Kaplan: Busiest man in space as I call him.
Andy Chaikin: That's an experience that I think... There's no way to send a human to Pluto. There's no way to send a human to Enceladus in the foreseeable future, or to orbit Mercury. So when we go to our browser and dial up whatever our favorite source of planetary images is, mine is JPL's planetary photo journal... But The Planetary Society has a fabulous collection of space imagery, I must say.
Mat Kaplan: We sure do. Absolutely.
Andy Chaikin: That's different because then we are sort of democratizing the experience of discovery, right? We get to see exactly the same thing that the scientists see, and very often at the moment they see it, if a mission is being carried live on television or on the web. Updating myself. I think where there is a chance to send people, we must send people, because of how it adds to our collective experience. The absolute priceless treasure that that adds to our collective experience to be able to vicariously share in what a few lucky representatives of humanity who were able to see with their own eyes.
Mat Kaplan: Hear, hear. Andy, this has just been spectacular as always, as is this new edition of A Man on the Moon from the Folio Society Press. Take a look at it folks. Even if you decide not to buy it, if you take a look at it, you may change your mind. It is that beautiful, and it was made possible, of course, because it started out as that wonderful, not as richly illustrated book that Andy Chaikin wrote back in 1994 after eight years of work and meeting all of the Apollo astronauts save one. And then there are all those other books that you've done. You mentioned A Passion for Mars. I just yesterday ordered... And now I can't remember the title. What's the book that you wrote for young people that was illustrated by an astronaut?
Andy Chaikin: It's called Mission Control, this is Apollo. That was a great pleasure to do that with my wife, Victoria Kohl, and Alan Bean's paintings. Alan Bean, the only person to have walked on the moon or been to the moon, who became a painter, an artist.
Mat Kaplan: And a damn good one.
Andy Chaikin: Yes. Yes. And a wonderful human being. One of my mentors also, and I miss him every day. That was a great experience also.
Mat Kaplan: I just got one more question for you. We won't hold our breath for footsteps on Mars, but where do you want to be when that first woman and the next man return to the moon and step down onto that dusty surface?
Andy Chaikin: Well, if I could have my choice I'd like to be in the geology back room. I'd like to be with the scientists who will be looking over the shoulders of the crew and helping them with their explorations and being able to see that new incarnation of lunar field geology unfold from the inside.
Mat Kaplan: Andy if they ask me, I'll say, "Of course, you got to let him in. He earned this many times over." Thank you so much, Andy.
Andy Chaikin: Thank you so much, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Space historian and author, Andy Chaikin. Time again for What's Up on Planetary Radio. We are joined by the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, that is Bruce Betts. Welcome back. I have a message for you from [Laura Dodd 01:17:06] in California to Bruce, "Regarding the listener who complained about the varying difficulty of the trivia questions, I like the variety. Some make me work hard, which is great, the easy ones allow more people to participate, which is also great. You're doing fine."
Bruce Betts: Thank you. That's kind of what I was thinking but it's really nice to hear it from a listener so thank you.
Mat Kaplan: I hope that's been enough to pull you out of the terrible depression that you've been in ever since you heard that first message.
Bruce Betts: Well, no, but it's a really good start.
Mat Kaplan: All right. Looking up at the night sky will cheer you up.
Bruce Betts: Well, low in the west, we've got Venus. Sorry. Low in the west in the early evening, Venus looking super bright. And coming up over in the east in the early evening now, early bright Jupiter and yellowish Saturn. Saturn reaching opposition on August 2nd, where it's on the opposite side of the earth from the sun, and so it will be rising around sunset and setting around sunrise. Perseid meteor shower coming up. Peak in August 12th and 13th, with increased activity before and after by several days. I'll give you more about that as we get closer. We move on to this week in space history. Apollo 15.
Mat Kaplan: I'm all over it.
Bruce Betts: 50-year anniversary of Apollo 15 landing on the moon and driving a rover for the first time with humans in it and then launching before heading back to earth. It was a big deal, big mission, good stuff.
Mat Kaplan: What great timing that we were able to bring Andy Chaikin on this week to talk in large part about just that.
Bruce Betts: Onto random space facts.
Mat Kaplan: [inaudible 01:18:55]
Bruce Betts: Here's another thing I didn't know, which is where a lot of my random space facts come from. There were several cosmonauts that were almost injured in an assassination attempt against Leonid Brezhnev in 1969. The Soyuz 4 and 5 crew was going to have a ceremony to celebrate their success, and they were in an open car in the front and then an assassin thinking he was attacking the car with Brezhnev, who wasn't in it, attacked the car with the other cosmonauts, rather famous ones, including Valentina Tereshkova and Alexei Leonov and actually killed their driver.
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. Wow.
Mat Kaplan: I had no idea. I'd never heard of this. First of all, that was one dumb assassin. You ever see Leonid Brezhnev? Could you confuse him with an astronaut? I don't think so.
Bruce Betts: The ones who got attacked were in a closed car to his credit... But, yeah, no, no. That happened in bold fashion. After they tidied things up, they went ahead and had the celebration ceremony for Soyuz 4 and 5.
Mat Kaplan: That's an amazing story.
Bruce Betts: We move on to the trivia contest. I had asked you, what was the first successful Venus orbiter? Perhaps one of the ones out of the easy category, we'll see.
Mat Kaplan: I think you could say that. Yeah, I think this is one of the easier ones. Here is the answer hidden away in verse, from our poet laureate, [Dave Fairchild 01:20:26] in Kansas. "Venera 9 was the 24th mission that headed toward Venus from earth, fewer than half had been close to successful for space it had been quite a dearth. But this one completed and down through the heated, acidic confusion it came orbiting lander was landing for Soviet union a claim," something I imagine Leonid Brezhnev was also pretty proud of.
Bruce Betts: Yeah, I'm sure, took credit for. So we have the Venera 9 lander but also the orbiter, which was the first successful Venus orbit.
Mat Kaplan: Here's our winner. First time, Russell Brown in Manitoba, Canada. He said Venera 9 as most of you did, and so congratulations, Russell. We're going to be sending you that new paperback edition of The Sirens of Mars by our friend Sarah Stewart Johnson. The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World, a lovely, lovely book. And you can listen to my conversation with Sarah last fall when the hardcover edition of that came out. Here's some other stuff. Norman [Cassoon 01:21:33] in the UK. This is really interesting. I did not know, much of the earlier history, but it was February 12th, 1961.
Bruce Betts: Wow.
Mat Kaplan: The Soviet spacecraft, Naro-1, according to Norman in the UK, was the first flyby probe launched to another planet. Overheated orientation sensor cost it to malfunction. Lost contact with earth before it approached Venus. However, the probe was the first to combine all the necessary features of an interplanetary spacecraft: solar panels, parabolic telemetry antenna, three axis stabilization, course correction engine, and the first launch from a parking orbit. That's fascinating. Of course, you knew all this.
Bruce Betts: Well, of course. They also packed a lunch.
Mat Kaplan: I was going to say, they didn't bring along a DVD with names provided by The Planetary Society.
Bruce Betts: The whole technology development thing also didn't work. Later on they had a lot of real success but those early Venera missions had problems.
Mat Kaplan: A real British invasion here. [Laurel Weller 01:22:40] also in the UK. Venus exploration sounds so exciting. I loved that comment that our children will be studying Venus because of these missions. That, of course, came from the PIs that we talked to for the VERITAS and DAVINCI missions. "Yes to that," says Laura Weller. And another one from jolly old England. [Lougla Cane 01:23:01] hopes that someday we will have orbiting airships above the Venus clouds of preset altitudes to observe the atmosphere and its contents. That is something that we've talked about, and that you've thought about as well, right? Balloons or dirigibles up there?
Bruce Betts: I've just thought about them, I haven't done anything professionally with that. But I've thought about, wouldn't it be nice to put Mat on one of those?
Mat Kaplan: It depends on the altitude. Here's an odd one from Kent [Murley 01:23:30] in... Well, he's really from Washington. He is speaking as a Venusian. "As all Venusians know, the first orbiter of Venus was the sun. For you youngsters who weren't around yet before the sky is properly clouded over, the sun is the source of that glow that shifts around our planet about once a year. This system was first recorded by our famous theoretical astronomer, [inaudible 01:23:52]." It goes on and on. It's really quite clever but that's just a sample directly from Venus apparently. And finally from [Pavle Kamisha 01:24:01]... Finally from Pavle in Belarus. "Choosing The Sirens of Mars book as the prize for a Venus trivia contest in a Venus episode, that looks kind of counterintuitive. Here's hoping that there will be some interesting books or even book series about Venus like The Venusian, or Yellowish Venus, Green Venus, and Blue Venus." Well done, Pavle. That's it. We're ready for more.
Bruce Betts: All right. We're going to talk orbital stuff coming back into the atmosphere. Mir was the most massive object to re-enter the earth's atmosphere, followed by Skylab. What was next? After Mir and Skylab, what was the most massive artificial object to re-enter the earth's atmosphere? Go to planetory.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: Cool. You've got until Wednesday, August 4th at 8:00 AM Pacific Time to get us the answer to this brand new quiz. And we have a brand new one of a kind prize for you. Well, I think they printed more than one but we only have one to give away. It is the book, Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings, including Apollo 15. It comes to us from Earl Swift, who also wrote the bestseller, Chesapeake Requiem from Custom House. It's terrific. I haven't read all of it but it's excellent. The full development of the rover and a lot of how it contributed to our exploration of the moon.
Mat Kaplan: Now you may be wondering, why aren't we giving away that new Folio Society edition of A man on the Moon? Well, because it's really expensive. Also, the Folio Society wanted us to tell you, because their books are very special, they are sold only at their site, foliosociety.com. You're not going to find that on Amazon or any place like that. You can probably still get the older editions of A man on the Moon by our friend Andy Chaikin. Plus the other great book by him that I've got, which is probably as beautiful as this new edition of A man on the Moon from Folio Society, it's the book he wrote in collaboration with the Air and Space Museum, it's simply called Air and Space. All about the collection at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.. But we are giving away Across the Airless Wilds. Good luck. How can I say, I hope your number comes up in random.org, I'm talking to tens of thousands of you, but what the heck, good luck.
Bruce Betts: All right everybody, go out there and look up at the night sky and think about squid. Thank you, and good night.
Mat Kaplan: Do you know a squid or at least cuttlefish can propel themselves at 25 miles an hour or faster using their water jets?
Bruce Betts: Random marine life fact.
Mat Kaplan: That is Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, who joins us every week here for What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its historic members. Become part of their continuing saga at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Jason Davis are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad astra.