Apollo 11- the day after the "Moonwalk" Not bad for a nub

"Dips" and "Aps" were two terms that I had actually remembered from the Apollo 10 mission. DPS, or "dips" as Cronkite liked to say, stood for Descent Propulsion System and was a catch-all term representing the LEM's descent stage. APS stood for Ascent Propulsion System and functioned in a similar linguistic manner to describe the ascent stage. On the day following the EVA... or "moonwalk" as the public would forever call it... everyone was focused on the APS.

In an attempt to satisfy my newborn thirst for learning about Apollo, I spent most of the morning gathering studying every shred of spaceflight material that I had accumulated prior to the Apollo 11 flight. The result was meager at best. There I sat on my bedroom floor with a copy of "Life" from Apollo 10 featuring the LEM, two books from the Science Service- one on Man In Space and the other just titled "The Moon" plus a 1:144 LEM/CSM combination model that I'd gotten as a bonus for subscribing to the Science Service publications and, of course, that paper LEM that no one could assemble. It was clear... even to a 12 year old... that my reference collection needed to be beefed up a bit.

Every form of media carried triumphant images and stories of the previous evening's lunar EVA. The faces of the Apollo 11 crew were everywhere along with seriously outdated illustrations of the Lunar Module- often with the round, docking port, forward hatch that had been out of the equation for a half dozen years. In fact, you did not have to look hard to find the lunar event illustrated with the helicopter-style ascent stage lunar module from 1962. Clearly, I was not the only person who had been caught with a meager reference library- most of the news media had similar problems.

It had been made clear that morning, to anyone with a brain, that the engine on the Apollo 11 LEM's ascent stage had to function today in order for the "...two astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin..." to get off of the surface of the moon. Every form of media had stated that fact over and over again through the night and into the morning. I spent a lot of time pondering the APS engine on my model... it was just a nub!... there had to be more to it than that?

After the previous day's landing, one of my uncles, who was a true know-it-all and life long BS'er, apparently sensed my newly sparked interest in the space program and did his best to show me he knew more than anyone else about the LEM. He went into a dramatic description about bolts and dies that held the two stages of the LEM together and how the ascent engine had to build up enough power to sheer those bolts through those dies in order for the two stages to separate and the astronauts to get off of the moon. Of course it was all BS, but I believed it for a while... that is... until the day that I concluded that if you wanted to learn about how a space vehicle works- you had to read about it rather than listen to what a grown up tells you. In later life, however, I was guilty of the same thing- when I told my nephew, who was here visiting Washington DC that we won the War of 1812 because the British got stuck in traffic on I-95 as they tried to get to Baltimore.

I sat and staged my model LEM hundreds of times that morning... didn't seem to be an issue with bolts and dies, but the ascent engine was still just a nub. As the TV coverage got close to launch, for the first time I sensed the element of real risk that is involved in spaceflight. You could hear it in the tone of Cronkite's voice and in the silence of Schirra. The countdown clock on the TV ticked away as we heard Buzz's voice, "...Abort Stage... Engine Arm to Ascent... Proceed..." Over the airwaves we heard a hollow "pop" of static followed by an unusual hiss. Somehow, that equated to me and I knew they'd lifted off. The chatter from Buzz confirmed this, but most assuring was the banter of relief from Cronkite and Schirra. As the animation showed the LEM's ascent stage climbing higher and higher with the APS blasting out a plume of white animated fire that was actually not visible at all, I pretend flew my plastic model, and looked at the nub of the engine. It had worked and the astronauts were on their way to LOR with the CSM... "not bad for a nub," I thought to myself.

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