Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"The Apollo 11 Moon Landing" from VOA

I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we continue our history of the American space program with the flight of Apollo Eleven.

A rocket launch countdown. A common sound in the nineteen sixties. But this was not just another launch. It was the beginning of a historic event. It was the countdown for Apollo Eleven -- the space flight that would carry men to the first landing on the moon.

The ground shook at Cape Kennedy, Florida, the morning of July sixteenth, nineteen sixty-nine. The huge Saturn Five rocket moved slowly up into the sky. It rose perfectly. Someone on the launch crew spoke the words: "Good luck. And Godspeed."

In the spacecraft at the top of the speeding rocket were three American astronauts whose names soon would be known around the world: Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Neil Armstrong was the commander of the spacecraft. He was a test pilot. He had flown earlier on one of the two-man Gemini space flights. Armstrong was a calm person, a man who talked very little.

Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin was pilot of the moon lander vehicle. The astronauts gave it the name Eagle. Aldrin had flown on the last of the Gemini flights. He also was a quiet man, except when he talked about space.

Michael Collins was the pilot of the command module vehicle, Columbia. He also had made a Gemini flight. He would wait in orbit around the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin landed and explored the surface. Collins was very popular and always ready with a smile.

Two-and-one-half minutes after the Apollo Eleven launch, the first-stage rocket separated from the spacecraft. Twelve minutes later, the spacecraft reached orbit. Its speed was twenty-nine thousand kilometers an hour. Its orbit was one hundred sixty-five kilometers above the Earth.

This was the time for the crew to test all the spacecraft systems. Everything worked perfectly. So, the NASA flight director told them they were "go" for the moon. They fired the third-stage rocket. It increased the speed of the spacecraft to forty thousand kilometers an hour. This was fast enough to escape the pull of the Earth's gravity.

Apollo Eleven was on its way to the moon. In seventy-seven hours, if all went well, Apollo Eleven would be there.

Halfway to the moon, the astronauts broadcast a color television program to Earth.

The broadcast showed how the astronauts lived on the spacecraft. It showed their instruments, food storage, and details of how they moved and worked without gravity to give them weight.

The television broadcast also showed the Earth behind Apollo Eleven. And it showed the moon growing larger in the blackness ahead. As hours passed, the pull of the moon's gravity grew stronger. Near the moon, the astronauts fired rockets to slow the spacecraft enough to put it into moon orbit.

Apollo Eleven circled the moon while the crew prepared for the landing. Finally, spacecraft commander Armstrong and NASA flight controllers agreed it was time to separate the lander module Eagle from the command module Columbia.

Armstrong and Aldrin moved through the small opening between the two spacecraft. Then they moved Eagle away from Columbia. Armstrong reported: "The Eagle has wings!" The lunar module was ready. Men were about to land on the moon.

On Earth, all activity seemed to stop. President Richard Nixon gave federal government workers the day off to watch the moon landing on television. Around the world, five hundred million people watched the television report. Countless millions more listened on their radios.

Armstrong and Aldrin fired the lander rocket engine. The firing slowed the spacecraft and sent it down toward the landing place. It was in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility.

The lunar lander, controlled by a computer, dropped toward the airless surface of the moon. One hundred forty meters from the surface, the astronauts took control of the lander from the computer. They moved Eagle forward, away from a very rocky area that might have caused a difficult landing.

The voices of Aldrin and Armstrong could be heard in short messages.

EDWIN ALDRIN: "Forward. Forward. Good. Forty feet. Down two and a half. Kicking up some dust. Thirty feet. Two and a half down. Faint shadow. Four forward. Four forward. Drifting to the right a little. OK. Down a half.

MISSION CONTROL: "Thirty seconds …"

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "Forward drift?"

EDWIN ALDRIN: "Contact light. OK. Engine stop. "

Armstrong reported:

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

NASA's plan had called for the astronauts to test instruments, eat and then rest for four hours before leaving the Eagle. But Armstrong and Aldrin asked to cancel the four-hour sleep period. They wanted to go out onto the moon as soon as they could get ready. NASA controllers agreed.

It took the astronauts more than three hours to complete the preparations for leaving the lander. It was difficult -- in Eagle's small space -- to get into space suits that would protect them on the moon's surface.

Finally, Armstrong and Aldrin were ready. They opened the door. Armstrong went out first and moved slowly down the ladder. At two hours fifty-six Greenwich Mean Time on July twentieth, nineteen sixty-nine, Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

The world could see the history-making event on television. But the man who was closest to what was happening, Michael Collins, could only listen. He was orbiting the moon in the command module Columbia. It did not have a television receiver.

Armstrong moved carefully away from the Eagle. He left the cold, black shadow of the lander and stepped into the blinding white light of the sun. On Earth, all was quiet. No sound came from televisions or radios. No one felt able to talk about what was happening.

Armstrong began to describe what he saw: "The surface appears to be very, very fine grain, like a powder. I can kick it loosely with my toes. I can see footprints of my boots in the small, fine particles. No trouble to walk around."

Aldrin appeared on the ladder. Down he came, very slowly. Soon, both men were busy placing experiments to be left behind on the moon. They collected more than thirty kilograms of rock and soil to take back to Earth. They moved easily and quickly, because the moon's gravity is six times less than Earth's.

Hours passed. Too soon, it was time to return to the Eagle. Armstrong and Aldrin re-entered the lander. They rested for a while. Then they began to prepare to launch the lander for the return flight to the orbiting command module.

Listeners on Earth heard the countdown from Tranquility Base: "Three, two, one ... first stage engine on ascent. Proceed. Beautiful. Twenty-six ... thirty-six feet per second up. Very smooth, very quiet ride." Eagle was flying. Man had been on the moon for twenty-one and one-half hours.

Eagle moved into the orbit of the command module. It connected with Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins in the command ship. They separated from Eagle and said good-bye to it. The lander had done its job well.

Eight days after it started its voyage to the moon, Apollo Eleven splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Left behind on the moon were the footprints of Armstrong and Aldrin, an American flag and scientific equipment. Also left forever on the moon is a sign with these words:

"Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the Moon -- July, nineteen sixty-nine A. D. We came in peace for all mankind. "

Our program was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Mercury 13: Women in Space" from VOA

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about a program in the nineteen sixties to train women as astronauts. Today they are known as the Mercury 13. They never reached their goal of spaceflight. But they led the way for other American women to travel into space.


STEVE EMBER: In nineteen fifty-nine the United States was involved in a space race with the former Soviet Union. The Soviets had surprised the world by launching the first satellite. Sputnik One was launched into orbit on October fourth, nineteen fifty-seven. Suddenly, the United States appeared to be behind in an important area of technology.

As a result, President Dwight Eisenhower formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in nineteen fifty-eight.

By April seventh, nineteen fifty-nine NASA introduced the first American astronauts. They were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Walter Shirra, Alan Shepard and Donald Slayton. They were known as the Mercury Seven.

BARBARA KLEIN: In the fall of that year, William Randolph Lovelace was attending a meeting of the Air Force Association in Miami, Florida. Doctor Lovelace was deeply involved in the effort to put Americans into space. He served on NASA's Special Committee on Life Sciences. Astronaut candidates had been put through tests at his medical center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Doctor Lovelace and Air Force Brigadier General Donald Flickinger wondered if women could be trained as astronauts. General Flickinger had designed the space flight tests for the astronaut candidates. He also knew that the Russians had plans to launch a woman into space.

The two men met with Jerrie Cobb, a twenty-eight year-old pilot. They thought Miz Cobb would make a good female astronaut candidate. They invited her to Doctor Lovelace's medical research center in Albuquerque for tests.


STEVE EMBER: Jerrie Cobb went to Doctor Lovelace's medical center in February of nineteen sixty. She spent one week receiving the same series of tests that the Mercury Seven astronauts faced.

The tests included a general physical examination and X-rays. Some tests involved electric shock. Other tests pushed the body to its physical limits. Yet another test required freezing the inner ear with ice water to test for the condition of vertigo. The doctors also measured brain waves. They performed a total of seventy-five tests on Jerrie Cobb.

BARBARA KLEIN: Jerrie Cobb had one unusual test on a machine called the Multi-Axis Space Test Inertia Facility, or MASTIF. The MASTIF was in NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. This special machine could move a person in three different directions almost at the same time. It was designed to test a pilot's ability to control a spacecraft under severe conditions. Jerrie Cobb passed the test.

STEVE EMBER: During her tests, Jerrie Cobb knew that if she failed the first level of astronaut training no other women would be tested. By August, the results of the tests were complete. Doctor Lovelace was fully satisfied that Jerrie Cobb had scored similarly to the Mercury Seven astronauts. He even noted that Miz Cobb required less oxygen than the average male astronaut. Jerrie Cobb's success meant that more female candidates were needed for more tests.

BARBARA KLEIN: Jerrie Cobb helped Doctor Lovelace and General Flickinger chose female astronaut candidates. She searched among members of the international woman's aviation group, the Ninety-Nines, based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Miz Cobb worked hard to develop a list of good candidates by August, nineteen sixty-one. Twenty-five other women pilots were chosen and tested at Doctor Lovelace's research center. Candidates had to have flown an airplane for more than one thousand hours. Generally, they were required to be in their early thirties. And they had to be in good physical health.


STEVE EMBER: Not all the women invited to Albuquerque passed Doctor Lovelace's tests. After the first level of testing only thirteen remained, including Jerrie Cobb. The youngest among them was twenty-one-year-old Wally Funk who was also a competitive skier. Forty-year-old Jane Hart was the oldest. She was married to Senator Philip Hart of Michigan. She also flew helicopters.

Other members of the group were Myrtle Cagle, twin sisters Jan and Marion Dietrich, Jean Hixson and Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen. Also included were Irene Leverton, Bernice Steadman, Sara Gorelick Ratley, Jerri Sloan Truhill and Rhea Hurrle Woltman.

These women would be known as the Mercury 13. They had passed the first level of tests that the Mercury Seven astronauts faced. They now wanted to progress to the next level.

BARBARA KLEIN: Not all the Mercury 13 women took the next level of testing. For the Mercury Seven male astronauts, psychological and space flight testing took place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. However, NASA would not permit testing to be done on the women at that base.

Only Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk and Rhea Woltman would receive special psychiatric testing for space fitness in Oklahoma City.

At the same time, Doctor Lovelace began plans for flight training the candidates. The United States Naval School of Aviation Medicine agreed to test Jerrie Cobb for ten days in Pensacola, Florida.

Jerrie Cobb passed a series of tests meant for Navy pilots and astronauts. She would be the only one of the Mercury 13 to successfully complete all the tests that Mercury Seven astronauts took. She would also be the only one who had the chance to do so.


STEVE EMBER: Doctor Lovelace had made plans to test the other women in the group at Pensacola. After a delay, September eighteenth was chosen as the day for flight-testing to begin. But it never took place. The women received telegram messages saying the tests had been cancelled four days before they were to begin.

The Navy wanted NASA to approve the training. NASA resisted the idea. Jerrie Cobb and Jane Hart immediately tried to get the testing restarted. Their efforts led to a committee hearing in Congress. But the women found little support.

Astronaut John Glenn spoke to the committee. He said: "The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order." Glenn later said that he would not oppose a female astronaut program. But he saw no requirement for one.

BARBARA KLEIN: After two days of hearings, members of Congress had heard enough. They would do nothing to change NASA's decision not to train women for spaceflight.

But the answer about women in space came less than one year after those congressional hearings. On June sixteenth, nineteen sixty-three, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. She orbited the Earth forty-eight times and spent almost three days in space.

STEVE EMBER: The Mercury 13 women were never officially part of the NASA space program. But their willingness to undergo testing to be astronauts and their performance in those tests showed that women could go into space.

It was not until nineteen eighty-three that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Sixteen years later, Eileen Collins became the first woman to command a space shuttle mission. She invited the surviving members of the Mercury 13 to attend the launch. Seven women were able to attend.

On May twelfth, two thousand seven, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh also honored these women. The university gave honorary doctor of science degrees to the eight surviving members of the Mercury 13. The university said it was honoring the spirit and efforts of this special group of women.

BARBARA KLEIN: This program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. You can read and listen to this program on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.